16 November 2017

Liberia: Journalist MAE Azango, Albert Porte Honored in New Book On Investigative Journalism in Africa

Johannesburg — FrontPageAfrica reporter Mae Azango and the pioneer of activism in Liberia the late Albert Porte are among scores of African journalists and campaigners captured in a new book promoting investigative journalism in Africa--"African Muckraking"--launched Thursday at an investigative journalism conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"For Mae and Rodney (Sieh) to publish this story on the front page of FrontPageAfrica on International Women's Day was huge inside the country" - Professor Prue Clarke

Journalist Azango, 45, is mostly famed for her International women's Day 2012 story on female genital cutting (FGC), which among several international awards won her an International Press Freedom Award by the International Committee to Protect Journalist (ICPJ).

Albert Porte, who died in 1986 at 80, was the first Liberian campaigner to stand up to a Liberian government, decrying corruption and misuse of power.

Famous for carrying along with him a toothbrush and pillow with him wherever he went -- anticipating imprisonment at any time -- is famous for his pamphlets on social justice and democracy.

Among them "Thinking about the Unthinkable Things--the Democratic Way" (1967), "Thoughts on Change" (1977) and "The Day Monrovia Stood Still" (1979).

The book's editor Anya Schiffrin told the launch in an auditorium at the University Witwatersrand that people like Porte and Mae are in a long array of African investigative journalists, evidence of a long running tradition of African investigative Journalism and activism by African themselves.

She said the works of these journalists are proofs of an enduring history and resolve by African journalists and campaigners to hold their leaders accountable; to seek change from colonialism, Apartheid and post-colonialism for democracy that works for ordinary Africans.

The book honors the likes of Norbert Zongo of Burkina Faso, who wrote about the excesses of the regime of Blaise Compaore; Carlos Cardoso of Mozambique, who exposed corruption in that country and, among others; Mohamed Amin of Ethiopia, reported on the great famine of Ethiopia.

"One of the things that we wanted to do was to have African stories."

"Very often there are great pieces of journalism by Western reporters, which try not to include them," Schiffrin said.

"We also wanted to be true to the tradition of the continent and the stores of the journalists who wrote them," she added.

"As many of you know, there were newspapers in Africa in the 19th Century."

"One thing I most enjoy is going to the Library of Congress and reading the stories of the 'letter to the editor'.

"Some of the subjects the journalists cover today were present in the 19th Century."

"You find people complaining about corruption, talking about the role of the journalist in fight corruption. "

"You find cranky letter saying 'Why are these young people listening to Western music? They should be listening to African music.'"

Ten of the people who worked with Schiffrin on the book were in attendance, including the publisher of FrontPageAfrica Rodney Sieh and the Founder and Executive Director of New Narratives--that works with Liberian journalists--Professor Prue Clarke.

Speaking on behalf of Azango, who did not attend the launch, Professor Clarke said Azango risked all to speak about a "taboo subject", FGC.

Professor Prue Clarke of New Narratives and Rodney Sieh of FrontPageAfrica

"For Mae and Rodney (Sieh) to publish this story on the front page of FrontPage Africa on International Women's Day was huge inside the country," Professor Clarke recalled.

"Mae faced incredible threats. She had to go into hiding for three weeks, and during which time we were able to rally an international coalition to put pressure on [President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf]," she added.

"What it did was it freed up space to talk about female genital cutting, which was taboo before - The President did come in support of the elimination of female genital cutting. It still happens... but what's different about it now is that there is a conversation happening that hadn't happened before Mae's reporting."

Sieh eulogized Porte, who was his uncle, for probably pioneering the field of investigative journalism in Liberia.

"His work is, for me, the testament for modern generations of journalists who see it as the bar for what you can achieve in this profession," Sieh said.

"I think he means a lot for me."

"Everything he wrote about during those days--whether it was about the President buying a yacht when he should have been improving healthcare or just misusing power--is still relevant today.

"I think he stands among the greatest journalists of his generation."

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