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Central African Republic: ‘La Facebookmania’ à La Centrafricaine

November 14, 2011  »  City Profiles3 Comments

Internet happenings in Central Africa are hard to come by. For one, few independent news sources exist in the region. Those who do exist often cover human rights or politics or sports rather than tech news. Such a focus is understandable considering human life is more important than basic Internet access. After all, the life expectancy at birth for this nation has decreased since 1980.

However, a few (and we mean few) bloggers from Centrafrique keep the rest of the world informed of ICT developments in Bangui. Global Voices has one story on the Central African Republic from the past year, and only three from the past two years. Various NGOs and aid organizations provide disaster news. A handful of people from Bangui are active on Twitter. However, Facebook is now the go-to for those living in Central.

All things considered, the Internet (and Facebook) penetration rate in Bangui probably isn’t the worst in Africa. Socialbakers, which relies on Facebook data, finds that CAR’s Facebook penetration rate of 2.0% is average for all of Africa. That is, 25 African nations have lower Facebook adoption rates. Internet World Stats, instead of citing ITU data, uses Facebook advertising data to say that 1.9% of CAR accesses the Internet. The assumption here is that everyone who uses the Internet also uses Facebook. Fair enough. One can also figure that most of Central’s 97,000 or so Internet users are located in the Bangui area. Recently, the company behind the AddThis sharing plugin released data on which nations socially share the most content using their platform. Central African Republic was one of only a couple of nations without sufficient data (the others being Chad and Western Sahara). All signs point to Facebook.

An assortment of sources provide a glimpse into how the Internet is touching the lives of those in Centrafrique. Hippolyte Donossio, a “Journaliste, Reporter, Producteur et Rédacteur Web” from Bangui has a broad social presence and maintains a WordPress blog. “BlogmandeBangos” posts to the Echos de Centrafrique blog. He is one of 100 Francophone bloggers selected by a competition initiated by the Media Workshop for Radio France Internationale. Le Confident, an independent newspaper, provides telecoms business news from SOCATEL. Another source is the government-run Centrafrique-Presse (based in Bangui and aligned with the MLPC party).

Hippolyte Donossio, on the new Facebook language of Central

On his WordPress blog Tango Ti Mbi, Mr. Donossio often posts his views on serious subjects like education, justice, and security. However, he also posts about how Central Africa is embracing Facebook. On September 27, in a post titled, “Quand des rires sur facebook se centrafricanise!” (translated loosely as “When Facebook laughter is Central African-ized!”), Mr. Donossio describes the online lingo used in Central. In doing so, he suggests that Facebook is an outlet for humor in an otherwise difficult environment.

The general consensus appears to be that everyone in Bangui who is literate is on Facebook. And, those who are have adopted an abbreviated online Sango language (much like how English speakers use ‘LOL’ to mean ‘laughing out loud.’) In fact, a Facebook post rallying support for this language made the rounds in Central in mid-September. A week later, everyone had adopted the new style. Mr. Donossio may very well have documented one of the first viral online events in Central.

It is truly fascinating how quickly this information spread across the online community. Also, it’s interesting to see how pure text can still go viral rather than image- or video-heavy sites. Most importantly, Mr. Donossio suggests that, at least in Bangui, there is a true interest in the Internet and using it for communication, or even just to relieve anxiety.

Blogmandebangos (aka Johnny), on ‘Facebookmania’

Much of the content on the Echos de Centrafrique blog revolves around politics and Bozize. However, three posts in 2011 have touched on the Internet in Central Africa. Two deal with heavy issues. We hear that although there may be four mobile companies, healthcare is nearly non-existent 50 years after independence. Moreover, parts of Bangui only have electricity for a two hours every day. Still, those in Bangui are in love with Facebook. Not so long ago, it was only the privileged who had a hi5 profile. As of February 2011, apparently everyone who is literate – from student to artist to politician – has a Facebook profile. Those who once used popular French social networks like Tagged, Bandoo, Netlog, or Skyrock have all transitioned to Facebook.

It’s hard to believe that literate youth in Bangui are on Facebook. If half of Bangui’s 650,000 people are literate and half are teenage or young adult, then 160,000 would be expected to be on Facebook. Interestingly, Facebook’s advertising statistics seem to support this to some extent. They claim 97,000 users in the Central African Republic, which would equate to a 60% Facebook usage rate based on the above assumptions. Not bad.

Unfortunately, we also learn that the Central government lacks credibility in the eyes of online citizens. On the Echos blog, the author throws in some humor by saying “Curieux de savoir s’il y’a aussi des gens qui sont sur facebook pendant…Les conseils de ministres lol !” That is, some people foolishly use Facebook to seek the advice of Ministers…

Centrafrique-Presse

On August 15, 2011, the government media ran a story on how journalists working in Bangui can have free Internet access thanks to the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Le Confident reports on Socatel

The independent daily occasionally reports on Socatel, the state-owned Central Telecommunications Company. Last May and June, plagued by restructuring and debt woes, the company failed to pay wages on time. Socatel postponed indefinitely a project with the help China’s ZTE to bring competition and better GSM service to Central.
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PS. One individual from somewhere in the Central African Republic has visited this site in the past two years. This visitor, using IE 9, found the site by searching Google for “equatorial guinea mobile wimax” and then later returned on a search for “4g africa”.