Media plays key role in Africa’s development

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BEECHAM OKWERE

Welcome to the African Media Leaders and Journalists’ Forum, the single-largest gathering that we are targeting of media leaders and journalists on the African continent.

We are beginning a dialogue, a conversation on the transformative power of ideas, on the spread of those ideas, and on mass media’s potential to drive social change to African continent.

This may be a defining moment in human history.

The media is faced with three crises that threaten the very fundamentals of journalism civilization and co-existence: food, fuel and finance.

The financial crisis is exacting a heavy toll and roiling financial markets, food prices are soaring, triggering hunger, malnutrition and civil unrest even as the environment is under growing stress.  From most perspectives, the view is of a glass half-empty.

But it is also a time of opportunity, a glass half-full as it were.  Sub-Saharan Africa – a region encompassing 55 countries with a combined population of more than 1 billion people– is on the cusp of far-reaching change.

Economic growth rates are up across the continent – on part with most developing countries.  School enrolment rates are up, as are other health and education indicators.

Some African countries were among three of the world’s top 10 reformers last year.

The information and communications technology (ICT) revolution is opening up new opportunities – for economic growth, improvements in health, nutrition, distance learning, and service delivery, e-commerce, and social and cultural advances basically bse of media inputs.

The percentage of Africans living within range of a GSM signal has risen dramatically, from five percent in the last Years to 90 percent in 2017.  Over the same period, more than 100 million Africans became mobile telephone subscribers. The ubiquitous mobile is no longer restricted to just carrying voice signals — it is now powering e-commerce, allowing small traders to exchange information, transfer money, and keep businesses humming just bse of media publicity.

But along with these and other hopeful signs, challenges still loom, and Sub-Saharan Africa remains the only continent not on track for the achieving the global development compact contained in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which we must tackle it seriously.

It is against this backdrop – a glass half-full and a glass half-empty– that we must begin to look new at the African media agenda by coming together and develop Africa. And perhaps, it will help to take a look back, draw some lessons, and then look forward.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time when many African nations were gaining independence. I will Observe that “Journalism in free Africa was ready to take off.  Instead, in many cases, it crashed and burned.”

In identifying this many media scholars have written that the newly independent one-party governments were hostile to newspapers and other media houses that were against them because of the truth that the media houses expose that they could not control.

Even small African papers that led the fight against colonialism became enemies of the new class that ruled Africa. Politicians who controlled the destinies of fragile new states began to persecute African journalists, a process that “created dull, obeisant and uninformative newspapers.”

Unsurprisingly, the number of papers shrank; there were fewer daily newspapers and Tvs and radios in Africa during the early 1980’s  than during the 1960’s.  According to the media scholars data, in 1980 there were only 124 daily newspapers on the African continent.

Of these, South Africa, Nigeria Kenya, and Morocco accounted for almost half the total among 55 nations.

Fast forward to the 1990s, a period marked by the liberalisation of political space and   growing “hunger” for information and new ideas. Private entrepreneurs – many of you in this whatsApp group – overcame the odds of low investments in the African media.

The shadow of these shortcomings continues to this day today and I feel your pain day in day out

The fourth estate I can varyingly describe as an essential pillar of democracy, of participation, and a force multiplier of ideas for beneficial social change.

Mass media have a central role to play in improving the human condition.

I must also observe from the bottom of my heart that no country in African continent with a free press has suffered from famine, quite simply because the existence of such a dire condition would not escape media scrutiny and precipitate public action.

Indeed, for the market place of ideas to function well, critical issues of capacity development, financial support, strengthening of private sector participation, and a fundamental realignment of donor engagement with Africa’s media industries need to be addressed.

This group daily dialogue seeks to kick-start that process of self-examination, followed by a commitment to take mediated communications to a higher level.

First, we need to strengthen training opportunities for journalists that are always available. The rapid expansion of media industries has been not been in lock step with investments needed for training and strengthening of human capacities.

Practicing journalists need on-the-job training, access to knowledge resources, and exposure to world-class specialists.

Second, the team needs to strengthen financial support.

In this regard, I am hopeful that this Forum’s deliberations will serve as key inputs into the design of a pan-African media support facility, with tentative plans for a launch that the group members should come up with.

Many groups of public-private donors have expressed strong interest in supporting such Initiative always, and I am hopeful that together we will be able to persuade more donors on this cause.

Third, this team needs to move to a more strategic mode of engagement between the donors community and African media industries.

By this I mean that ad hoc activities such as media junkets and staged media tours would be supplanted by a more dynamic and upstream partnership, with African media industries being engaged as equal partners, to address emerging issues on the continent particularly as they relate to the public good, economic growth and opportunity.

These are some initial thoughts about the need for elevating the agenda of African media, in development discourse and for societal advance.  It is important that this team aim big, but begin small, adopting a “learning by doing approach” that allows you to take risks and build on successes.

Finally my hope is that this group is only the beginning of a necessary conversation about the role of mass media in promoting social change in Africa, a new compact for new times that will help the mass media to become a force for sustainable development on the continent.

Your voice be the true voice of Africa’s media – will go a long way in determining the hoped-for outcomes that will put mass media at the heart of the development process in Africa.

I Thank you all for your Attention.

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