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A couple of weeks ago I ran a workshop for the leaders of The British Council’s East and West Africa teams. It was a really interesting morning looking at engagement with audiences in Africa via the web. There were too many of my preconceptions shattered during the research and our discussions to detail here, but in brief the web is forming an increasingly important component in the lives of (predominantly urban) young people across a number of countries.

I was impressed at the pragmatic, open-minded and cost-effective approach and this group exemplifies the work. WAPI (Words and Pictures) is a group for hip hop, graffiti and underground collaboration and expression:

WAPI events, piloted in Nairobi and recently extended to Dar Es Salaam, are a platform that makes it possible for visual and verbal artists in the underground to showcase their art (in words and/or pictures). We take the underground to mean the upcoming, the undiscovered, those who, by design or default, are not part of the mainstream. WAPI brings undiscovered talent to the fore for the discerning public through a regular (monthly) WAPI programme. WAPI also aspires to become a talent-spotting platform – the place where tomorrows best acts and today’s best-kept secrets are identified and enjoyed.

Rather than spending money creating a monolithic site and thereafter spending money on marketing, the BC have used free software (Facebook) to create a group. They moderate rather than control (which is of course appropriate to a self-defining community) and focus their efforts on supporting, celebrating and developing the ‘real world’ events. This is a refreshing approach.

One interesting point I learned was the prevalence of blogs within the WAPI participant community. It’s clear that once young people have access to the web and computers that there’s a rapid adoption of all relevant technologies – from mixing music, creating and publishing CDs, digital downloads and blogging.

One further benefit of FB is the access it provides to an international, supportive community of like-minded people.

It’s difficult to leave aside the pressing social and economic issues that the continent faces, but there’s a great deal of energy and hope here for a future for young people beyond the very real privations and less real preconceptions. I’m pleased to have come across this initiative – it’s certainly rounded my view of the web, communication and engagement.