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African Rebels Take Their Battles Online

Rebels aren't the only ones taking advantage of cyberspace. In Ethiopia, which the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists ranks as one of the worst places in the world for press freedom, citizen journalists have started dozens of sites from crowded urban Internet cafes, where hip-hop music booms from speakers and young people congregate.

Some cafes are housed in mosquito-ridden, tin-roofed shacks, where the dial-up speed is agonizingly slow but the determination to connect is strong.

During several outbursts of political violence, especially in the capital, Addis Ababa, after the disputed May election, no news organization was able to report on events as fast as online instant messages and posted diaries.

On Nazret.com, a call went out for bloggers "to blog on events unfolding in Ethiopia." The blog site, "Live from Addis Ababa Ethiopia," had some of the most vivid reporting of the November unrest, in which an estimated 40 people were killed when police fired live bullets into protests.

"I was shopping with a friend when all of a sudden I heard people screaming and running around me. There were bullets flying past us," wrote a young woman who called herself Mimi.

During protests on June 9, there were minute-by-minute eyewitness reports from the blog on Meskel Square.com. One blogger wrote:

"Just for the record, I saw 11 bodies at the Black Lion and Zawditu hospitals, all with gun shot wounds, some to the head. As you know, the official count at the moment is 22 dead."

During that time, nearly every independent Ethiopian journalist was hauled off to jail.

"On the Internet, they certainly are far away enough or invisible enough to not feel the burn. The Net has played a huge role," said Tamrat G. Giorgis during a recent interview in Addis Ababa. Fortune, the independent newspaper he publishes, is the only one in Ethiopia that has not been shut down.

On the whole, Africa is still dominated by radio, and rural families are likely to gather round a rusty transistor or a fuzzy TV screen at the local pub for the evening news.

But as Africa becomes more urbanized, members of the continent's young generation are increasingly going online. These days, the continent has blogs on everything from Egyptian lesbians to planned political protests in Zimbabwe.

Countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Egypt have a few hundred bloggers each, according to Ethan Zuckerman, a blogging expert at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.


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