Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, all protocol observed as we say in Kenya.
When you think of “the African story”, what is the first notion that comes to mind? It might be one of the following:
You might think poverty…war…corruption…or disease
You may also think economic growth…tourist attractions…and emerging development sectors
Or you may also think the remarkable diversity of its people, a mix of 54 countries and their cultures and the tremendous ideas that this produces, and the potential we represent?
Evidently, news about Africa today is not always shiny, it is even often negative.
I have heard it said of media practice that if it bleeds, it leads, no? In Africa’s case, the focus on what is going wrong is particularly harmful, because there are copious amounts of accessible sources of knowledge about the continent, available for use verification. I am not certain this knowledge is always used for this purpose.
Furthermore, even when what is wrong is the accurate story, many times it is just one side of the story, or the single story as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has told us before – incomplete, stereotyped and specious.
For example, reports on conflict in some African countries seem to give the impression that all of Africa is at constant war, yet none would associate the violence in East Timor, Syria, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, with Asia as a whole.
Media reporting on Africa seldom focuses on everyday matters or the curiosities of daily life. The result is an idea that the African crisis is “normal” – and any “good news” about the continent is an exception, not the norm.
For years now, we have been discussing how Africa is rising, and also how to forge a positive yet balanced African narrative. We in our different capacities are all responsible for our part in building that narrative, in schools, development organisations, governments, private sector and elsewhere. We all contribute to the tale in our different niches through the change we are making, but the media has a special and critical role to play.
There have been numerous calls for journalists especially from Africa, to tell “the African story” better than how it has been done for decades – to reflect its true state, its hope and its steady growth. News is often the first source of information and knowledge, unfortunately many times the reference is done without paying keen attention on the credibility of the source.
Consequently, each member of the Fourth Estate should ask himself/herself, “What can I do to improve Africa’s narrative? What should I do to shape the conversation on Africa?” because indeed the rest of the world is also talking about Africa, has always and will continue to do so. [PAUSE, EXPLAIN]
Secondly, do you ask yourself ‘Why do I report on this story?’ Is it just to get the job done and get paid – and this is only in those instances where the media do get paid – or is it to bring about desired change, and also equip citizens with information and help them hold stakeholders to account?
Some surely do, as in recent years African journalists have been recognized on global platforms for excellent work, so there is progress to report on the practice. Yet, the media still needs to take advantage of the growth and report on a better Africa.
But to shape the conversations on Africa’s development in this age, African media will need
Greater commitment to original research and focus/investigative journalism – Many African news outlets rely on foreign/western-based news agencies to tell stories about other African countries – and thus contribute to spreading the dominant narratives even when they are not accurate. What is needed now, more than ever, is a multiplicity of stories from within to provide a different perspective. To do that, we will need to invest more in information and data and learn how to use it in the journalism trade, to be able to tell balanced and credible stories.
There are also be issues that are important to the continent yet are not well covered by the media; one example is the African youth and the issues they face. Africa currently has the highest youth population in the world, which is set to double to 400 million by 2050. Interestingly, the rate at which they are growing, is not matching the provision of their needs, in terms of quality education, jobs etc.
Tomorrow night we will recognize African reporting on youth demographics, our way of encouraging more insights into this portion of our growing population, because they are a force to reckon with, and need our attention if we are to remain a productive and stable continent.
Professionalism – There needs to be greater investment made in training programs, local and otherwise, to help journalists acquire the skills they need to succeed in media practice, and to be able to stand on the global stage to speak with authority on African matters.
Greater freedom of the press is a key component of democracy, many African countries still have their media gagged, with many journalists suffering adversely. In this age, this is unacceptable. Africa’s citizens need to be allowed access to information that comes from a free press, it gives them power to make informed decisions, and contribute to their economies and livelihoods. There needs to be better, non-threatening partnership between media and many African states, with the governments providing the enabling environment for issues to be discussed openly and freely for the public good.
Change agents – The media has an agenda setting role, to bring issues into open discussion for the public good. This needs to be approached with a strong sense of commitment and dedication, with the aim of improving the continent, the lives of its people, and its systems.
At the Rockefeller Foundation, we are humbly trying to positively contribute to the shaping of Africa’s history through our two goals of promoting inclusive growth and building resilience. Both are aimed at improving people’s lives, and ensuring they have access to what they need for better quality of life. In the event of a disaster, that they bounce back better than before, and thrive on.
In the course of our work, we come across many compelling examples of how lives are being improved, and those are stories that deserve to be told to the world, and told accurately. Earlier this week a group of journalists here benefitted from a training on resilience reporting. It is our hope that the skills and knowledge they acquired will enable them to draw out more and better stories on how Africa and its people are dealing with the issues that affect them on a daily basis, and how they are developing coping strategies to help them survive and thrive in the aftermath.
Powerful stories that leaders will see and be compelled to invest more in resilience building systems, infrastructure and capacities, to improve the lives of vulnerable populations.
I know that our discussions in the next two days will include the methods through which the right issues and the right stories can be told, and in the right way.
I look forward to it and wish you all an insightful time.