Rwanda celebrated the Africa Day of Information, early this month, a day that many African countries have forgotten. Established in the days of the Organization of African Union (OAU), the African day of Information was to raise Africa’s voice in telling Africa’s story, which is usually distorted by Western media for their own interests. More often than not, the Western Media coverage of Africa creates an impression of a continent engulfed in catastrophes like wars, diseases, hunger and poverty, yet there are numerous success stories in Africa that are deliberately kept out of the news consumers.
To the contrary, there is a new scramble to invest in Africa, with a record foreign direct investment in Africa estimated at US Dollars 80 billion, in 2014, and Africa’s economic growth in 2015 estimates at 5.7% according to the wall street journal, and all this points to a prosperous continent with many success stories. I will not ask why the Western media usually enjoys stories that focus on the negative side of events in Africa, but my question will rather be, what do the African media do to portray the right image of the Continent? At times you find that even the to journalists who went Western schools of journalism, were taught that bad stories, or anti -government ones make good journalism.
Media experts and academicians from across Africa who convened in Kigali to celebrate the Africa day of information, called on African media to take the lead and tell the continent’s story, thus creating the Africa media we want in the wider context of Africa’s development agenda 2063, of shaping “The Africa we want”. Concerted efforts should be made to create media networks to share information on what is taking place in the countries on the continent.
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which organized the celebration to mark the Africa day of Information, also presented the second edition of the Rwanda media barometer 2016, (RMB 2016), a research tool used to measure the level of media development in the country using internationally accepted indicators. The findings of RMB 2016 showed that the overall state of media development in Rwanda stands at 69% compared to 60.7% measured in RMB 2013. Worth noting also is that the indicator on “a system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of media”, scored higher that other indicators standing at 81.0% compared to 71.5% in 2013.
The most substantive explanation for these improved perceptions in the survey, relates to the impact of the Media reforms initiated by the government in 2013, leading to the review of the media law; the creation of the self-regulation mechanism, the transformation of the state broadcaster to a public broadcaster and enacting of the Access to information law, where Rwanda was the 11th country on the continent to enact the law. The liberalization of the media law also resulted into a tremendous increment of media outlets; especially television from 01 in 2005 to 12 in 2016, and radio stations from 10 in 2005 to 32 in 2016, while print media moved from 30 in 2005 to 50 in 2016, as well as the boom in the web-driven media outlets from 00 in 2005 to over 80 daily news websites.
For a country that started on ground zero in 1994, the above achievements are not mean in terms of re-building the media environment and winning back public trust given the fact that hate-media played a leading role in inciting people to commit genocide. In the media dialogue on the Africa Information day, participants wondered why African countries do not produce their own media barometers instead of being ranked from foreign capitals and usually with a bias, based on no scientific research evidence.
Western media is in a crisis where the greed for profit has eroded ethical journalism obligation of fairness, balance and accuracy, yet they still want Africa to learn from them, theirs being the global model suitable for Africa! Take for example, the conduct of media in the United States during the last presidential elections where gross failure of neutrality was at the centre of the elections campaign and prediction of results! The nature of reporting also showed that the main stream media is largely out of touch with ordinary citizens. Recent research shows that as low as only 6% of Americans have trust in their media, while in Rwanda the RMB 2016, shows that 67.3% of the Rwandan public have confidence in the media. African countries should therefore, join efforts to build their own mechanisms based on African values to shape the African media that serves the interest of the people and the continent.
The African union that is in the process of reformation to lay strategies of achieving agenda 2063, should not leave the media behind for support and empowerment to tell the African story. In Rwanda we are glad that the 27th African Union summit that took place in Kigali, assigned President Paul Kagame to lead the reform of the African Union into a more credible and reliable continental body. The assignment is not a simple task, but the Rwandan president considered as one of the most visionary and pragmatic leaders of all times on the African continent, who single handedly stopped the genocide, and turned the page to make Rwanda once torn by divisionism; an African model of good governance, unity, reconciliation and rapid economic development, is a man with the mantra to succeed by all means. Africans should take the lead to build the African media we want.
Gerald Mbanda is a journalist and a Pan Africanist
Based in Kigali Rwanda.
Author: Gerald Mbanda