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African Rebels Take Their Battles Online

"How important is blogging for the continent? In the long term, it's critical," Zuckerman wrote in an e-mail. "Not only do blogs provide an alternative space for free speech in countries where the press may not be independent, free or strong, they also enable people in Africa to challenge media representations in the U.S. and Europe."

He said African bloggers wrote passionately about their frustration during the Live8 concert for Africa last year, saying it was insulting and failed to address the most important issues on the continent.

"They found themselves in debates with North Americans about whether aid for Africa was an appropriate priority, versus anti-corruption efforts, free trade or economic development," Zuckerman said. "These conversations between continents happen very rarely. Blogs are hugely important in letting them happen."

With the rise of blogging and rebel Web sites, there is fresh concern about African governments eventually shutting down Internet cafes and arresting cybercritics.

So far, however, only Tunisia and Egypt have censored access to the Internet and are tracking bloggers in a widespread way, according to researchers. Already, there is advice on the Internet to warn bloggers how to protect themselves.

"Bloggers need to be anonymous when they are putting out information that risks their safety. The cyber police are watching and have become expert at tracking down 'troublemakers,' " wrote Julien Pain, head of the Internet freedom desk at U.S.-based Reporters Without Borders.

"Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure," he wrote. "Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest."

Lately, governments in Africa have begun paying more attention.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently said in an interview in the capital that some of the country's newspapers and blogs were "yellow journalism of the worst kind. In some cases we have evidence that they were trying to overthrow the government."

As for the rebels in Darfur, the group remains fractured and the leaders are still not talking face to face. But they reportedly are still e-mailing each other.


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