MEET THE PIONEER BLOGGER OF TANZANIA..!
The Michuzi Blog is the pioneer blog in Tanzania.
After only six years on air, the Michuzi Blog is not only the most popular blog in Tanzania; it is the most read Kiswahili blog on earth. In it you will find an eclectic mix of content including: news issues not covered anywhere else, political discussions and debates, entertainment news and much more. The Michuzi Blog is widely accepted to be the best blog platform for Tanzanian’s to exchange views and share news.
SPORAH: Although the name Issa Michuzi is so popular but our readers would like to hear from the man himself. So who is Issa Michuzi?
MICHUZI: He is a journalist who unexpectedly happened to become a popular blogger whose blog has a worldwide readership, bearing in mind that I initially took blogging as a hobby, before I decided to take it seriously.
I remember I started in 1980, using my brother-in-law’s camera, which my in-law’s younger brother and I ‘stole’ in order to use it to take snaps at different locations. Eventually I found myself falling in love with photography. Five years later, a friend of mine gave me a Pentax Spotmatic as a gift which ironically didn’t even know how to operate. Fortunately, by then there were some photography classes at Goethe Institute (at the IPS Building).
I recall my first instructor was Tom Mwewuka from the US Info Services. The practical part of the studies led me to taking snaps on the streets, and I eventually found myself at the YMCA Hall where popular DJs Kalikali, Negre Jay, and others were deejaying. Most people have no idea that the pictures I used to take by then were basically for the sake of earning enough money to develop the films (and not to make any profit) and for my photography class practicals. After finishing my course I continued going to the YMCA to take pictures, as well as doing so in the streets where I would photography whoever wanted my service. I think people were impressed with the quality of the pictures I took that they kept on demanding my service. I remember my first pictures ever to be used in a newspaper were taken at a building which collapsed at Msimbazi Street and two people lost their lives. A popular newspaper by then, Mfanyakazi used four of the pictures I sent them.
But establishing myself as a photographer really took shape when one day in 1989, Jah Kimbuteh and his Roots and Culture band performed at the YMCA, and I was asked to do a photo shoot. Among those in attendance to the event was Attilio Tagalile from the Daily News, who just happened to come without a photographer. He then asked me to give him one of the pictures I took, and that was the first time ever the paper used an artist’s picture on the front page. I think they were very impressed with how I photographer Jah Kimbuteh with his dreadlocks ‘flying in the air’ while singing with deep emotions. Since then, Tagalile encouraged me that I would make a good photojournalist.
Moreover, the Daily News’s chief photographer, the late Vincent Urio, who owned his own photo studio known as ‘Studio Laura’ was impressed by my skills and contracted me. I then continued with my practices with the best of the best in photography, who taught not only taught me the art of photography but also dark room techniques, especially on how to develop black and white films and printing.
I officially joined the Daily News on January 1st, 1990, and two years later I was offered a scholarship to go to Berlin, Germany to gain further skills in photography. When I came back, I joined the Tanzania School of Journalism (I was there from 1994to 1996).Upon completion; I was offered another scholarship to go to Cardiff, Wales for advanced training in political photojournalism. We were among the first to be taught about digital photography by then. I recall Canon and Kodak were working in partnership to make the first digital camera, which they eventually brought it at the college, offering us a rare opportunity to participate in their quest for developing digital photography.
SPORAH: What encouraged you to start a blog (bearing in mind that in those days blogging was still a foreign thing to majority of Tanzanians)? Also, as an undisputedly most popular Tanzanian blogger, could you give us a brief history of your blog?
MICHUZI: I think I was encouraged by my friend Fidelis Tungaraza who is living in Helsinki, Finland. Each time he sent me an email, he challenged me that Tanzanian journalist were not catching up with global trends, and as a result were denying Tanzanians in the Diaspora opportunities to know more about what was happening in their country.
He never got tired of pressuring me to pioneer efforts to bridge the information gap that existed by then. I then happened to travel to Finland to cover The Helsinki Conference in 2005, accompanying President Jakaya Kikwete (who was by then the Minister for Foreign Affair), the UN Deputy Secretary General, Dr Asha Rose Migiro (Minister for Community Development, Women and Children, by then), and other government officials.
While in Helsinki I met a U-S-based friend of mine, who was invited to the Conference as a blogger. I got so much excited, especially as there was virtually no blog in Tanzania. A handful of bloggers from the country-like Boniface Makene, Da’Mija, Marco Polo, John Mwaipopo, and others- were by then all foreign-based. With technical support from Ndesanjo Macha adding up on top of the encouragement from Tungaraza, I decided to start blogging on September 8, 2005.When I got back home; I continued blogging passionately, providing timely coverage of local news and events. The wealth of pictures and news has have successfully made my blog uniquely popular within and outside Tanzania.
SPORAH: How do you manage to balance your time between serving your employer (to whom you work as a photojournalist) and your blog which you seem to work in full time? Secondly, how do you draw a line between your employer’s interest and your blog’s (for instance, which pictures to appear in your blog and which in the newspaper you work as a photojournalist)?
MICHUZI: I am a quite a well-organised person. Also, courtesy of my benefactors, I have been able to get a lot of support and assistance from reputable journalists from almost certainly every corner of Tanzania, who frequently send me news and pictures. We also get a lot of pictures and news from oversees. Additionally, I have a strong team of people who edit the news and pictures sent to me, and they also have their own material to be published in the blog. Some I am not working alone. Behind me is a strong team of journalists. Combined with pictures and news sent from ‘wadau’ (informal stakeholders) all over the world, I certainly am not overburdened.
I have successfully managed to draw a fine line between my role as a blogger and as a TSN Journalist, mostly because I am not a photographer at the Daily News but a sub-editor. Prior to that, I was an on-line editor, managing the Daily News’s website. I still do the photographing but not as my primary role, as there are other photographers doing the job. For that matter, there’s no chance of any conflict of interest. And if there is a need to choose which picture should be used in the newspaper, then the decision is my bosses’. The pictures I use in my blog are either sent by my associates and member of the public, if not taken by myself.
SPORAH: How do you interact with your blog readers?
MICHUZI: Ah, that’s so easy. As you know, social media networks are quite different from radio, TV or newspapers in the sense that in social media there is a place for readers/visitors to comment. Therefore, the interaction is automatic, and if there’s a section on my blog where readers/visitors can leave their queries or share whatever news they might have. Furthermore, my email address email@example.com is widely known. So I engage my audience by either writing to them to seek their opinion or criticism. On average, I receive at least 1000 emails and I do my best to respond them all of them.
They says, Eating and drinking while standing, walking, driving or watching TV means that you will probably eat more than if you were sitting at a table..!
SPORAH: You once created Michuzipost.com but it is no longer working. What happened?
MICHUZI: Michuzipost.com is no longer there because it’s not ready yet. I just introduced it to the public to gauge opinion, and I realised that the public is in favour of the blog. Therefore, to come up with a complete website, Michuzipost.com is now in the hands of professionals, and when it’s back it would be a force to be reckoned with as it would have online TV and radio. When? Soon…Watch this space.
SPORAH: One of the reasons given for unpopularity of Tanzania is the usage of Swahili (which in itself is not a problem). What’s your view on this, and just as the first few posts in Michuzipost.com were in English, do you have any plans in the future to use other language(s) than Swahili (for the sake of reaching a wider audience, especially those who are not fluent in the language)?
MICHUZI: I have repeatedly been asked this question, and at times people seeking my opinion as to whether they should use Swahili or English or any other language (remember I am also fluent in German and French...).But because majority of the people visiting my blog speak Swahili, and in appreciating our national language, I have decided to continue blogging in Swahili.
I strongly believe that sooner or later the logic behind this decision would be understood by many. For those who are not fluent in Swahili I just advise them to learn the language, bearing in mind that soon the language would be among the official languages used in AU’s and UN’s meetings. Also, I have been told that most of our foreign embassies have been using my blog as a reference point for our local news, and that’s something that has really encouraged me to continue blogging in Swahili.
Issa Michuzi on point..!
SPORAH: How do you work with other bloggers?
MICHUZI: Co-operation among Tanzanian bloggers is really impressive. First of all, I feel so proud of being a pioneer in encouraging others to start blogging. Also, I have played a big role in creation of most of the (Tanzanian) blogs you find today. I wouldn’t get into naming names without their consent but all I can say is my role was there. I’m quite proud that the people I inspired to blog are doing really well. Moreover, I never hesitate to be of help whenever someone starts a blog, and asks me to publicise it.
I also tend to advise new bloggers about their blog design or even content, sometime well before I publicise them. Additionally, I tend to share some news items which some blogger have not had access to. I am also quite willing to let other bloggers to use my blog’s content with expectation that they would cite my blog as a source. I work closely with both locally- and foreign-based bloggers, for instance, Washington DC-based Dj Luke’s ‘Vijimambo,’ Urban Pulse (Reading UK), Freddy Macha (London), Da’Subi of , Francis Godwin (Iringa) Bongo Celebrity, Mbeya Yetu, my brother Israel Isaria’s (London) Tanzaniasports and many more, including you guys (The Sporah show), Jestina George and brother Ayub Mzee’s Swahili Diaries (London), and Da’ Chemi’s Swahili Times. I work very closely with all of them.
Issa Michuzi himself.!
SPORAH: As a Government employee, how do you make sure that your blog does not seem to be the State’s mouthpiece?
MICHUZI: They are all my readers.
SPORAH: A question related to the previous one, how do you manage to publish news (or pictures) which your employer (the Government) might have preferred they receive less or no publicity?
MICHUZI: Fortunately, my blog’s policy is strictly not to hurt people’s feelings. Adhering to this policy assures me of not running into problems. Mind you ‘what’s good for the goose is bad for the hen’. Therefore, it’s not all about my employer. There are sections of the society that might not like some of the stuff which others do. It’s all about common sense and applying journalism ethics and standards, in denying gossips, and other unfounded stories a place in my blog, and that really helps.
Issa Michuzi having a laugh with The President of Republic Of Tanzania His Excelence Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.
SPORAH: What’s your opinion on an influx of Tanzanian blogs, most of which seem to share same themes?
MICHUZI: I do not have any issues with what you call an influx of Tanzanian blogs; bearing in mind that blogging in our country is at its infancy. We therefore have to leave the situation as it is. I only hope for a brighter future, and it’s up to the readers to judge the blogs they visit I usually encourage those who want to create blogs to focus on their areas of expertise, rather than just copying and pasting other bloggers’ works. If it’s a journalist, I usually advise them to come up with news blogs, but for those who are not journalists I tend to recommend they create blogs about stuff they are familiar with. For instance, a carpenter creates a blog about carpentry, not starting a news blogs lest he ends up copying other people’s works. It’s also worth knowing what potential visitors to your blog expect from you. And is it uniquely yours? If there’s another blog dwelling on same theme, do you have the guts to deliver more than they do, lest your blogs look similar?
SPORAH: There’s a view that some Tanzanian blogs seem to avoid focusing on variety of problem facing the country/society(for instance, corruption, poverty, diseases, etc) and they instead seem to prefer pictures and entertainment news. What’s your opinion on this?
MICHUZI: You would see that I already answered this question if you read carefully my answer to your previous question. My opinion is for those with expertise in such matters to come forward, and start blogging. They should not be scared because Rome wasn’t built in a day. One day they could become as popular as I am.
SPORAH: Is there any (local or international) blogger who you admire? Additionally, which blog/blogger you look upon as your role model?
MICHUZI: I like all bloggers whose work is original, I mean those who don’t copy&paste other bloggers’ pictures and/or news but they endeavour to look for original material to publish in their blogs. There are lots of such bloggers, and they do really impress me.
SPORAH: Two of your brothers are also established bloggers. Is blogging something that runs in your family or is it just a case of your young brothers getting inspired by you?
MICHUZI: I think what runs in our blood is a strong desire to share news and information through blogging. Initially, my younger brothers started by helping me with gathering news and pictures. Later on I encouraged them to have their own blogs. They followed my advice and they certainly are doing really well. They are still in my team, and for that matter nothing is missing in my blog even when I am away. I really like my younger brothers, Ahmad and Othman, and I truly value their hardworking attitude and spirit. Without them, I would really struggle to manage the workload. The good thing is they have both emerged as among the best photographers that I do not hesitate asking them to work for me. The public has warmly accepted their works, and I do not regret having them on board.
SPORAH: As a reputable blogger, how do you envision the future of blogging in Tanzania?
MICHUZI: The future of blogging in Tanzania is very bright, putting aside minor issues as I explained before. Also, I’m quite impressed now blogs have won recognition as reliable source of news and information, although there are still few people, especially those the conservatives, whose first encounters with social media left them with negative attitude towards blogs (for instance, first blogs they ever came across were filthy). They therefore still harbour a misguided impression that the whole social networks thing is filthy too. However, such misconceptions are gradually disappearing, and I strongly hope the future is bright.
SPORAH: There is a perception that using the domain “blogspot.com” is for new or unpopular blogs, and it creates an impression of a ‘personal’ blog as compared to such a prominent blog like yours (perhaps such perceptions are due to the fact that the domain ‘blogspot.com’ is used for free). Do you have plans to have something like “michuzi.com” which could probably create a more professional impression?
MICHUZI: Such perceptions are more theoretical than practical, although they have an element of truth. Especially you guys who are based overseas. Here in Tanzania, it’s just a habit. Most people here are getting used to blogs, easily having wider access to news. Many access blogs while they are at work. For them, a ‘one-page blog’ (i.e. reading news on same page without necessarily turning pages) is more convenient, and they don’t have to read a lot. Some might just be lazy or they are not well-used to searching for content in a comprehensive site. I witnessed myself in Michuzipost.com. The more sections a site has the further the number of visitors to the site diminished. Blogs in Kenya and Uganda, or even in Rwanda and Burundi, are quite less popular and only websites with professional touch seemed to hit it off together with readers. Perhaps that’s how the readers were exposed to accessing news online.
SPORAH: Because blogs are part of social media, and because you are among the first pioneers to embrace the trend, how would you describe the role of social media in Tanzania, and how it evolves?
MICHUZI: Social media has truly inspired an information revolution in our country. Gone are days when you had to wait until the following day to know what happened today. Although it might take some time, but the mainstream media would have to work really hard. And the ‘traditional’ media outlets which ignore the presence and effectiveness of social media must understand that they might be digging own graves. Nowadays a ‘normal’ reader could become a self-made journalist by using social media. Gone too are days when people were ‘spoon-fed’ with one-sided stories without a reader having an opportunity to comment on the news. This is a new era in which news could be easily access on your mobile phone, which does not necessarily have to be the priciest ones. I heard some of you guys living abroad do not buy newspapers and just get news from the internet. Such a trend is gradually becoming prominent in the Third World.
SPORAH: A related question, apart from blogging, do you use other social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, etc?
MICHUZI: Yes, I do frequently use them. I am on Facebook, I Skype, I am on Google+, and I have my own YouTube channel (mdauwalibeneke). My blog is connected to all these services, and that really helps to bring more readers to it.
SPORAH: A blog with few readers but achieving your aims for creating it in the first place, or a blog with massive number of visitors but not necessarily meeting your aims?
MICHUZI: Both. My aims and my readers’ expectations, needs, etc. As a journalist, my aim and role is to impart information to meet the needs of the public.
SPORAH: In conclusion, what would you like to tell our readers, yours and the public in general?
MICHUZI: I can’t find anything that I have not said or mentioned. Perhaps I should give a massive ‘THANK YOU’ to all who visit Michuzi Blog, and I would like to tell them I am their humble servant, and should not hesitate to tell me how best I can serve them. I respectably promise to fulfil their wishes/needs. I wouldn’t be here without them; they have been with me through highs and lows, thick and thin. To every reader of your magazine, I just want to let them know they made the right decision to choose it, and they should keep supporting it. Although you might not know, you are doing our nation an exceedingly great service. History will certainly tell that.
SPORAH: Thank you Issa for your time.
The Sporah Show' Crew.
SPORAH: Thank you Issa for your time.
The Sporah Show' Crew.