12 November 2011

Africa: Untold African Stories - Challenge Curbing Development

Photo: rDNA
Prime Minister of Tunisia, the honourable Beji Caid El Sebsi relates the story leading to the Tunisian revolution. He spoke of renewed hope of Tunis people, new governance and an active social media landscape.

Tunis — "Africa has a long history of storytelling reporting through oral tradition. Orators used all communication tools to be effective, including music and ancient instruments."

These were the words of keynote speaker, Frannie Leautier of the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), at a session titled 'Coalition for Media Development in Africa'.

Leautier reminded the delegation of the historical role of storytelling in African society. She equated the storytellers of old as opinion leaders, the modern equivalent being the bloggers and all voices occupying the social media landscape.

Yet, amidst the proliferation of information on social platforms, the challenge that remains is that of untold stories. Telling all stories is important in reconstituting the relevance of African media in framing African development challenge and will assist in identifying and dealing with core constraints she went on to explain.

African media often speaks or tells the story of the need to feed the growing population; however, this story is incomplete. Lacking, is the input of agriculture and sustainability projects on the ground; hence an integration of challenge and solution to make the African story holistic. The resonating argument from this session was the fact that mainstream media often portray Africa in a bad light, missing all the positive stories that exist on the ground.

Bineta Diop, Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarites, emphasised though that media should not live in an illusion of a healthy Africa as bad stories still happen on the ground. "Media should not shy away from telling stories on the ground. Media has to monitor these to see how to continue networking to construct image using social media," Diop said.

Diop was content on the fact that Tunisian women finally acquired their rights and now had space to exercise these, but the pivotal question being how social media continues bring social change in Africa. She was concerned of women still being voiceless in the societies in which they live, and how to ensure that they are empowered with a voice, sharing the same rights as their male counterparts.

Leautier said what is needed is the 'Interface between society, media and technology' and the need for 'social media literacy among media professional'. Also discussed from the floor was the solution of intersecting communities, which in itself is a question of diaspora and reintegration. She elaborated that social media can aid Africa to leapfrog gaps within its traditional media, but opportunity also exists to bridge solutions between old and new media. "The landscape might be changing, but challenges and demands remain the same," she concluded

Leautier identified three important processes to ensure the African story is told in full, these being: Inclusion, Ownership and Implementation. Statistics show that whilst 19% of the population contribute to news generation, a large percentage 69% listen to media messages, whilst 52% remains inactive. The concern therefore is the unevenness in news generation and the quality of the media professionals who do generate stories.

"Interventionery measures in this case involve the development of legal frameworks to guarantee media freedom," Leautier said. The ACBF has been running programmes where it has been taking journalists to the ground where they report themselves what they saw. For example they took a group to Rwanda, the resulting stories from that experience being different from the perception of the country post-genocide. "Success in Africa depends on portraying an image of success. Bringing portrayal of development needs to be in line with the favoured responses and aligning the way the responses portray Africa's vision," Leautier concluded.

Jay Naidoo, Former minister in Nelson Mandela's government and Chair of the Partnership Council of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, said that the driver of all things is politics. Naidoo was quoting here the recent scourge to South African media freedom - the Protection of Information Bill.

"Influential people want to implement the media tribunal. The fight against apartheid was the fight for a voice," he said; a voice that is now to be taken away. Linking the bill to Tunisia's situation, Naidoo expatiated that it was not twitter that drove to change, but people.

"People should be at the centre of our development paradigm. (The) question facing Africa then is what developmental role the media is going to play?" he asked, summing it to the issue of trust. He interrogated the existence of a diverse media platform, with all participants competing with each other in an ecosystem bustling with information.

The underlying issue then which emanated from this session is that there must be a method to ensure all stories are told. A simple answer is social media. However, there must also be strategy to sieve out fact from fiction, and this can only be achieved with a coalition between traditional and new media working together as a hub to tell the African story, on Africa's.

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