Africa: How Mobile Media Is Transforming Africa for Good

opinion

VOA's Ndimyake Mwakalyelye talks to Amadou Mahtar Bar, CEO of the African Media Initiative, about the African Media Leaders' Forum. ( Resource: Forum Seeks to Bridge Gap Between Govt and African Media

Often has the question been asked: Who does technology serve? Earlier this year, as a member of the judging panel for the first African Open Data Bootcamp in Kenya, I came across a "Sanitation in Schools" app.

It was developed after data indicated a worrying dropout trend across Kenya's counties. Data indicated that this was due to the schools' level of poor sanitation. The app is currently being fine-tuned to help track schools with low sanitation levels.

The number of mobile phones in Africa stands at 650 million (from a mere 4 million in the late 1990s) and is set to reach the 1 billion bar in less than 5 years. Africa is now considered to be the largest market for mobile technology in the world.

A very exciting aspect of the mobile revolution in Africa is what it's used for. The continent is home to countless tech applications that use information, news media and technology.

These include: fighting and tracking corruption through the creation of ipaidabribe, which uncovers the market price of corruption; the icow app, a comprehensive agricultural platform; the invention of mobile money in Kenya known as M-Pesa; Ushahidi, the revolutionary open source project allowing users to crowd source crisis information; and the Public Insight Network of the South African Mail & Guardian. All have started to change the quality of life of African citizens.

In 2011, the African Media Initiative (AMI), together with other partners, launched the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC), in which a $1m fund promotes disruptive digital ideas to improve how news is collected and disseminated. In Kenya, AMI is helping media houses develop strategies to take advantage of new business opportunities made possible by data-driven journalism.

Africa's mobile revolution

Currently, there are some 650 million mobile phones on the continent.

Africa is home to a series of innovative and revolutionary apps.

Furthermore, many African countries have embarked on open government practices, and to encourage this effort, in January 2012, AMI convened the first African Open Data Bootcamp in Kenya, which brought together journalists and developers.

The outcome has been gratifying, as a number of apps were developed to improve the quality of life of the ordinary citizen and bring more transparency and accountability to how societies are governed. There are plans to run similar boot camps across the continent.

Why now?

The developing world, especially Africa, has been subject to unequal, unbalanced and biased information flow. In the 1970s, the idea of a New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO) was launched to strengthen the media of what was then termed the Third World. The notion of a Pan-African media network was championed by many in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but after a number of failed attempts it was pronounced a "dead duck!".

Nearly four decades later, the G8 summit in Gleneagles and the "Our Common Interest" Report spoke about the urgency to "form a consortium of partners, in Africa and outside, to provide funds and expertise to create an African media development facility". This is how the African Media Initiative (AMI) was born.

AMI is the largest continental organization for independent media across Africa. Its objectives are media development, expanding access to finance, promoting the digital revolution through technology and innovation as well as creating a cadre of media leaders that share a commitment to advancing ethical and responsible journalism.

Founded in 2011, AMI champions the use of innovative media technology and pushes for a compact among African media leaders to adhere and commit to a culture of ethics and responsibility within their respective media houses.

Once known as the "Heart of Darkness", Africa is on the rise and the continent is facing a new dawn full of opportunities. The savvy interplay between information, news and technology is allowing the average African citizen to be informed, connected and empowered to effectuate change at both the micro and macro levels.

In fact, new media and more specifically social media has considerably changed the social, political and economic dynamics of many African societies. It was not incidental that the Arab Spring happened on the continent. It caused profound changes and made the reign of despots a thing of the past, information and communication inequalities less acceptable, and access to equal opportunities a human right requirement.

Media itself has always been at the center of progress, particularly in Africa. Its capacity to constantly reinvent itself makes it the backbone of transformational changes within societies.

Amadou Mahtar Ba is CEO, African Media Initiative. Originally published by the Skoll World Forum. Read the full debate on how the media can accelerate social progress here.

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