Arts | Politics | Economy | Education & Sciences24 Nov 2017
Africans have their own words change the world around them
Politics, 19 Jul 2011

Recent political uprisings in parts of Northern Africa, have shown that if stories can reach the right ears, millions of lives can change. Media, both social and traditional, have allowed countries to mobilize their citizens, and the world, and the results have been powerful: overthrown governments, wars, and protests.

But often what the world knows about African news comes from non-African journalists reporting for non-African media organizations. This though, is starting to change.
Through international awards programs, educational opportunities and the work of international organizations, Africans are moving towards having their own words change the world around them.

The stories they tell are important to the local audiences they are trying to reach and these local journalists need the support and training to enable them to report on the issues that matter most to their audience. But what happens to these budding journalists when the goal and passion is there, but the tools are missing?

One option is the different educational and training opportunities that are available across Africa. Within this route of formal education is UNESCO, which has 75+ schools listed in their database of African Journalism Schools as well as a UNESCO-designed a Model Curricula for Journalism Education.

In addition to the educational assistance, there are also international organizations in Africa that are working with local journalists; an example being Journalists for Human Rights, jhr.

With a focus on human rights issues, jhr, a Canadian-based organization, has a goal to “make everyone in the world fully aware of their rights. Creating rights awareness is the first and most necessary step to ending rights abuses.”

How does it work? jhr hires journalism trainers, who then work with local journalists to report on human rights issues. So far, the organization’s main projects have focused on Africa. Ben Peterson, jhr's c-founder and executive director, explains that their approach is effective in many African countries as “[we] need a relative degree of freedom of the press, coupled with low capacity in the media sector and high levels of societal disengagement on human rights issues.” Unfortunately, many African nations are then ideal locations for jhr’s work.

Fortunately for jhr, and local journalists who they train, their work is receiving international recognition. Within their current project list is their work in Sierra Leone which includes, among other activities, workshops, training, small grants and journalism fellowships. Their work in Sierra Leone was just named one of the top ten projects funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund. But, it is the local African success stories that make a huge difference on a smaller scale. Local success stories such as power restoration at a hospital in Sierra Leone following a piece written in the local paper by a journalist trained by jhr, are the awards that most locals care about most. Or with education, where a jhr-trained journalist wrote on appalling school conditions for a mission school in Liberia, and when the story was picked up by a major newspaper in Monrovia, an offer to help reconstruct the school was quickly received. As a result, the lives of those local children have improved.

While cinema, photography and music are also often seen as a method for political messaging (see for instance these articles on Sister Fa and the Algerian film, Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)), journalism is a powerful field in Africa.

“Within it [journalism], by far the most effective medium is the radio—you can reach hundreds of thousands of people at the same time through it. TV is growing, but has obvious hurdles to overcome before it is a truly mass media. And newspapers tend to be very small, but reach an elite audience,” says Ben.

And training locals is far more effective at local success as “a single radio station in the Congo can inform thousands of Congolese people about rights in their own language.”

Unfortunately, there is plenty of work for jhr in Africa. Ben says that jhr may now be looking at how they may be able to help in Tunisia and Egypt, with their “(hopefully) newly free media.”

With a rise in African journalism, comes an incredible number of journalists taking part in international awards. And it can be the international reputation of these media organizations and their award programs that help African journalists gain the exposure, and resources, they need.

One such award is CNN’s MultiChoice African Journalist 2011 Competition. Kenyan journalist Fatuma Noor recently won the top prize from the American-based international news organization, when the awards were presented on June 25. Her winning entry was for her investigative three-part series on the story of young men who give up their lives abroad to return to Somalia to fight for the 'Al-Shabaab', an Islamist guerilla group fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia.
Open to African Nationals, “working on the continent for African owned, or headquartered, media organizations “and to those whose work has "appeared in printed publications or electronic media that is primarily targeted at and received by an African audience,” the awards are now in their 16th year and provide the winner with much needed resources; prizes included a three-week CNN Journalism Fellowship at CNN Centre in Atlanta, a laptop and printer.

Awards and the work of organizations like jhr are changing the face of journalism in Africa.
For this year’s CNN award, over 1407 entries were received, from 42 African nations: that is a lot of stories that are being told.

The reach of jhr’s African media partners is over 20 million people each week and so far over 2000 journalists have been trained by the organization: that is a lot of people hearing stories that may have never otherwise been told.

And these 2000+ journalists and award winners like Fatuma Noor are then able to continue to spread not only their message, but also their knowledge, to future African journalists.

Sarah Taylor

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