Why I blog about Africa

(Like White African, I don’t usually take part in blog memes. Unlike White African, it’s usually because I don’t get an invite. ;o) But that aside, I’ve recently read a number of posts by eminent African bloggers in the current “Why I Blog About Africa” series and have been inspired by what they’ve written. That @ksjhalla recently invited me to the table came as something of a surprise. Here goes my contribution)

“To be honest, I feel like something of an imposter gatecrashing a party. Unlike many of the bloggers taking part in this meme, I can lay no claim to be African, or half-African, or even remotely African. Maybe the fact that the continent has tried to take my life on more than one occasion gives me some claim to take part? Or the fact that I’ve been captivated by the geography, the cultures, the wildlife, the opportunity, the hope and above all the people I have met and befriended since my first encounter back in 1993? Having no physical connection with Africa other than that gained by long haul air travel, I’ve regularly asked myself what it is that draws me back to it so often, both in person and in writing. Answering this question without calling on well-trodden cliches is quite a challenge.


After all, it would be all too easy to overplay any ‘spiritual’ connection (as happened with the peculiar “I am African” campaign, pictured), or one drawn out of sympathy for a continent in turmoil, or a people condemned to a life of poverty and a strong Western-held view that “Africa needs to be saved”. But that’s not the Africa I know, least of all the Africa I’ve witnessed on many of my travels over the past fifteen years and, above all, not the Africa that many of my African friends see.

If I were honest, my interest and fascination in Africa came about at a time in my life when I was desperately trying to find my way. If I were to be allowed one cliche, it would be that Africa found me. Shear chance took me to Zambia in the summer of 1993, and since then I’ve allowed luck, circumstance and events on the continent to determine my direction. It is pure coincidence that almost all of the conservation and development projects I have worked on have been in Africa – Zambia, Uganda, South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Cameroon and Zimbabwe among them. And I feel truly honoured to have experienced cultures, friendships and a way of life I could never have dreamed of a decade or more ago.

I blog about Africa because I see a continent blessed with cultural and natural beauty, a continent working hard to lift itself from troubled beginnings, and the rise of a new breed of African leader with a deep devotion and love for what their country, and the continent, means to them. I blog about Africa because in it I see many of the good things that the West has lost or chosen to throw away, and because I am blessed to count many hard working and devoted Africans among my friends. I also blog about Africa because that’s where I continue to be called and because, one summer back in 1993, it somehow came in search of me”.

Thanks again to Kaushal for tagging me (read his thoughts here). Continuing the theme, I tag the following:


Musings on a blogging century

For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing. Not writing to the orders of a teacher, but writing on my own terms – as much as I like, when I like and about what I like. Most of my early efforts were poems, and I would regularly wake early in the morning pen in hand. According to my teachers I was quite good. They must have been right – I won a number of competitions. The acquisition of a very old and heavy Imperial typewriter – a gift from my mother from the “Under £5” section of our local newspaper – opened up a new world for me, and one of my early projects was an epic on oil. I still have that masterpiece today, preserved in an A5 plastic folder bought from our local Boots the stationers. I still can’t quite believe that I managed to produce something like that at such a young age. I must have been around 11. I was a strange child.

Despite my love of writing and a long career in IT, I was a little late combining the two and didn’t start blogging until around the spring of 2006. The original idea was to write anonymously, the logic being that I could rant about anything that frustrated or annoyed me – and there seemed to be much – without somehow being accountable. The joys of the Internet. I even went as far as registering a URL, and was going to blog under “Gazundered.com”, which was a play on the word gazumped, or ‘let down, tricked, misled’. I never did do much with it. I’m generally quite impulsive, and after thinking it through a little more decided I’d be better off blogging on the kiwanja.net website.

Like most people, I have a wide variety of interests. Unlike most people, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have created a role for myself where I can combine every single one. This is more down to luck than good planning, although I’ve stubbornly stuck on this path despite everything that’s been thrown at me. So, in the context of my blog this means I can write about almost anything I like since it almost always falls into one of the four interest areas. These interests – which are really more like passions – are technology, anthropology, conservation and development – hence the kiwanja.net strap line. The technology comes from well over 20 years in the IT industry, the anthropology from my degree at Sussex University, the conservation from the family gene and the development – and the conservation again, come to think of it – from numerous projects and numerous trips to the African continent over the past 15 years, including a one year spell working with primates in Nigeria. I could never have planned it better than this, so perhaps it’s lucky that I didn’t.

Fortuitously for me, these four interest areas turn out to be incredibly complimentary from a professional stand point, and if I wasn’t so honest I would probably be telling people that it was all part of a big plan. In the mid-1990’s, when I started to think how cool it would be to use my IT skills in developing countries, this whole ICT4D thing wasn’t really around and there was nowhere obvious to go. I was already building my development experience by then, having been on a couple of school and hospital building projects to Zambia and Uganda before I decided to go to university and study development ‘properly’. At Sussex you have to do development studies with something, so I settled for anthropology because it looked more interesting than history, French or Spanish. Although I didn’t realise it for some time, this was a great decision.

So, one of the end results of all this is this – a growing website, some incredibly interesting work and a collection of a few of my favourite blog postings (called “Musings“, pictured) from my first one hundred entries, which cover a range of topics under this technology, anthropology, conservation and development banner. I didn’t necessarily compile these because I thought anyone will be particularly interested in reading them – although I hope at least some people do – but because it felt like something of a minor victory to have hit my century.

kiwanja.net is also on the verge of its fifth birthday next month. Another reason to celebrate. 2007 was an incredible year. 2008 looks like being another…

In celebration of a blogging century

While I was writing my blog last Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised when I realised I was getting tantalisingly close to a hundred entries. This, combined with kiwanja’s soon-to-be fifth anniversary, seemed worth celebrating in some way. So a couple of misguided evenings later (spend down my local Peets) plus, of course, last Friday’s entry which took me to that hundred, here it is. It’s been an interesting exercise, and I’ve enjoyed it – a little collection of some of my favourite entries from the past eighteen months.

Blogging: A time and a place?

Funny, isn’t it. Not so long ago I’d never have considered publishing personal thoughts in any shape or form. That scruffy notebook under the bed was the place for them. For a start, there wasn’t an instantly accessible medium (as such), but even if there was who’d be remotely interested in what I had to say? Or not say, as the case may be. Remember, many blogs are transcripts of what people think – based on a never-ending internal dialogue – and not necessarily what people would actually ever ‘say’. And therein, perhaps, lies the magic of blogging.

What people say in public, and what they’re comfortable saying, is in certain cases a very fine line. You wouldn’t necessarily expect much from the author of a blog about Eggs, Bacon, Chips and Beans other than information about, well… ummm… eggs, bacon, chips and beans. What you see is what you get. But just imagine reading Kofi Annan’s personal blog, and I mean his personal blog. What on earth would it say – what does Kofi really think about the state of the planet? What worries him – guard down and politics aside? I doubt I’ll ever know, unless I manage a drunken 4am fireside drink with the guy after a conference somewhere…

One of the earliest comments I received about my kiwanja website was that it was incredibly personal, just as much a site about me as it was about my work. Not good, they said. But this was always my intention. People that know me will realise that I am my work. But despite this, three months ago (when I decided to give blogging a try) my first instinct was to create a new site, an anonymous one, where I could say whatever I wanted and then somehow distance myself from what I had written. What nonsense that was, and I realise it now.

So I added a blog to my kiwanja site and began brain dumping there. As a ‘business’ site – well, one ‘advertising’ my wares at the very least – my logic was simple. If people didn’t like what I thought then I wouldn’t want to work with them anyway. Risky, but at the end of the day why pretend to be someone you’re not for the sake of getting the gig? I’m passed that now.

One thing that blogging has re-inforced for me is this. It allows me to be myself, something that many people in the higher reaches of corporate and company life – Kofi included – perhaps cannot. In public, at least.

Unless, of course, he’s blogging anonymously somewhere… Now, wouldn’t that be a find?