On Tuesday 25 November 2014 the subject of the day was about blogs. It was the start of a Web 2.0 and social media training course held in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, by Promodev and CTA. The participants included a blogger who is well known for his role in the RFI Mondoblog, bringing together young French-speaking bloggers from around the world. Wilney Taris shared his blogging experience with those taking part in the training course, most of whom were new to this tool. During the break, a discussion developed on the state of the Haitian blogosphere. Were there any bloggers’ associations in Haiti? Were blogs still unheard of?
Just over a year later, that original discussion resulted in the Haitian Bloggers’ Network (Réseau des Blogueurs d’Haïti - RBH). It took time and energy for the interest expressed by bloggers to be transformed into the development of a genuine association.
The first informal meeting, a few weeks after the Web 2.0 training course, was not entirely reassuring. Firstly because the idea of a bloggers' association was not new and had never previously come to anything. Next, because it is not a simple matter to create an association in Haiti. And finally, because it was difficult to reach an agreement on the mission of such an association. To protect bloggers, certainly, but they are not in danger in today's Haiti. It was also felt that this association could turn into a means of censorship, thus denying the bloggers’ freedom of expression instead of fostering it.
In January 2015, a private Facebook group was formed to continue these debates, swiftly followed by a meeting with the regional branch of the International Organisation of la Francophonie (OIF) and the Centre Pen Haiti. These two bodies supported the budding network and invited a representative of the network to speak on 28 March 2015, during the Francophonie week. A discussion about freedom of expression and new technologies brought together Haitian journalists, foreign correspondents and bloggers.
While it is becoming more visible, the network had not yet been officially established. It was with this long-term goal in mind that the next steps would be taken, initially involving the legalisation of the association through the convoluted bureaucracy of the administration. Above all, however, the support of the OIF and the Centre Pen would make it possible, through a series of meetings, to provide this new network with the documentation it needed to function.
Almost all of the network's initial members took part in the Web 2.0 training courses organised in Haiti by CTA and PROMODEV. They are therefore aware of the technical and editorial aspects of blogging and of the issues surrounding freedom of expression and respect for privacy. The questions discussed during the Web 2.0 and social media training workshop have reappeared and been expanded upon: the role of women in blogging, the need to integrate the regions into the activities, the place of development topics in the content of blogs, the question of social media in their role of content delivery, etc. Thanks to these detailed discussions that have been ongoing for over a year, the constitution of the RBH has also acted as a follow-up to the Web 2.0 and social media trainings.
The Haitian Bloggers' Network sees itself as a role model. Accordingly, a series of meetings have resulted in the preparation of a set of internal regulations, as required for any association, and in particular a code of ethics and conduct. In addition to the existence of this code (which too few bloggers' associations have), an independent mediator will be responsible for seeing that it is respected by network members and readers alike. The RBH is one of the only francophone blogger associations to include such a position!
A few weeks after it was officially launched, the RBH had an office. In a complex national electoral environment, the elections within the RBH were a role model of transparency. An electoral commission was established to set the candidacy rules. Each candidate campaigned for election to a specific post, and on the day of the elections the Centre Pen, which hosted the meeting, welcomed independent observers to witness the proper holding of the elections! Wilney Taris became the first president of the RBH.
A number of activities were announced at the official launch of the Haitian Bloggers' Network on the premises of the OIF on Saturday 12 March 2016, before an audience of journalists and partners. An online survey of Internet use in Haiti was launched, in an attempt to make up for the lack of data on social media, something that was observed at each Web 2.0 and social media training course. In addition, a training course in online writing and copyright in Haiti was held the following week to enable bloggers to explore these issues in greater depth.
Thus, the four Web 2.0 and social media Learning Opportunities supported by CTA in Haiti in 2015 have gradually helped to strengthen the Haitian blogosphere, while providing the necessary impulse for consolidation of this dynamic in the form of a well-established, permanent local association, which will now have much to share with its counterparts in African and Caribbean countries.