A new platform by the African Union has paved the way for African journalists and content producers to collaborate across borders, effectively positioning them to foster much-needed visibility and ownership of the narrative of developments on the continent.
This is so far the major highlight of the inaugural African Union (AU) Media Fellowship, the year-long programme now in its seventh month with a dozen media practitioners onboard from at least 14 countries of different regions of the continent.
Having been on the programme since June 2022, fellows have hailed the programme for fostering collaboration credited for not only easing access and dissemination of information on developments taking place in respective regions, but also the exchange in areas and topics of mutual interests, alongside tackling common challenges together.
Thanks to the training and study trips under the programme, fellows were exposed to global best practices in journalism and upgraded skills to innovate and move ahead of emerging technologies to serve the changing needs of the content and her population.
The fellows also gained deeper understanding of continental policies, programmes in ways that benefit their routine journalistic work to have greater impact and drive public discourse and policy debate on matters that affect the continent.
But it’s the operationalisation of a network and frameworks of collaboration with one another that stood out in exchange with fellows citing the fact that this sets them up for success as it boosts their reach and impact of their content and reporting.
“Transnational projects are easily achievable and will have a continental echo as opposed to the national or regional ones. So, it has clearly had a positive impact on my work especially when it comes to the audience I’m able to reach,” said Aissatou Fofana from Ivory Coast.
Ms. Fofana runs L’Ecologiste, a media business start-up focusing on environmental matters as a niche.
She teamed up with counterparts from Uganda, Egypt and Rwanda to document and publish series of compelling coverage of issues affecting youth people in the climate fight as part of the joint reporting project to amplify youth initiatives and voices across the continent in light of the 2022 UN climate conference (COP27).
Their coverage prior and during the negotiations in Sharm El-Sheik was instrumental in transmitting the needs and demands of African young people in the global climate crisis debate, thereby featuring on the agenda of negotiators.
The successful collaboration around COP27 earned the group a chance to cover the African Union summit on Industrialisation and Economic Diversification in Niamey, Niger from November 21-25, which saw their network, sources, knowledge and understanding of continental policies and programmes expand even further.
“Working with journalists from other countries helped me to understand many issues from a broader and holistic perspective through sharing knowledge, experience, visions in area and topics of interest and concerns as well. I like the fact that the fellowship focuses on both the editorial skills, the technical skills and also help us network,” said Amira Sayed, Egyptian journalist.
On its side, the African Union is banking on the media fellowship programme to lead the drive towards ownership of the Africa story.
Fathallah Sijilmassi, Director General of African Union Commission hailed the program, adding that the continental organisation is keen on investing in African journalists and content producers to collectively work towards achieving a balanced narrative of developments taking place in Africa.
“Really telling our own stories should be at the core of our collective thinking, and this extends to not only to media productions but also to intellectual debates, books and all the productions,” said Sijilmassi.
“Ownership and maintaining the narrative is really something we need to collectively do, each one of us in his or her own capacity must work harder. So, we are going from reactive mode to be more proactive. We need to have our voice loud and clear in international arena,” he added.
Cross-border collaborative journalism is something experts say could break longstanding citizens’ overreliance on external sources for information about developments on the continent.
It is also hailed to help institutions ensure there is regular engagement with citizens across the continent so as to ensure full public participation and ownership of policies, visions and programmes geared towards delivering socio-economic transformation of the continent and aspirations under the AU agenda 2063.
The fellows on the inaugural media fellowship programme were selected from over 800 applications.
The AU Media Fellows 2022 are: Aissatou Fofana (Cote D’Ivoire); Amira Sayed (Egypt) Areff Samir (South Africa); Johnson Kanamugire (Rwanda); Jeanine Fankam (Cameroun); Osei Kwame (Ghana); Yasser Machat (Tunisia); Rivonala Razafison (Madagascar); Cecelia Maundu (Kenya); Sally Nyakanyanga (Zimbabwe); Sadou Alize Mouktar (Niger); Nila Yasmin Faisal (Uganda); Severin Alega Mbele (Cameroun); Esther Namuhisa (Tanzania); Carien Du Plessis (South Africa)
According to Leslie Richer, the African Union Director for Information and Communication, cross-border collaborative journalism being shaped through the AU Media Fellowship positions media outlets and journalists across Africa to own the narrative of the continent.
“We started this program so that you can also start realizing that you're not in competition with each other. There's a bigger challenge for us because we do not even collaborate as journalists, and that must change. So that’s the role the African Union has to play, to bring media houses and journalists together,” she said
The AU Media Fellowship programme, is implemented by the African Union (AU) through the Information and Communication directorate, supported by the Germany Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). Through the fellowship, the AU seeks to boost ownership of key policies and programs, and accelerate achievement of goals under its Agenda 2063, which centre around delivering socio-economic and developmental changes on the continent.
The AU Media Fellowship included working sessions and engagement with senior AU officials at various AU Organs including the Deputy Chairperson, AUC Commissioners and Director General of the AUC as well as Africa CDC at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and with AU organs based in Southern Africa including the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Pan African Parliament, African Union Development Agency – Nepad, the African Risk Capacity (ARC), and Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC).
During their tours in Africa and Europe the AU Media Fellows were hosted by senior officials from government, public and private institutions. During their African tour they were hosted by the Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, GIZ Office to the African Union where they met the visiting State Minister for Germany Ms. Katja Keul, and Franz Von Weizsaecker Head of Data Cipation Programme GIZ office to the AU; the Office of the Director General of South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Managing Director of Multichoice Africa Group, CEO of Brand South Africa, Wits School of Journalism which hosted the 3rd series of the AU Media Roundtable and they attended a Media Lab Retreat in Cape Town hosted by the Founder and Editor in Chief of the Continental (the widest distributed weekly publication in Africa using only social media messaging platforms); the United States Ambassador to the African Union as well as the Regional Directors of the US-Africa Media Hub in South Africa.
In their European tour the Fellows participated in a two-week training programme at the Deutsche Welle Academy attended the Global Media Forum(GMF) in Bonn Germany where they had the opportunity to be the first ever largest representation of African journalists from the continent at the GMF and exchange views with media professionals, decision-makers and influencers in politics, education, culture, civil society, among others from across the world; were hosted by The German Parliamentin Berlin Germany (Bundestag) where they had an Exchange with Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Culture and Media, Katrin Budde, MP as well as attended the Open house for the President of Germany, Mr Peter Limbourg Director General of Deutsche Welle (DW) and Claus Stäcker Head of Programs for Africa (DW).
“From your study trip in Germany, Ethiopia and now in South Africa, this connecting of thoughts that you are having is going to help not only to do your work better, but also as journalists you are creating a network, you are actually better able to address the issues on the continent and to create that narrative that we want. A balance narrative of developments on the continent, one that is a clear representation of who we are but one that speaks to the situation that we find ourselves in,” Richer said.
The Second cohort of AU Media fellowship 2023-2024 will be announced soon.