Hi everyone! The keynote speech with Chika Oduah will start in about ten minutes. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here’s some background info on our speaker:
Based out of Abuja, Nigeria, Chika Oduah covers human rights, culture, conflict and development in sub-Saharan Africa. She has reported for Al Jazeera English, CNN, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and more. You can read more about her reporting on her blog, here.
A representative from the Agha Khan Foundation is introducing Chika, and talking a bit about the foundation's partnership with the CAJ.
Chika: What are the first three words that pop into your head when you think of Ethiopia?
Some answers from the audience: Horn of Africa, famine, Addis Ababa, the "We Are the World" song, war, Christianity, coffee, the Rift Valley.
Now, how about South Africa?
Some answers: apartheid, hijacking, great white sharks, Nelson Mandela, vuvuzelas, wine, ANC, soccer, rugby, penguin.
How about Democratic Republic of Congo: genocide, missionaries, natural resources, Mobutu, precious metals, UN Peacekeepers scandal, guerillas, gorillas.
Senegal: French, mafe, music, Akon.
And how about Nigeria? 419, Lagos, oil, election, Shell, Boko Haram, Afrobeat, largest economy in Africa, Nollywood, corruption.
Chika: For the record, the first three things I think about when I think about Canada are Shania, Celine and accents.
Chika: Has anyone actually ever travelled to Nigeria? It surpasses population of all the other major 14 African countries put together. It's just under the size of B.C. "Simply put, Nigeria is an important country."
Chika: Looking back to the words we brainstormed for Nigeria, one word that come up often when I ask this question is corruption. She asks some of the respondents why they thought of the words they did. One answer: prevailing headlines they see are about this problem, from 419 to Boko Haram.
Chika: Brings up an article from a major newspaper headlined "Nigerian universities demand bribes for admission," which positions the problem as a country-wide one—but only one university is mentioned in the body of the piece.
Chika: The former finance minister of Nigeria Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has noted often that it's actually foreign companies that have been involved in some of the worst cases of corruption in Nigeria.
Now, for Ethiopia. Why is famine such a prevailing theme of what people think about when they think about this country?
What's missing from these images? Pictures of daily life. Ethiopia is currently experiencing a renaissance of education policy and infrastructure currently: enrolment, graduation and school building statistics have all been up in recent years.
Another topic often not mentioned is the suppression of journalists in that country.
For South Africa: Surprised that no-one mentioned the word xenophobia. This is what fuelled apartheid, and is still a story in South Africa today.
Why is this still happening? There are many factors, and to understand why it's necessary to know more about South African history.
We know that South Africa is still a stratified society that's still carrying out the legacy of apartheid even 20 years later. It's tied to class inequality, current endemic violence—there is still a lot of pent-up anger.
The violence of the historic Anglo-Zulu wars in the late 1800s looks very much like the violence of apartheid, and in some ways mimics the violence we see there today.
The unemployment rate of Black South Africans is as high as 30 per cent, which is about as high as the rate of unemployment in Canada during the Great Depression—a rate that this country hadn't seen before or hasn't seen since.
So: context is necessary when reporting on a country with a history like this.
"Every day I mist make a conscious decision not to be part of the media machine that is still churning out a skewed and dark portrayal of Africa."
Chika recounts a story where she reported on upcoming elections in Nigeria, where the headline of the story she handed in had a suggested headline that reflected the severity of the elections for residents. This is what almost happened to that headline:
When she pitches stories about Boko Haram, they are almost always accepted, because they fit into the 3-D narrative that often defines reporting in that region: death, doom and disease.
In 2012, Chika moved back to Nigeria after growing up in the States to better report on on-the ground issues there.
Many people reported on the lead poison outbreak, but few ended up coming back to report on what was a successful local intervention that brought about government action.
Local reporters in Africa are often struggling themselves. In some places journalists do not get paid a salary; they're expected to ask for and receive bribes from sources. Other challenges: internet access, resources.
But we truly need them to get stories about Africa better told. But this is strangely an issue that's missing from global discussions about African issues.
How can we give African journalists the opportunity to speak on an international stage? Partnerships with local African newsrooms, fellowships and scholarships, examination of the the ways in which non-African news outlets do engage in reporting on Africa perpetuate stereotypes.
I've heard many stories about how local African journalists are treated by foreign correspondents. They're paid cheaply, treated as fixers, often feel used.
Last year I co-wrote a story about youth employment in Nigeria with a journalist living in Europe. I was never told the story would be updated; the other journalist and editor had changed the story without consulting her.
Local African journalists have a lot to tell us. Not just journalists, but the global community at large. We'd do well to listen to them.
Now we're opening up the floor to comments. One comment: Some countries are making improvements in FOI law.
A few people in the room have also reported from African countries in their career. In one case a reporter who'd covered four wars.
And with that, the first keynote of the conference has wrapped up. Thanks for tuning in!