I spent the whole of last week with dozens of media managers and owners in the serene, mountainous town of Musanze in North-Western Rwanda discussing how traditional media can remain profitable and relevant in the era of social media and disruptive technology.
Unsurprisingly, there was consensus among participants that social media poses a threat to the sustainability of traditional media in the country.
Yet, while it’s true that traditional media must adjust to ever advancing technology to remain in business, it’s not true that technological disruption is a threat to traditional media.
In fact, looked at broadly, one could say that the current technological disruptions are the best thing to happen to media in Rwanda and Africa if the moment is properly utilised.
That’s isn’t to say that media in Rwanda is immune to the effects of technological changes or social media; far from it. Indeed technology has redefined how news is accessed with devastating effects on revenue flows.
For newspapers, with free news online, revenue from circulation is no longer a viable business model and advertising revenue is dwindling with online platforms offering cheaper and more accessible spaces.
But, this is the broader global trend; particularly more prevalent in parts of the world where the press was already profitable and consequential, not Rwanda.
There are a number of reasons to illustrate why technological disruption is a godsend and a great opportunity for Rwandan media.
This is the first time that Rwandans are directly and in real-time enjoying the benefits of new technology to shape opinion and stories about themselves than at any other time in history.
For when the first technological change that made media possible with the invention of the printing press by Jonanees Gutenberg in 1451, Rwandans were still in the “dark” and didn’t benefit.
In fact, while the discovery of the printing press caused the rapid spread of scientific knowledge and freedom of expression, including ending information monopoly of the Catholic Church, in Rwanda, the Press was brought by the same Church in 1933 with the founding of Kinyamateka.
To Rwanda, this technological revolution neither brought expansion of freedom of expression nor liberation of the mind, but control.
When the second wave of technological innovations brought radio and television in the early 20th century, Rwanda was under colonial rule and when radio finally arrived in 1963, it came as a state tool for control.
It was only after the liberation of the airwaves in 2002 that Rwandans started getting something akin to a variety of news and information.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Rwanda has ever had a serious newspaper industry with profitable income from circulation. The biggest “independent” newspaper barely circulated more 3,000 copies mostly in Kigali City.
Thus, while this small revenue window is closing due to free online content, one can’t say that a serious market has been lost.
While elsewhere technological disruptions have led to job losses in the industry, in Rwanda, technology is driving growth and job creation in the industry.
In fact, the “biggest” media outlets like Igihe.com and KT Press were started and are powered by new technology. These two employ more individuals today than all the independent press combined before the introduction of the Internet.
Rwandan media has never had any serious influence beyond its borders; it’s only with the online media that its starting to have a little effect; with some of its publications picked up by outside media.
That tells us that with the right political environment and investment in buyable content, the chances for Rwandans to start a truly influential and profitable media are higher today than at any other time.
Now more than at any other time in history, Rwandans from all walks of life are able to use social media and influence certain narratives than ever before.
Technology has made it easier for anyone to start a media outlet. With the right content and business model, any Rwandan can start a consequential and profitable media.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com