The EPA Web site’s African audience

Anne Ambourouè Avaro, École du Patrimoine Africain
La Lettre de l’EPA, N° 10, juillet, août, septembre 2004

The École du Patrimoine Africain (EPA), based in Porto-Novo, is identified today for its work in Africa. For several years, it has been exploring the potential of the Internet to support its mission of preserving and promoting African cultural heritage.

As a result, it has developed six Internet sites since 1999, two of which are institutional and four related to thematic cultural content.

A 2004 survey of visitors to these sites was immensely instructive, not just about the visitors who were not necessarily those targeted by the study, but also about their sometimes unsuspected reasons for visiting the sites.

The study concluded that the general African public (that is those connecting to the sites from within Africa), showed little interest in the cultural sites. Indeed, African visits to our thematic sites (Historical Museum of Abomey; Numibia: African art on the Web; Symbolique Nationale, an exhibition of the Musée des Forces Armées Sénégalaises; Nubia Museum) represent on average 3 percent of the logons recorded on our servers. This lack of interest in cultural content obviously has underlying causes. This was confirmed by two surveys carried out by the EPA between 1999 and 2002 on the connections between schools and heritage education. The surveys showed that for a variety of reasons cultural and artistic education were missing from the primary and secondary curricula of African children. As a result, younger generations have neither an inclination nor an interest in cultural content.

This apparent rejection by the African public is probably due also to the African context where new technologies are difficult to access, there is a lack of Internet culture, illiteracy, etc.

On the other hand, “African” hits on our two institutional sites represent 12 percent of all logons indicating that African professionals are more motivated or more likely to logon from their workplace.

An analysis of navigation statistics shows that more than 50 percent of the logons on the Historical Museum of Abomey site were made from Europe or the United States, depending the language of the site. It was tempting to try to discover who these “Europeans” or “Americans” were who were connecting to a site as specific as that of the Abomey museum.

In examining the 400 messages posted to the guest book on the site, we noticed that the “Europeans” or “Americans” that were logging on to African cultural sites were actually African expatriates. They had an enormous need for cultural content to remind them of their roots. Actually, over one-third of the messages posted to the site came from expatriates of Benin. This was a thoughtful and rather cultured audience that was very interested in the sites. Some messages even suggested improvements and ideas for future sites.

The messages revealed that these expatriate Beninese used the Abomey museum site to educate their European-born children, talk about the country with their friends, present it in their school or university work, or simply revisit their country for a few moments.

The discovery of this audience, unknown before the 2004 survey, confirmed observations made by researchers at the University of Turin together with the EPA concerning the need to design cultural content for second- and third-generation immigrant Italian children that would allow them to remember their roots.

The messages give the general impression of the immense pride of visitors (Beninese and Africans in general) in the introduction of their culture to the world of which an Internet presence was perceived to be an acknowledgement.

There was pride not only in the site’s existence but also because the site was designed by Africans. Being present and active on the Internet was seen as fulfilling.

In any case, these comments have allowed the EPA to learn more about “African” Internet users and to respond to the needs of the different segments of the public that we serve.