The media plays a critical role in shaping national, regional and global politics, economics and diplomacy. Equally important is the continued political and economic integration of the East African Community (EAC) in our increasingly globalised environment.
The media will be an invaluable partner in communicating our agenda, advancing our interests and being among the key narrators of our story.
In addition, by holding both our governments and citizens to account, a responsible media will promote our core values, good governance and democracy on which a successful integration can best be built.
In order to do this effectively, we should develop a critical, competitive and profitable home-grown media that will foster debate on relevant issues and influence the way the rest of the world sees and understands us.
Governments and the media need not be adversaries, as is sometimes the case. They can be partners without either compromising the independence and effectiveness of the other.
The media, especially broadcast, has taken advantage of the integration process to spread into the region and report on matters East African.
However, it has not gone far or deep enough. For far too long, the international media has dominated the region and set the news agenda.
This often means that they tell our story from their perspective or distort it altogether. Such misrepresentation derails our progress and even fuels conflict.
This is made worse when our own media either remain silent or just relay the same biased reports, becoming complicit in perpetuating these views.
There are interesting and relevant stories in our region that do not get the coverage that they should, such as the steady progress the EAC has made in various areas – from the Customs Union to the Common Market, free movement of people and capital to ongoing talks about a monetary union and movement towards political federation.
In order to nurture a pan-East African media, all partners have the responsibility to invest in it and raise professional and ethical standards.
For the media to tell our story well, it must have access to the right information and the freedom to disseminate it. This in turn helps it articulate, guarantee and advance other freedoms.
In Rwanda, in spite of what outsiders might say, we regard the media as an important partner in our country’s development. That is why we have made reform of the media a priority.
Among the key reforms are self-regulation and access to information, both of which should benefit the industry and also raise responsibility among practitioners.
The EAC needs common reforms so as to establish norms and standards for the media to enable it to carry out its responsibilities effectively.
EAC partner states have continued to create a conducive environment for the media to operate, which should lead to an increase in the number of media outlets and better reporting in the region.
The era of fast-evolving social media presents us with immense opportunities for far-reaching instant communication and immediate feedback.
Social media gives East African citizens a voice and challenges the influence of traditional media dominated by a few voices. It is an important tool for citizens to hold all leaders, including conventional media, accountable.
This is an excerpt of a speech delivered by President Paul Kagame at the 5th EAC-EABC Media Summit in Kigali on August 8.