08 September, 2009
JOURNALISTS MUST INVESTIGATE ELECTIONS FOR DEMOCRACY TO EXCEL IN AFRICA
The Highway Africa 2009 conference, on the centre of Africa’s debates on journalism and new media ends today with more Workshops, debates, seminars and roundtable discussions. One of such was the Reporting Democracy : Media and Elections in Africa , a roundtable discussion concerned with the way african journalists report elections and their efforts towards finally instilling democracy in their various countries. One of the speakers on the panel was Kwami Ahiabenu, Director of Penplusbytes and also team leader for the African Elections Project aimed at covering elections in africa using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
After his presentation we had a very enriching chat with him on his ideas, opinions, achievements and future hope as concerns Journalists reporting Democracy and elections in Africa. This is an excerpt of the interview.
How did the idea come to you to create the African Elections Project?
I realised that a lot of journalists lacked the capacity in election coverage. It is a training institute where we have been training journalists on a couple of topics based on capacityy building in ICT election coverage. So we came up with this idea of the African Elections Project aimed at building the capacity of journalists to use new ICT tools to do election reporting.
So how important is indepth knowledge for journalists to ensure a viable report?
It is very crucial. It is just like a pilot knowing the geography of his destination. We do not expect journalists to become experts in elections but they need to know the “before”, “during” and “after” election process. They need to know the constitutrion, the law of the land, what you can or cannot do.
During the seminar you insisted on the media carrying out investigative journalism to ensure correct elections reporting, what do you mean by that?
Basically, ehhrr, what we observe is that most of the journalists just go on and report on violence, what political leaders say and never implement , and we discover that a lot of things happen during elections that journalists could investigate on. In order to get a credible , free and fair elections we need to improve on our investigative journalism.
A little bit away from the journalist in particular and more into your activities under the African Elections Project. Lets talk a little bit about your launching the first ever elections project for Malawi in the month of may 2009. What was it designed to do?
Malawi is a very interesting country. Due to the fact that it is a small country people do not have a lot of interest in it, but we decided to pay attention to its electoral process. The international media was only going to do a comarative coverage of it, fly a reporter in and than out but we decided to have an indepth analysis of the situation there; ensuring that we have news on the process before, during and after . More importantly in Malawi we did a project called the “voices project” where we sent all our reporters all over Malawi to actually gather information on ordinary citizens which the mainstream media will not report.
What are the other countries your project will be geared towards in the future?
We are presently in ghana, mauritania and malawi. We will launch in cote d’ivoire, Niger, Egypt and in Southern Africa we are looking at Namibia, Botswana and mozambique. We hope to reach to all th 52 countries but its one country at a time. (laughs)
What is your take on the recent reporting of the elections in South Africa by the journalists?
One can’t say it (reporting)was perfect, but things are changing but again maybe the rythym of change is not fast enough.
Kwami Ahiabenu is also the director of Penplusbytes which is a group of journalists interested in linking ICT’s and journalism looking at the new media.
By Patience Fominyen and Salouka Nourou-dhine