Group Creates Largest Online Archive of African Poetry In An Effort to Expand Reach of African Poets
Linda Kaoma is on the hunt in East Africa. Her tour of the region will see her travel to Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Not in search of lions, rhinos or other big game. Rather she’s on a quest for a much more elusive creature—the African poet.
“We have a rich oral tradition and it’s important that we document what is happening in history poetry-wise,” she explains. “Africa has a history of a lack of documentation and we really didn’t want this to happen to our poets.”
Kaoma, 29, is part of the team behind the Badilisha Poetry X-Change, the largest online archive of African poetry, accessible via mobile phone, in the world.
The Badilisha project was originally conceived as an annual poetry festival overseen by the Africa Centre, a pan-African organization based in Cape Town in 2008. Over the following years it grew to become a powerful mouthpiece for showcasing African wordsmiths. And by 2012, the institution decided to move online in an effort to break down geographical borders and open up their diverse anthology to a wider audience in Africa.
Following an overhaul of the site last year, Badilisha relaunched in September, making its immersive archive accessible to a broader international following through a “mobile-first” site.
It’s a shrewd move on a continent where mobile phones have revolutionized critical sectors such as education, healthcare and agriculture. Adoption of mobile phone use has been prolific in Africa with mobile data services going from strength to strength. Seven out of 10 mobile users in sub-Saharan Africa use their phones to browse the web, according to a recent report from Ericsson. Elsewhere, a study by analyst firm Ovum predicted in November that “mobile broadband connections in Africa are set to rise from 96 million in 2013 to 950 million to cover 77.3% of all mobile subscriptions in the continent by the end of 2019.”
Kaoma adds: “A lot of Africans use their mobiles to go on the Internet and because they are our main target audience, we had to cater to them and make it easy for them to access this content.”
To date, the project has collected almost 400 African poets from 31 countries in Africa and across the diaspora, in 14 different languages. Since the relaunch, users are able to navigate the site through a myriad of options including by theme, poet, country, language, emotion or by their “Top 10” list, a popular feature curated by a guest poet each month.
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