“The media offers an influential tool for communication between African countries,” said Ahmed Shahine, secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Egyptian Agency for Partnership and Development (EAPD).
Shahine was addressing a workshop on “the role of the media in supporting sustainable development in Africa”, organised by EAPD in collaboration with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS).
The launch of the Africa free trade zone is an indication of the will of African states to cooperate, said Wahid Abdel-Meguid, director of ACPSS. “We are not talking only about trade and economic cooperation,” he added, “but about building an African identity as an essential element of achieving cooperation and integration.”
“People have a series of identities: a national one as well as identities related to work, religion, the region where they live... On both the cultural and intellectual levels the media needs to play a role in enhancing African identity.”
Joseph Rwagatare, an advisor to the president of Rwanda, said the workshop and other similar activities were a good start to promoting intra-African relations.
“It is amazing how little African peoples know about each other,” he elaborated. “We leave it up to others to tell us about ourselves.”
He argued the continent’s media has a responsibility to establish itself as the primary source of information about Africa, insisting “our media should be our own.”
Naim Bilal, managing director of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, agreed the media has a big role to play in promoting integration across the continent. When blocs like the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Eastern African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) can be successfully formed in Africa it is not farfetched that the African citizens can live the spirit of full economic integration, he said.
“The media needs to actively empower citizens with information about integration and how to take advantage of the opportunities integration brings.”
The role of the media in reinforcing security and development and in empowering women were two major topics discussed in the workshop.
Phanuel Shuma, a radio journalist from South Africa, said the media needs to raise public awareness about the dangers posed by extremist ideologies. He also raised concerns over the safety of journalists who cover such issues and the ways in which governments can protect them.
Guezouma Sanogo, president of Journalists’ Association in Burkina Faso, stressed the importance of visual media in the battle against extremism.
“Visual media is not only an effective tool for development across the continent but also a tool that governments should use constructively to show the real face of extremism,” he said.
“Egyptian-African cooperation could take the form of founding joint satellite channels, exchanging expertise and using existing radio stations [broadcast from Cairo to different African states] to expose the real face of terrorism,” suggested Amira Abdel-Halim, an expert at the ACPSS.
Participants in the workshop agreed that a great deal still needs to be done to empower African women.
Hadja Kade Barry, editor-in-chief of the Evasion Guinea Broadcasting Group, acknowledged progress in the representation of women but said they still play second fiddle in the continent’s media. It was an opinion seconded by Linus Chata, chief executive officer of the Namibia Press Agency, who added, “it is high time for women to be at the centre of national development.”
Fatima Abbas Hassan, director of Nigerian state TV, noted the progress made by women over the last two decades in terms of gaining employment in the media and other fields. She pointed to Nigerian cinema production — Nollywood — in which women are well represented. Nonetheless, she called on African governments to further incentivise women’s participation by improving the quality of education and by offering more scholarships and grants for further education.
Charles Odoobo Bichachi, editor of the Nation Media Group in Uganda, argued that while education remained the key to success the media should also examine what else affects the role of women. “In rural areas, for instance, many women have to walk for 2km to get water. The media should be advocating for women’s rights away from the cosmetic empowerment that some governments resort to,” he said.
The workshop was part of a two-week course that aims to cast light on Egypt’s activities during its 2019 presidency of the African Union.
Similar workshops were organised in 2016 and 2017 to provide space for the exchange of experiences among African countries and to establish a network for communication to help achieve sustainable development.
The EAPD was established five years ago. It aims to support African cadres through providing training courses in partnership with Egyptian centres of excellence. Since it was set up the EAPD has held more than 300 courses attracting more than 10,000 participants.