letters from nairobi

How Africa Tweets
February 2, 2012, 11:42
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

It’s not often that something I work on in conjunction with my day job overlaps with what I blog about here — I don’t believe my supervisor would be particularly interested in reading about Pot Pie Eve or my obsession with black beans, to name a few examples.

But, in this case, a piece I wrote for the blog I edit happens to bridge the chasm, so I am including it here (worlds collide!):

“How Africa Tweets”: a Continental Study

A few months ago, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya. Relocating to East Africa has been a fascinating experience, to say the least. As an editor with a background in journalism, who works in the tech industry, I’ve been struck by how Kenyans interact with and consume media, and how their relationship with the industry differs from that of their American counterparts.

And I’m not the only one who’s intrigued.

For the first time, a single company launched an initiative to comprehensively map the use of Twitter throughout the entire African continent. The international consulting company Portland, in conjunction with a platform called Tweetminster, analyzed more than 11.5 million geo-located Tweets that originated throughout Africa during a three-month period in 2011.

How Africa Tweets” presents facts both intuitive and remarkable.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that the African country with the greatest volume of Tweets is also its richest, South Africa. Trailing South Africa, with half the number of Tweets, is Kenya; following behind are Egypt, Nigeria, and Morocco.

Also predictable is the statistic of who is Tweeting: 60% of Africa’s most active Tweeters are aged 20-29, a number that reflects general trends in social media consumption.

What struck me about the study’s findings, which is also a phenomenon I have witnessed firsthand, is the high percentage of individuals who rely on Twitter for news. Press freedom on the continent is, for the most part, highly restricted. With 68% of poll respondents using the social media site to keep abreast of current events – and, interestingly, 22% relying on it to find employment opportunities – I wonder how much of an effect this circumventing of traditional news sources will have on individuals and, by extension, political developments throughout the continent.

In Kenya, at least, young people are being urged to join in the social media revolution that has swept through the north and toppled dictators and overthrown governments. But are the government and state-controlled media prepared to embrace the shift?

As Beatrice Karanja, head of Portland Nairobi, said, “with Twitter, you no longer need to own a newspaper or radio station to have your views heard. And for Africa – as for the rest of the world – that can only be good.”



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