SAINT-LOUIS, SENEGAL — “Want to talk about him? He’s a man’s man… And him, he’s one of the most progressive Facebook users in Senegal. Me, I’m just the passion behind it all,” Makhtar Ndiaye (@makhtarjr) said laughingly about the creators of the Saint-Louis bloggers network, the Senegalese blogging circle revered for giving back to the community.
The blogosphere in Senegal began simply enough, three friends from the same neighborhood with an interest in technology went their separate ways to learn about new advancements in applied science happening around the world. Almost 15 years later, they reconvened in their home town to disseminate the knowledge they acquired, which sparked one of the most influential networks of voices who are stepping out from behind the screen and into the public.
We repair roads, we clean up the river, we went all the way to the brèche. Just because we’re bloggers doesn’t mean we have to stay behind our computers doing nothing. That’s why we added the ‘Dieuf’ to the ‘Kebetu.’
The Saint-Louis blogging network, which now boasts over 100 active bloggers, is known to tweet about events and community issues using the hashtags, #kebetudieuf and #ndadjetweetup. The network has focused on community outreach since its June 2014 inception. The creators have taken a hands-on-approach to addressing local issues like the promotion of tourism and environmental stability.
Ndiaye, 23, says blogging and doing things for the community has unified the people of Saint-Louis, and Senegal overall. This sense of physical involvement helped inspire the dieuf, meaning do or make in Wolof, to the kebetu, shared on social media as meaning life or average way and words in Wolof.
Tayib Fall, 30, works behind the scenes to keep the network running smoothly. He says the blogosphere of Senegal, which consists of a little over 500 members and growing, is under one umbrella, but the bloggers representing Saint-Louis are more respected because they actually help out, compared to those in second capital, Dakar.
“There are the bloggers of Dakar and there are the bloggers of Saint-Louis — we’re more autonomous in the way we do things.” For Fall, his personal journey has always been about coming back to help out.
“When I was at Google I was the coordinator for university programs for practically all of sub-Saharan Africa. I worked with 100 universities and I connected with over 50,000 students. But during the entire time I was like, ‘but what can I do for Saint Louis?’ In Saint-Louis there wasn’t very much going on, there weren’t any bloggers, there weren’t really any tech sectors. So I came back, to create events, to structure the community; I tried to structure the university and to really get things moving in a technical direction. We’ve done a lot but we want to do much more.”
There are the bloggers of Dakar and there are the bloggers of Saint-Louis — we’re more autonomous in the way we do things. — Tayib Fall
Although the work of the Saint-Louis bloggers network has not gone unnoticed by sponsors and public speakers, many young Senegalese are still unfamiliar with tech initiatives like this one, happening within their own country. Ndiaye attributes this to what one studies in school.
“There are some people who study communication, it’s a newer branch of subjects that one can specialize in at the university. There are also other subjects in which students must be technologically informed, but how can you go up to a law student and talk to them about technology? That’s not what they’re role is! His role is to learn, and maybe chat on their Facebook page.”
But the bloggers say they have a few ideas about how to integrate the skeptical and unknowledgeable into the tech plan of the 21st century.
“For 2016 we have a plan to sensitize high school students, because there is a wave of adolescents who are starting to appear on Facebook, putting up photos and are unaware of the dangers of the internet,” said Fall. We also have some “after work” events geared at teaching the community the importance of twitter,” said Ndiaye.
Thierno Dicko has some of the largest Facebook following in all of Senegal, at over 30,000 members. He connects with other bloggers around the country in hopes of bringing about change.
The Bloggers of Saint-Louis will continue to work with the bloggers of Dakar to host panel discussions and what Fall considers ‘BarCamps’ for bloggers in their area.
“We have the desire we have the determination, even if we don’t always have the means” — Makhtar Ndiaye.