U.S.-based Zambian writer and blogger Bwalya Chileya has created a Twitter-based space for Zambians at home and abroad to discuss social issues and learn from each other.
Global Voices Online recently caught up with Chileya about how the platform is giving Zambians “a safe place to speak their truths”.
Global Voices Online (GV): Will you briefly tell us about yourself?
Bwalya Chileya (BC): My name is Bwalya Chileya, otherwise known as @MissBwalya on Twitter and my blog, Miss Bwalya Writes. I’m a Zambian writer and blogger currently based in the U.S. Professionally, I’m a project manager with a background in Economics. I was raised in Lilongwe, Malawi and Lusaka, Zambia.
GV: What exactly is InsakaChat? What does the word Insaka mean?
BC: InsakaChat is Twitter based platform for people to discuss social issues. It’s a space for people to speak up on issues, share ideas and ultimately learn from others. The idea was borne out of a need to engage with fellow Zambians on Twitter on topics that aren’t solely focused on politics and politicians.
I firmly believe that we are more similar than we are different and when we come together to discuss or even problem solve issues that affect many of us, we’re better for it.
Insaka takes place every Sunday at 6 p.m. Central African Time. While many of the topics are targeted at a Zambian audience we welcome contributions from anyone with interest in the topic at hand.
The word Insaka comes from the Bemba language (spoken in Northern Zambia) and means “a place to gather.” It’s derived from the verb isa “come.”
GV: Who is involved in this initiative?
BC: I’m the primary lead on this platform. I also have support from veteran Zambian journalist Laura Miti (@LauraMiti) who has served as moderator when needed.
GV: How do you run Insaka? Who suggests topics for discussion?
BC: I typically announce the topic for discussion on Tuesday or Wednesday, and spend time between then and Sunday advertising and reminding regular contributors to brainstorm and come prepared.
On the day of, Sunday, I spend much of the time during the 1.5-2 hours moderating the discussion. This is done by asking questions and following up on different threads, and helping steer the conversation based on what points are being raised. I follow this up by compiling a sampling of the tweets into Storify. Storify is handy because it helps people who missed the discussion to catch up, and also serves to educate people on what exactly we do on Insaka.
Topics are typically crowd sourced from folks on Twitter; these have been sent via email, WhatsApp, and direct message. I have these compiled into a list along with some of my ideas.
GV: How many topics have you discussed so far?
BC: As of July 14, we have had ten Insaka discussions.
GV: Do you use any other tools apart from Twitter for this initiative?
BC: Twitter is the primary tool we are using for the actual discussions, and Storify to compile tweets thereafter to share with friends.
GV: What has been the most popular topic so far?
BC: Our post popular topic so far has been the two-part series we did on changes in traditional Zambian marriage processes. We discussed the practice of lobola [dowry], and other ceremonies that lead up to marriage including icilanga mulilo (when the groom is formally welcomed to the bride’s family by introduction to foods typically prepared in the bride’s family), kitchen parties (a take on the western-style bridal shower) and weddings. Much has evolved over time in these various practices and it was interesting to see what people thought about the changes and the value they still have today.
GV: Are most participants living in Zambia or in the Diaspora?
BC: At this time it’s a pretty even split – 50/50. This is good because the intent is to engage Zambians both at home and abroad in the various topics because we have much to learn and share among us.
GV: What do you intend to accomplish with this initiative?
BC: What I hope to accomplish with Insaka is giving people a safe place to speak their truths. Some of the topics we have discussed are quite contentious such as the treatment of domestic workers in our culture. These are topics we often talk about among friends and in our homes but not always in the open. By bringing these to the fore I believe we challenge ourselves and others to think and act differently. And ultimately people have a voice. We don’t always have to agree on issues but at least having honest discussions is a start.
One point I always try to emphasis, is “what are the next steps?” What can we do with the resolutions we reach to take our words to actions? There is definite interest from my generation of Zambians to be more than talkers and be part of the needed changes in our society, and I see Insaka as being just one vehicle for us to share ideas, collaborate and start projects offline.
GV: Any future plans?
BC: I’m currently engaged in conversations to take Insaka to a radio platform. There is interest to make the discussions open to a wider audience which radio provides. There are number of issues to consider – the correct program format to facilitate robust conversations, scheduling, and other technicalities to have the program streaming online and live on radio simultaneously. If this works out, a radio show would not replace the Twitter platform but rather complement it.