Africa SMSes Obama

2009-07-10 11:28

Pretoria - Hundreds of thousands of SMSes were pouring in from across Africa for US President Barack Obama, thanks to the US government's SMS programme in honour of the popular president's first official visit to the continent.

Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are visiting Ghana on July 10 and 11. He is due to deliver a "historic speech" from the country on Saturday.

The American government has set up a site where users can register to receive SMS updates from his visit and send messages and comments.

In order to get broader access, the American state department partnered with popular texting site, MXit, which has 14 million users across the continent.

As one of the partners during the visit, MXit ran a 24 hour service on Tuesday and Wednesday, collecting messages from youth across the continent for the popular president.  

Running till Saturday

But while MXit's service closed on Wednesday, the broader SMS campaign run by the American government extends till Saturday.

It is anticipated that Obama will send a general response to the messages early next week to the outpouring of social media comments possibly in his podcast.

Hundreds of thousands of messages - many of congratulations - have already been sent to Obama. Selected comments will be posted online and a map may possibly be created to show where various messages were sent from.

To register for "live" SMS updates visit the American government's sms site here and fill in the online form to receive live speech highlights on Saturday.

Online registration will end by 06:00 SA time on July 11 2009.

Obama's first official visit to Africa has generated much interest and excitement.

The first six months of his term in office has seen him addressing other pressing foreign concerns.

African connection

Reuters reported that as an African-American whose father was born in Kenya, Obama was anxious not to be seen as exaggerating the importance of Africa in US foreign policy.

But this won't be his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, he visited Kenya, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa and Djibouti as a US senator.

Meanwhile MXit has received a boost from a prominent figure like Obama, whose campaign to win the presidency garnered hitherto unrivalled attention and passion both in America and abroad.

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

"We are simply delighted that such an important and influential president understands and acknowledges the power of social networking."

Obama, who was often photographed on his Blackberry mobile phone while on the trail, is known for being a tech-savvy politician.

But the US embassy in South Africa emphasised that while Mxit has been extremely supportive of the president’s outreach, it was not a platform for direct communication with the President.

The embassy will forward speech excerpts and links to sites where individuals can see the President’s responses and other materials to MXIt.