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Africans' newest form of dissent: blogs

From Congo to Chad, dissidents are taking their grievances online. But are some rebels going too far?

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When rebels in Chad advanced on the capital, N'Djamena, earlier this year, makaila.over-blog.com was a mouthpiece for their movement with entries calling for the ousting of President Idriss Déby.

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The sokwanele.com blog in Zimbabwe tallied election results in efforts to prevent President Robert Mugabe from cheating his way into a another term.

From a stark, one-room apartment in Senegal's capital Dakar, self-exiled Chadian blogger Makaila Nguebla receives phone calls and text messages tracking the movements of Chadian rebels who have been on the offensive in recent days. He publishes information about new attacks, along with opinion articles supporting the rebellion.

Mr. Nguebla sleeps next to his computer.

"This allows me to receive and follow, without delay, what is happening in Chad," Nguebla said. "I receive messages and telephone calls 24 hours a day."

He says the government is well aware of and not happy about his blog.

"They are observing and watching constantly what we are doing on the net," Nguebla says. "Sometimes they call and tell us we have to take down a certain articles and they threaten us. But we tell them we have the right to do this. Anything that serves to destabilize the regime I find suitable for publication.

Are some bloggers going too far?

Africa expert Leonard Vincent, with the Paris-based journalism watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, says that while expanding freedom of speech in Africa is important, some opposition and rebel blogs are taking it too far.

"You have the personal bloggers and the political bloggers: Political parties publish whatever they want – full of libel, defamation, violence, sometimes very graphic images," Mr. Vincent says. "I have the feeling that the ones who are blogging in an individual way are more conscious of their responsibility and are more likely to be measured and moderate in the publication than those who use the Internet and their Web sites as war tools or propaganda tools."

For the time being, Vincent says, African governments don't seem too concerned by bloggers. Few governments have tried to block blogs or trace down their authors, although, he says, this may be due to a lack of technology rather than a lack of will.

Also, Internet access is still extremely limited, and those who are logging on are for the most part using cyber cafes, where governments can easily monitor their activities.

"When the Internet becomes democratic in Africa," says Vincent, "it will become a danger, and the repression will step up."

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