Getting to know the African Union

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Accra, June 2016 – Who heads the African Union (AU)? How does it work or what is it for? Not very many Africans have ready answers to these questions, including reporters, writes Zine Cherfaoui, Algiers.

Why do Africans know so little about this organization which is in the process of shaping their future? Why isn’t the African Union so present in the mainstream media of the continent?

In an attempt to find answers to these questions, the State of the Union Coalition (SOTU) and the African Media Initiative (AMI), supported by Oxfam, held a two-day African Editors Roundtable in Accra, Ghana, last month under the theme, African media setting the continent’s agenda. It was attended by a representative group of top editors and journalists from Africa’s five regions – North, South, West, East and Central – and AU officials.

As expected, it was clear from the start that they (editors) did not know much and that they were suspicious of one another. In a sense, the idea of ​​collecting African journalists and polic- makers around one table was a good one as­­­­ it helped melt the ice.

The two-day meeting enabled representatives of the AU, including Ambassador Jean Mfasoni, the political adviser to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, to identify some of the reasons for the media’s lackluster interest in the organization.

Amb. Mfasoni took time to explain the AU’s operations and goals, pointing out the critical role of media in helping the continental body achieve its development plans such as its Agenda 2063.

From the editors’ corner, it was clear that what they described as “lack of communication from the AU” had hampered efforts for more meaningful interactions with the organization. They said the AU was neither doing enough to attract the interest of African media for its activities nor did it facilitate access to sources that would help generate content on the organization’s issues.

In the more extreme cases, the editors said, the AU “seems to be more accommodative of foreign journalists than African ones’, giving them access to interviews with sources and helping them with their enquiries.

Ms Sophie Mokoena of the South African Broadcasting Corporation criticized African leaders “for their tendency to despise the press of the continent and seeming to favour Western media”. She added: “It is not surprising that African journalists in turn despise their leaders, especially since a number of them are dictators.”

How to break this vicious circle and build bridges between the press and the AU?

Journalists called on AU leaders to be more transparent, report regularly on their activities, and facilitate the work of journalists.

  • Editor’s note: This article was originally written in French and may have changed slightly in the translation.