Obama Uses Social Media to Engage Africa

Africans are gathering at different capital cities Saturday to listen and watch a live video stream of U.S. President Barrack Obama's historic speech to Ghana's Parliament.

People are watching his speech at U.S. embassies in the region, while others participate online via Twitter, Facebook, and the White House blog. The visit is historic because it is the first time it will involve social media and because Obama is visiting Ghana rather than Nigeria, the western African powerhouse; and Kenya, his father's birthplace.

Using campaign-style techniques, Obama's message during his first venture into sub-Saharan Africa consists of the so-called "watch parties" at embassies, broadcasts in "public spaces" and streaming live content on social-networking sites. In Kenya, the U.S. embassy has organized a watch party at the Intercontinental hotel.

The U.S. government has set up a site where users can register to receive SMS (Short Message Service) updates about Obama's visit and send messages and comments. The visit organizers invited users to pre-send SMS messages via MXit, a South African SMS service with 14 million users worldwide.

"We are very proud to have been asked to be part of a campaign to better understand and engage with African youth," said Herman Heunis, MXits founder and CEO.

Obama's visit has generated a lot of debate, because he is insisting on visiting countries that show good examples of democracy and good governance, sending stern messages to countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya.

During the trip, mobile phone users will be expected to use a local SMS short code in Ghana (1731) , Nigeria (32969) , South Africa (31958) and Kenya (5683).

The speech was streamed live at http:www.whitehouse.gov/live, on Facebook, and on Twitter. The much-hyped trip is expected to raise the level of local content and access to social media as a communication tool.

"This visit will improve internet usage and raise the importance of social media in engaging the public," said Rita Mutuku, a media consultant in Nairobi.

This is Obama's second official visit to sub-Saharan Africa -- in 2006, he visited Kenya, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa and Djibouti as a U.S. senator.

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