The Kuyu Project interviews Brenda Zulu (@ictjournalist), an Independent ICT Journalist and also a leader of a Media Company called the African New Media Group which is specialised in delivering Web 2.0 services to it clients and also offers Media consultancy. She has interests in reporting on Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), Science, Agriculture, Gender and Social Issues. You can find her blog here.
Deborah: Good afternoon to you. I really appreciate you taking time to chat about your work. We are looking to give youth across Africa models to follow - people who are using digital media for positive social impact. So, how did you get started in journalism?
Brenda Zulu: In 1989 when I learn't journalism, I owned a typewriter, there where no computers then. We also did not even learn about new media.
Deborah: Did you learn social media on your own, after college?
Brenda Zulu: I took interest when I was awarded best Journalist in Africa in reporting on ICTs, a new world opened up for me. I was then trained to specialise in ICT reporting by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Rhodes University project called the Highway Africa News Agency which covered all events on the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) and that is where i also learnt about social media.
Deborah: Yes, I'm familiar with it. It seems to be a very empowering program.
Deborah: Did you have any good mentors along the way who helped you?
Brenda Zulu: I have also been part of a project for the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) called GenderIT.Org where i was a Content Manager for Africa. I had good mentors at APC. At Rhodes University I participate in the Digital Citizen Indaba where they encourage citizen Journalists to learn more about social media.
Deborah: And have you had opportunities to mentor others?
Brenda Zulu: Sure i have done that both online and offline. .
Deborah: Yes, I see that you often use Twitter as a tool for mentoring. How receptive do you find the youth to learning these tools?
Brenda Zulu: I have trained Journalists and people in Civil Society on social media. The youth are very receptive since these are usually the digital natives and also this is a group that does not even read manuals for equipment. They just plug and play. For Africa their popular social network is Facebook.
Deborah: True - plug and play seems to be how they operate.
Brenda Zulu: That is why i have linked my Twitter to Facebook and other social networking sites.
Deborah: I know and I'm finding also Twitter seems to be popular with younger people more than in the US.
Deborah: Brenda - Tony (@phat_controller) says hi - I just had tweeted that I was talking to you.
Brenda Zulu: Thanks say hi to him, he is doing great work in Zambia.
Deborah: Have you worked with him?
Brenda Zulu: Yes i have done some work with him here in Zambia, in rural Macha
Deborah: Does any of that work involve youth?
Brenda Zulu: Tony donates computers and youths in rural Macha have learnt how to use the computer and also how to use the Internet.
Deborah: Do you find that some are also using mobiles to connect to Internet or not?
Brenda Zulu: That is the thing most youth have mobile phones where they can have access to the Internet and they use Mobile Phones en mass
Deborah: That's what I see in Rwanda too.
Deborah: So one of the things we are looking at with the Kuyu Project is to provide more training and resources on how to use social media, which is why we want to promote good role models. We are thinking of some mobile apps for the project.
Brenda Zulu: Mobile apps would be a very good idea. Only the iPhone and Blackberry are still very expensive for an average youth in Africa.
Deborah: Well I think many are using Nokia and Androids may be gaining ground.
Brenda Zulu: I actually use the iPod touch for social media as it has all the features and apps for the iPhone only one needs to be at a place where there is a wireless connection
Deborah: So you can connect to wifi and post your blog posts?
Brenda Zulu: Yes i do that a lot with nano technology, it means your project could set up nano stations for wireless.
Deborah: And do you find that you use it more than your laptop?
Brenda Zulu: Not really….only when am mobile. I prefer a laptop more because I still have to write my stories.
Deborah: So tell me more about the nano stations.
Brenda Zulu: There is an ISP in Zambia which has been bought by Vodacom, they have been advertising for some time now and are providing services for Nano stations for households and offices for people to access wireless technology.
Deborah: What about other forms of media - like radio - I think it is still a powerful tool for youth.
Brenda Zulu: Radio is highly political because government controls frequencies.
Deborah: I know that some people use their iPhones for broadcasting video. I haven't tried it as I don't have an iPhone.
Brenda Zulu: Well during eLearning I learnt something new on how to use iPhones for e-learning i still have not not used it for broadcasting.
Deborah: Interesting, did you attend the e-Learning conference in May?
Brenda Zulu: Yes I did, I write for them
Deborah: I thought I had seen you listed there. I missed it, we had a smaller conference going on in Kigali.
Brenda Zulu: Well even if the conference was big, in reality e-Learning is still in its infancy.
Deborah: Yes, that's what I'm finding too, but do you know of any organization that has a successful model? So who is really doing innovative work in e-Learning in the region?
Brenda Zulu: The Ministry of Education in Zambia runs a program called Taonga Market, where they broadcast radio lessons for kids.
Deborah: Is that effective, I see they have radio programs that are targeted for Grades 1-6 at first.
Brenda Zulu: Yes the Taonga radio listening club has been very effective, it has been there for a long time, it only runs when it is school days.
Brenda Zulu: In any case the future is mobile, for youths they need a mobile learning platform.
Deborah: True mobile seems to be where it is headed.
Deborah: So what advice do you have for youth who want to learn to use these social media for positive change?
Brenda Zulu: I always tell youths to use online spaces for positive messages because it is important that they build their brands.
Deborah: That's a good way to look at it. They are creating their identities. What about finding mentors?
Brenda Zulu: Well there are some mentors I can find for the youths, mentoring is very critical for Youths because many do not have role models. I believe apart from maybe a workshop the mentoring could continue online,
Deborah: I agree we are hoping to find regional ambassadors in each area to help us find mentors - mostly online mentors.
Brenda Zulu: I remember I did some online mentoring for the African Women Bloggers. I have also set up an African New Media Group, we have French and English speaking people, I have asked a web designer to create a blog ring for us. We cover conferences around the world using new media tools.
Deborah: Great, I think that to encourage youth to be citizen journalists and use new media tools is important. It would be good for Kuyu Project to have these contacts to show the youth role models.
Deborah: We are thinking of creating a Ushahidi implementation to have where people can SMS info about their work in ICT and new media across the continent so that youth can know who is working in their area.
Brenda Zulu: The Ushahidi project is a great idea
Deborah: Thanks it was Nancy's idea - she is our East African regional ambassador.
Deborah: Are youth allowed to participate in the African New Media Group?
Brenda Zulu: Youths are allowed to tweet, retweet, leave comments on Youtube and blog content.
Deborah: Well I probably should let you get back to your afternoon. I will try to summarize what we've discussed and I may have 1 or 2 more questions for you that I can send via email
Brenda Zulu: No problem
Deborah: Thanks it was Nancy's idea - she is our East African regional ambassador
Deborah: Well thanks so much for your time.