FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 8, 1998
CONTACT: John Aravosis, 202/328-5707, firstname.lastname@example.org
US Net Activist Wires African Politics
Internet at forefront of democratic revolution on dark continent, expert says
(Washington, DC) West African nonprofits are building democracy online, thanks to a recent training by Wired Strategies and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In a first of its kind event, pro-democracy organizations in the former Ivory Coast - including human rights, women's rights, and judicial reform groups - participated in three days of online advocacy training with Washington, DC-based Internet expert and political strategist John Aravosis.
The training took place from June 15-17, 1998 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, and involved six of the nation's leading pro-democracy organizations, which together comprise the Observatoire Nationale des Elections (National Election Observers), or ONE. The three-day event included: a press conference with the US Ambassador to Cote d'Ivoire; an in-depth seminar on Internet public policy resources and online advocacy best practices from the US, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa; and a series of one-on-one strategy sessions to design Internet advocacy programs tailored to each organization's needs. The trainings were conducted in French.
"Africa is the final frontier for online advocacy," said John Aravosis, founder of Wired Strategies. "With only one million Africans online, compared to 50 million Americans, the virtual revolution has only begun to hit the dark continent," he added. In spite of those figures, Aravosis noted that lots of African nonprofits are already online. The problem, he warns, is that many African nonprofits have yet to take advantage of their Net presence for political advocacy.
"African nonprofits are all over the Internet," said Aravosis, "but they have yet to use the Net for effective political advocacy. For example, southern Africa has a great searchable database of AIDS organizations that parallels anything I've seen in the US <http://www2.wn.apc.org/sahivaids/>. The African Anglican Church runs a lively bulletin board <http://cpsa.org.za/>. And there's a great women's email network run out of Senegal. But none of these groups use their online presence for political advocacy."
Aravosis points to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) <http://www.misanet.org/> as an example of a political organization with a great mission that fails to use the Net's full potential. MISA seeks to promote the free flow of information between journalists to nurture democracy and human rights in Africa. And while the MISA Web site contains lots of "action alerts", the alerts themselves call for no action. "Online advocacy is about spreading your word and getting people to act," Aravosis said. "Unfortunately, a lot of African sites are informative but not action-oriented. It does no good if you inspire people to help, but don't tell them what to do."
Aravosis believes it's only a matter of time before the Net has a profound impact on African politics. "Governments will think twice about violating their citizens' rights when their actions become front page news all over the Web," said Aravosis. "It's only a matter of time before African nonprofits learn the online strategies used successfully by activists in the West, Asia, and Latin America," Aravosis added. "Once that happens, there will be no stopping democracy on the dark continent."
Wired Strategies <http://www.wiredstrategies.com> is a political Internet consulting firm specializing in public policy Internet strategies for the government, nonprofit and private sectors. Wired Strategies' clients include Master Chief Timothy R. McVeigh (of the AOL/US Navy privacy case), the US Department of Health and Human Services, the National Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Georgetown University. Prior to forming Wired Strategies, John Aravosis was the online lobbyist at the Children's Defense Fund, and also worked in the US Senate and the World Bank. Aravosis has a law degree and Masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989).
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