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.


  1. Great compilation of online news about Zambia, I just got curious about your label "Weekly" on LT? Do they issue something on paper?!

  2. Hey Petter. This could be a mistake but I thought the Lusaka Times is that green weekly newspaper I sometimes see for sale in town or at the intersection near civic centre. The more I read that website the more I think it's Zambia's top news site. BTW are you the guy with the glasses on your blog? If so we've met.

  3. yep, I realised that too, that we've met (art&alpha), after having enjoyed your blog for a while. And I totally agree on LT being the best source for news on Zambia, haven't seen that green paper you mention though.

  4. Thank you for mentioning The Zambian. Actually, The Zambian has gone through various phases and has been around for some time. Regardless, your description sums up the core aspects of what we're trying to do i.e. content and community. However, we're a bit hesitant to run advertising on the site - because in essence we're in content aggregation mode and not yet at the level of putting up original content. We also want to keep the goal of promoting the work of Zambian bloggers, so running advertising on their content is wrong. We're slowling making inroads and hopefully 2009 will be an eventful year for the Zambian network of sites.

    p.s. We'd love to syndicate your blog too :)

  5. Hi Leo,

    I admit I haven't spent a long time on The Zambian. I assumed any post by "administrator" was original content. Sure, I'll syndicate my blog, though in a few months it may no longer be so Zambiacentric. Out of curiosity, how do you plan on sustaining the website without ads?