A selection of participants in the 2011 Indymedia Africa Convergence in Dakar, Senegal, summarized their work and answered questions for an audience of about 30 guests at the beginning of this month, at an event held in the eclectic, homey offices of the Manhattan-based Global Information Network. It was the first in a planned series of reports from Indymedia (also known as the Independent Media Center), a progressive, activist-oriented network of media outlets with centers around the world.
“The Indymedia Convergence Project came out of the global Indymedia Project itself, which started in 1999 when activists decided that they were done with letting the mainstream media define who was doing what and that they were going to tell their own stories,” said Sphinx, who attended the Convergence in Dakar. Born in Cameroon, he is now an Indymedia organizer who has worked across Africa and other parts of the world.
Held at the beginning of February, the convergence’s main goals were to serve as a networking site for regional and international media activists, and to provide computer skills training to West Africans interested in social change. In addition, after the Convergence, several Indymedia workers went west to Bamako, Mali, to provide equipment and assist in the setup of a community radio station and new Indymedia outlet.
“If you look at a map of the world in which one dot represents people that are connected to the Internet, Africa has the fewest dots of any other populated region,” said Jamie McClelland, who also attended the Convergence. “The other side to that story is that despite the relative disparity in Internet connectivity, there’s an enormous amount of revolutionary Internet and communication work that’s happening in Africa.”
The Convergence participants spoke candidly about difficulties they faced during the week-long event, from language barriers to housing issues to technological skill gaps.
“We realized fairly early on that there was a huge disparity [between] people who had literally never used a computer [and] professional reporters,” said Indymedia member Ross Glover.
Among the attendees of the Indymedia Convergence were a group of women from the Niger River Delta in Nigeria, a territory plagued by conflict over its oil reserves. At the Convergence, the Nigerian women learned digital skills to aid them in protesting the influence of transnational oil companies in the region.
Text and photos from the convergence in Dakar can be seen on Indymedia Africa’s website, which includes posts from all convergence attendees regardless of skill level. The user “namon,” for example, wrote on February 3, “My first experience in computer was [in] Dakar in the year 2011.”