Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Christmas Vacation

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Sick Links

I've been in bed the last few days with a cold, or "flu" as it's called in Zambian, and I've been obsessively reading blogs. I'm also getting better at the internet; I learned how to do this thing called "bookmarking." Seriously, I've never done it before. The following are some awesome things I "bookmarked" while sick.

The Places We Live
is a website of photos and audio from slums across the world. Part of it is interesting interactive photos of people's homes while they tell you about it. My favourite is the home built under a bridge in Jakarta. It's not what you think.

From the links section of that site I found Squatter City, a great blog about squatter and illegal settlement issues from around the world.

My housemate and ILouis have been obsessed with pirates of late. We trade news tidbits with a giddy sense of excitement. This Guardian article is one of the better ones. A straight up interview with a pirate about why and how he does what he does. Great people these pirates.

I haven't really been following Democracy Now since I've been in Lusaka but there's always some great stuff when I do go back like Mugabe vs Obiang and the double standard towards African dictators and a discussion about what's happening now that more journalists under repressive regimes are going online (hint: more journalists in jail).

The most fascinating thing that I witnessed in the last few days, however, is the Strange Maps blog. I've had a fascination with maps since I was very young, like drawing detailed fantasy maps on giant rolls of paper, and this managed to revive all kinds of super nerdy feeling that I'd forgot existed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baby Hawk on My Path

I don't really know how he got there but this little dude lunged at me this morning as I walked to the kitchen in the rain. He continued his assault as I took these photos. After he rain stopped he just disappeared. Everyone thought he must be a baby, including the maid's son who tried to pick him up but was too spooked by his snapping beak. My house-mate said that was the kind of bird that steals chickens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Zambian Media Online

I wrote this for Journalists for Human Rights' Foreign Correspondence Site.

Central Lusaka is saturated with busy internet cafes. “Business centres” advertising copying, scanning and internet can be found in many of the richer neighbourhoods and shopping areas. My office has three competing wireless networks and so did my former flat. None of them were mine unfortunately but the point remains, Zambia—or at least a specific segment of urban middle class Zambia—is online.

The increasing availability of “high speed” internet—or just internet depending on your perspective—despite prohibitively high set up charges is creating a boom in Zambian online content.

There's a large Facebook presence with plenty of groups dedicated to the silly and serious. lists 1,300 blogs based in Zambia using its free software. This is misleading however as most are created by international volunteers and NGO workers who often keep a blog only as long as they stay in the country. Here's a great piece with links to the best Zambian blogs covering everything from politics (well duh) to conservation, football and music.

The rise of the Zambian blogosphere is not being matched by the major newspapers. Both the state-run Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail have horribly out-dated sites replicating their printed material in a mess of oldschool design and flashing banner ads. The weekly Lusaka Times is much better than the dailies with a blog format and a healthy comments section primarily from the Zambian diaspora in the US and Britain. The Post, the most widely read newspaper in Zambia promises a slick modern news site at first glance but asks you to pay as soon as you click on an interesting headline. At ten US dollars a month and available with credit card only I'm assuming that the site is meant to target the diaspora community.

The Post has everything to lose by alienating its domestic online readers. A strange fact of Zambian life is that internet is increasingly available in places where newspapers are not distributed. According to UNESCO, only 5 out of 1000 Zambians have access to a daily newspaper. Because of the underdeveloped road system, copies of the Post reach Chipata in the afternoon and barely reach outside the main cities at all except for days or even weeks later. Cellphone networks, however, cover almost the whole country and now with new inexpensive cellular modems, and internet cellphones, Zambians can, and do, plug into the internet almost anywhere.

The threat to the Post's future online hegemony are sites like The Watchdog and The Zambian: simple sites that embody many of the values of the new web. Both sites have existed for only a matter of months but have grown considerably. The Watchdog, tied somehow to a paper version I've never seen, is most like a traditional news site. By doing breaking news, criticizing official sources and encouraging reader response through comments it keeps me checking daily. Hopefully, with their small budget and tiny (2 people?) staff they'll increase their coverage.

The Zambian is a bit bewildering, something of a blog aggregator like, but also a social networking platform and a bit of a news site. They apparently have almost 800 users, though the daily activity is still low. If they can make it a bit more user friendly I'm sure it could really take off. If they can find a way to make money off their content they will be very successful.