The Blackboard Blogger of Monrovia

Alfred Sirleaf is an analog blogger. He take runs the “Daily News”, a news hut by the side of a major road in the middle of Monrovia. He started it a number of years ago, stating that he wanted to get news into the hands of those who couldn’t afford newspapers, in the language that they could understand.

Liberias Blackboard Blogger

Alfred serves as a reminder to the rest of us, that simple is often better, just because it works. The lack of electricity never throws him off. The lack of funding means he’s creative in ways that he recruits people from around the city and country to report news to him. He uses his cell phone as the major point of connection between him and the 10,000 (he says) that read his blackboard daily.


Liberia’s Blackboard Blogger from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

Not all Liberians who read his news are literate, so he makes use of symbols. Whether it’s a UN or military helmet, a poster of a soccer player or a bottle of colored water to denote gas prices, he is determined to get the message out in any way that he can.

Liberia - Daily News props

Advertising works here too. It’s $5 to be on the bottom level, $10 to be on the sideboard and $25 on the main section. He doesn’t get a lot of advertising, and but he manages to scrape by.

His plans for the future include decentralizing his work, this means opening up identical locations in other parts of Monrovia, and in a few of the larger cities around the country. I don’t put it past Alfred either, he’s a scrappy entrepreneur on a mission to bring information and news to ordinary Liberians. He’s succeeded thus far, and I would put my money on him growing it even further.

Alfred Sirleaf talking to a news reader

(Also, read the NYT piece on him from 3 years ago)

(note: title for this post stolen shamelessly from Rebecca’s Pocket)

ZuQka: Social Networking and News in Kenya

zuQka in the newspaper

My first day back in Nairobi after a couple months, and I see some new website being heavily promoted in my Daily Nation newspaper. In fact, it’s got a full 16-page mini newspaper all about it. It’s called zuQka, and it tells me that I’ll “be famous” if only I register. I pop over to the site, but I’ve got 1hr 15min 11sec before it goes live.

Wondering what this is all about, I start to dig around trying to find out who is behind it. Low and behold, after a quick Whois search, I find out it’s none other than Kahenya Kamunyu. A local tech VC and entrepreneur, head of Virn.net and who I interviewed at Barcamp Nairobi this summer. He’s an outspoken advocate for African-born and built technology developments, and it looks like he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Now I know what he’s been hinting at on Twitter for the past couple weeks…

So, what is zuQka?

From what I can tell, it’s a portal site for weekend entertainment around Nairobi, but with a social networking component as well (video, audio and blogs). It’s a cross-medium service too, marrying newspaper with the web. Honestly, I learned more in those 16 pages about stars like Angela Angwenyi, Amani and Daniel Ndambuki than I would have thought. Besides entertainment stars, it has coverage of auto, gadgets, pubs and the weekend calendar.

I kind of wonder what I’ll find once the site opens up. I also wonder what Kahenya has to say about it…

[Update: I was able to talk to Kahenya and they’ve had some server issues, making the launch a little sketchy. Like any new big website, this is understandable, check back in 2 weeks would be my suggestion.]

Site is live

(as you might be able to tell, I’m blogging this in a stream over a couple hours).

I haven’t been able to get in touch with Kahenya yet, likely because he’s busy trying to get this site live and all the kinks worked out. The site is live now though, with a couple minor errors. Like any newly hatched web service, things are a little slow and since it’s a user-generated content site, there’s not much content yet. This should change with time.

The zuQka dashboard

Overall I like the dashboard. The techie in me really likes that they used the Simile timeline for the calendar, makes a lot of sense. The profile page is extensive and there seems to be a lot of options to add content on the site. My plan is to come back later when it loads faster and I can see it with more users.