Where Does Music Come From? Jill Scott’s Answer

2013 Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Three time Grammy Award winner, songwriter and actress Jill Scott

The city of Cape Town played host to local and international musicians at the 2013 Cape Town International Jazz festival (CTIJF). The festival which is in its 14th year featured 39 artists most of whom were local musicians such as Mafikizolo, Zonke, Jimmy Dludle, Auriol Hays, Africa Mkize, Mi Casa, Thandiswa Mazwai, Pu2ma, Ibrahim Khalil Shibab and international artists such as Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club, Kirk Whalum, Chiekh Lô, Gregory Porter and three-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Jill Scott who was the headline act.

Scott performed at the packed Kippies stage on Saturday evening also shared by South African musicians Thadiswa Mazwai and Jimmy Dludlu and the Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo. She was supposed to perform last year but her show was cancelled leaving many fans disappointed.

Buena Vista Club

Buena Vista Club

Speaking at a post-event press conference, Scott described the audience as “exceptionally attentive. They were focussed on everything, every second of every minute. When I was quiet they were quiet when I was big they were big. I enjoyed that”.

Scott who describes her music as soul revealed that “every song comes from a portion of my existence and some from other peoples experiences, but I always try to put myself in their position so that there can be honesty”.

Deputy Mayor of Cape Town Ian Neilson said that the festival has grown to become special event for the city and people and it has become one of the most celebrated events in Cape Town. “It brings various artist and diverse individuals from all over the world. Additionally the economic benefits of the festival are far reaching; brings much needed tourism, revenue and most important job creation for locals”

It is estimated that the festival contributes to 489 million rand of the Western Cape province GDP and this figure has increased nationally by 7% from 2010 clearly demonstrating its continued importance to South Africa.

Apart from the economy, the festival “creates a platform for local musicians to collaborate with their international counterparts, and thereby showcase their talent to wider audiences” Nelson said.

Before the festival, there are a series of events that lead up to the festival such as workshops for upcoming musicians a photographic exhibition and a free concert for those who cannot afford the main event. One of the key components of the festival has been the Sustainable Training and Development Skills Transfer programme, which designed to “inspire and develop the next generation of music industry players.

Jazz pop sensation Auriol Hays

Jazz pop sensation Auriol Hays

This year the photographic exhibition featured works by one of South Africa’s iconic photographers the late Alf Khumalo. The two-day exhibition held at the DuoTone Gallery which was at the same festival precinct, was “a fitting honour to Khumalo who enjoyed an unrivalled opportunity to be at the right place at the right time and to capture the history of the countries moments of history. He used his camera an instrument in exposing the apartheid government”.

South African musicians Mafikizolo and Khuli Chana began and ended the festival at Kippies and Baseline stage respectively. Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee, Rosies, and Moses Molelekwa were other stages where artists such as Juan-Luc Ponty, Afrika Mkhize, Mi Casa, Dubmarine among other and the other artists performed. Rosies was a more intimate stage and guests had to pay R30 extra to watch the shows there. Victor Ntoni or Bra Vic as he was commonly known was supposed to be one of the artists performing but unfortunately passed away. Acclaimed musicians such as Herbie Tsoaeli, Arthur Shabala, and Percy Mbonani paid tribute to him; celebrating him and his music at the Rosies stage.

The festival featured artists from Europe America, Brazil, Lithuania, Cuba and South Africa and Senegalese musician Cheikh Lô was the only musician from Africa (other than South Africa)

Lô describes his music as a fusion of Mbalax (pronounced Balach), folk and Senegalese music. “I put a lot of colour in my music because colour is harmony. Born in Burkina Faso to Senegalese parents, Lô formed his band in 1975 and performed with musicians from Ivory Coast, Guinea, Zaire, Congolese and Mali, and played the style of the music from those countries. Senegal is a country whereby Cuban music is popular and Lô’s music is influenced by that.  “Cuban music is my first school of listening”.

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum who is part of a group called BWB featuring guitarist Norman Brown and trumpeter Rick Braun performed for the first time at the festival as a group. BWB taken from their surnames Brown-Whalum-Braun, each have a solo career but collaborated to produce “an easy-listening combination of jazz sounds with a twist of innovative improvisation”.

Speaking about how music culture has evolved over the years Whalum describes it as a boomerang. “I see it revolving back to its African roots. Music that is popular now with young people has a direct connection to Africa or African artists. It makes me feel great as an African American”. He attributes this to the fact that perhaps America has a president with African origin hence musicians are looking back to the “mother” for inspiration and information that will translates in a creative way in their art.

2013 Cape Town International Jazz FestivalTheir first BWB album titled Groovin’ came out in 2002 whereby they redid great cover titles by Alicia Keys, and The Drifters in “a fresh and organic way”.  They have known each other since they were young and respected and loved each other’s music and at one point they were all produced by Warner Bros Records.

“We recorded our music back then with the help of Mark Pearson who was the president of Warner Bros back then; he was the motivating force to bring the three of us together”. In 2013 they came together after requests from fans and had a concept to do a cover treatment of a great artist; Michael Jackson. They decided to do a record with the same “organic twist”, and did some of the tunes they all love such as Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, Beat It and Can’t Help It.  “Its music that everybody knows but we recorded in a way that nobody has heard before”. It will be released in June 18 which will be a week before Jackson’s memorial of his death.

To keep the “organic” feel to the album, the group recorded in the studio with a live band and cut it live. It definitely translated to how they performed at the festival because they travel with the same musicians they recorded the album with. They include keyboardist John Stoddardt, bass guitarist Braylon Lacy, and drummer Hamilton Hardin. “Our mission is to inspire the human spirit individually and collectively. We have grown feeding up from the human spirit we feed off that love and give it back”.

The CTIJF was incepted in 2000 and since then it has grown to be one of the most successful events in Africa. This year over 34,000 thousand people attended the sold out event.

The State of Maternal Health in Africa

A woman and her child outside Lea Toto in Kangemi, Kenya. Picture: Carolilne Kaminju

A woman and her child outside Lea Toto in Kangemi, Kenya. Picture: Carolilne Kaminju

In Malawi one in thirty-six women are at a risk of dying while giving birth, making it one of the world’s highest mortality rate.

According to the World Health Organization, maternal death is described as the “death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy irrespective of the duration and site of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management excluding accident or incidental causes”.

For a long time, maternal health was not given much attention in Africa due to lack of accurate statistics and records.  More recently though, reports have been released that have measured the health situation around the world. According to the report, Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010”, 850 women were dying per 100,000 births in Africa. Some of the causes include severe bleeding after birth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion.

In the year 2000, in a historic moment, more than 180 countries around the world signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’S). Adopted from the the Millennium  Declaration, the MDG’s were set in order to track progress and measure success in the areas of health, environmental sustainability, poverty and hunger, education, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Eight goals were set with the year 2015 as the deadline and maternal health is listed fifth among these. Over the last ten years there has been a reduction of maternal mortality by 41 per cent worldwide.   In 2008, the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) was 640 deaths for every 100,000 births and most of these deaths occurred in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. The MMR is considered low if it is under 300 but the target has been set to 150 by 2015.

According to the Global Health Diplomacy report 2012 Africa accounts for half of all maternal deaths despite the fact that it contributes to 12% of the world’s population. Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), says that the organization  “knows  exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise. These interventions have proven to save lives and accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal 5.

Recent reports show that maternal mortality has reduced significantly. UNFPA attributes this reduction to the the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) initiative. It is hoped that by 2015 it will be further reduced by 71 per cent.

Launched in 2009 by the African Union (AU), CARMMA’s  main objective is  ‘to expand the availability and use of universally accessible quality health services, including those related to sexual and reproductive health that are critical for the reduction of maternal mortality’. One of the challenges this initiative is facing is getting accurate statistical figures especially in the rural areas in Africa where not every birth or death is recorded.

A total of 37 countries in Africa have launched the campaign such as Liberia, Madagascar, Morocco, Angola, Egypt, Burundi, Swaziland, Zambia, Botswana and Lesotho which are on track to achieving the MGG 5 goal.

The political commitment in some of these countries has contributed to the significant reduction of maternal deaths. Most governments have increased their percentage expenditure on health.  Rwanda tops the list with the 20% of the government’s budget going to health financing. As a result the MMR is 340 per 100,000 births. Chad on the other hand allocated 3.3% of its budget to health and 1,100 women die per 100,000 births.

As at November 2012, Chad and Somalia recorded the highest number of maternal deaths with over 1000 per 100,000 births.   This is perhaps due to the proportion of births attended to by skilled personnel and the low percentage of budget allocation to health sector by the governments. According to the 2013 CARMMA report, inadequate human and financial resources, poor health infrastructure, high turnover of health providers, religious and cultural barriers are some of the challenges that contribute to the high rate of maternal mortality.

Several countries have come up with interesting ways to reduce the number of maternal fatalities. Gambia for instance initiated a campaign that is undertaken by the National Assembly select committee on Health. Headed by the Vice-President, the initiative has partnered with the private sector and civil authorities to ensure the public sensitized.  Countries such as Rwanda, Liberia and Malawi have involved African women in politics to push their agenda forward.

A mother and her child at the Hlengisizwe Community Health Centre in Durban, South Africa

A mother and her child at the Hlengisizwe Community Health Centre in Durban, South Africa

Newly appointed Chairperson of the African Union commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stated that this year “in terms of health, the Union will focus particular on maternal and child health under the CARMMA”.

According to a recent report (2012) by the UNFPA, family planning is said to reduce MMR by 33 per cent and reduce infant mortality by half. Apart from preventing pregnancy as a family planning methods such as the condom can reduce HIV infections and will help to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV.

The report further showed that there is a connection between education, high fertility rates and family planning use. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest fertility rates with women having more than 6 children compared to developing countries where the birth per woman is 1.7.  The report also showed the link between reproductive health and economic outcomes. Fewer births mean low child and maternal mortality, improved foetal and women’s health, increased life expectancy, schooling and income.

Why East Africa Will Not Likely Meet Maternal MDG

In summary

  • Reports showed that only Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea in Africa have managed to reduce the proportion of women dying in childbirth by three-quarters.
  • In East Africa, Tanzania and Burundi have made insufficient progress, while Kenya has made no progress at all.
  • Rwanda and Uganda were among the 20 countries in Africa that have made some progress.

East Africa is unlikely to meet the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) on maternal mortality, with a woman in Africa having a 1 in 16 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, a conference to review Africa’s progress on MDGs was told.

At the recently concluded 2012 Annual African Women Parliamentarians Conference in Midrand South Africa, reports showed that only Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea in Africa have managed to reduce the proportion of women dying in childbirth by three-quarters.

In East Africa, Tanzania and Burundi have made insufficient progress, while Kenya has made no progress at all — the MDGs target Kenya’s maternal mortality ratio going down to 200 deaths per 100,000 live births, but reports by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey indicate that the country is still recording 488 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Rwanda and Uganda were among the 20 countries in Africa that have made some progress.

Almost 50 per cent of women die 24 hours after giving birth due to haemorrhage, infections, obstructed labour, unsafe abortion or even poor nutritional status of girls and women.

“No woman should lose her life while giving life to another,” said Bethel Amadi, president of the Pan African Parliament during the official opening of the conference.

Mr Amadi said that as elected representatives of vulnerable women and children, parliamentarians should play an oversight role to make sure that there is a budget function that takes care of the health of mothers and children.

The regional director of UNFPA Bunmi Makinwa, said Africa is the second fastest growing region economically after Asia, and in the health sector.

The continent has witnessed a 41 per cent reduction in maternal deaths over the past 10 years. However, nearly 165,000 women die annually in Africa in pregnancy and childbirth.

Mr Makinwa said that extensive use of family planning methods and good midwifery services can reduce the maternal mortality by 33 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

“Family planning ensures that women who do not want to fall pregnant access services to assist them. If this happens, induced abortions will be reduced. In Africa, more than 40 per cent of maternal mortality comes from abortion,” Mr Makinwa said.

UNFPA says that lack of understanding of the political agenda, poor policies that do not address this issue head-on, and low levels of financial investment prevent the implementation of the MDGs.

Mr Makinwa lauded the Ugandan parliament, which refused to approve the 2012-2013 budgets unless additional money was allocated to health.

The lawmakers managed to secure 35 per cent of the additional funds they were lobbying for, and the money went towards recruiting health workers and increasing salaries for medical doctors.

However, the Africa Public Health Parliamentary Network’s Dr Rotimi Sankore said that investing more money in the health sector is not enough — countries should have good human resource for health, pointing out that Malawi, with a population of 14 million, has just 257 doctors serving them, the majority based in Lilongwe.

Cuba, on the other hand has nearly the same population but has 67,000 doctors.

Caiphus Semenya

Joy of Jazz

Caiphus Semenya

The City of Johannesburg played host to award-winning jazz musicians thanks to the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. The annual event, which is in its thirteenth year, takes place in the last week of August in the Newtown precinct and preludes the International Arts Alive Festival in September. The event normally runs for three days but this year an extra show was created on Sunday afternoon after the all the show tickets were sold out.

Over fifty artists were invited to the festival; fifteen of which were international acts while thirty-nine were local artists. They were split across five venues – Dinaledi, Mbira, Conga, the Bassline and the Market Theatre. For those who could not afford tickets to the main stages, there were free shows at Sophiatown, Nikkis Oasis and Shikisha restaurants located within the precinct.

August 23 was the opening night and musicians such as Grammy award-winning guitarist Earl Klugh and French drummer Manu Katche’ were among the two of the four acts that performed at Dinaledi Stage. On August 24, all the five stages featured different artists leaving music lovers spoilt for choice as to which shows to watch. Although most shows started late, at the end of it all most said, “it was worth every cent”.

Dinaledi which means “the stars” in Sesotho, proved to be the most popular with artists such as trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, jazz male vocalist Kurt Elling, the Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring local South African artist Sathima Bea, trumpeter Marcus Wyatt, award-winning guitarists Jimmy Dludlu and Earl Klugh performing.   

Thadiswa Mazwai

Mbira stage named after one of the ancient musical instruments of South and Central Africa, housed artists such as South African solo artist Thandiswa Mazwai, steel pan/drum  player Ken “Professor Philmore from Trinidad and Tobago, vocalist Maysa Leak, Grammy award winner Clarence Carter also known as “Dr CC”, singer and actress Ledisi, Swazi Dlamini and Jane Monheit. Both Dinaledi and Mbira were close to each other and music lovers had to undergo a security screen perhaps because the Deputy President Kgalema Monhlante attended.

Conga stage named after the conga drum – an instrument popularized by African slaves in Cuba, played host to African artists such as Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, Mory Kante from Guinea famous for his 1987 song “Ye ke ye ke”, South African favorite  musician Caiphus Semenya, French trumpeter Erik Turfazz, Botswana singer Shanti Lo and French drummer Manu Katche.

At the Market Theatre – formerly a real produce market turned an independently owned non-racial theater, saw acts like Gloria Bosman, Cecile Verny, Ochestre national De Jazz, Quattro Fusion, Jonny Mekoa and Lizz Wright performing there.

Africa Mhize, Bakithi Kumalo, Monty Alexander, and Muza Manzini performed at the Bassline.

The soft-spoken award-winning guitarist Earl Klugh who enjoys a great fan base in South Africa, was the main act of the jazz festival. He grew up in Detroit Michigan a place he says was “great to grow up in as a musician since Motown was there”. He performed at nightclubs where he met most of the great musicians such as George Benson and by the age of twenty-four, he was already making his own recording. 

Chicago born artist Kurt Elling had a similar experience. The lyricist, composer, arranger, performer, and Grammy award winner was on his first visit to the continent.

There is an enormous appreciation for his music the world over though he considers himself as “the young in music and the least experienced”.

Kurt Elling

 “It comes from being the youngest in my family because you don’t know as much as everybody else. I came into jazz relatively late.” His father was a church musician and at a tender age, Elling started making up harmonies and singing. “I learned the sense of the joy of music, the way the spirit can be lifted up by music, the way people can be healed by music, and that’s the kind of sense that I hope to continue to bring and share with audiences wherever we go”.

Late saxophone player Von Freeman, Eddie Johnson, Ed Peterson who teaches at the University of New Orléans, drew Elling to jazz. He would go to the jam sessions where these musicians were performing and ‘wait to be called up’ to play with them.

“Before I sang I was anonymous. Then I would sing and all these musicians would put their arms around me and say ‘that sounds great, you need to come back again, you are one of us’ ”. This happened repeatedly, in so many situations and he firmly believes that the musicians gave him his vocation and life. He honors the gift they gave to him by “being true to the music and by being like them”.

Elling is one of the very few vocalise artists. vocalise is an art form in which one takes a recording of a solo jazz instrumentalist, memorizes the recording and transcribes into a lyric to fit the contours of that solo. The contours have echoes in certain places and rhythmic movement in certain that are the signature to that solo or player. He together with Eddy Jefferson, John Hendricks, Ed Ross are among the few that have written like this. This means there is a huge amount of content that is yet to be written about. The art of vocalise is an opportunity for him to “contribute something to a very short lineage of this art form”. He thinks it is very important within jazz and since its only exists in jazz. Elling uses vocalise to introduce audiences to more difficult jazz music without giving them the sense that they should be intimidated by jazz music or they are not part of “the club”.  

 Unlike most musicians, Elling did not attend any conservatory for music but is self-taught. He admits that he understands what he does not know and he misses what he does not know. “I try to catch up with people who went to music school and understand all the ins and outs of what is possible”. Elling, who describes Africa as the ‘cradle of civilization, was on his first visit to Africa and he performed in South Africa for the first time. 

While jazz purists could describe some performances as “pure jazz”, some were fusions of R&B, reggae and neo-soul. One of the challenges the festival organizers have to face is to produce an ‘all jazz festival” in these harsh economic times. Promoters and sponsors have to balance the business side of the festival and at the same time cater for musicians and music lovers of all ages and social class.

According to the Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Mpho Parks Tau, the joy of jazz makes a “valuable and lasting contribution” to the growth of South Africa’s music industry since the musicians get to work with international artist and achieve international exposure.

The first joy of jazz festival was staged in 1997 at the State Theatre in Pretoria, which proved inadequate and hence moved to Newtown Johannesburg. It is produced and organized by Peter Tladi  of T-Musicman.

The Role that Technology Plays in Shaping Journalism in Africa

Some years ago, communication in Africa was next to impossible. It has even been called the ‘Dark Continent’ always associated with sickness, poverty, power outages and almost a non-existent telecommunication system.

 The main source of communication was fixed landlines either at home, public or in the office and the traditional snail mail.

In Kenya, for instance in the 80’s one had to book a call through an operator, which was then called a ‘trunk call’. Sometimes the ‘trunk calls’ had to be booked a day or two in advance depending on the availability of the lines.  As for mail, people used to hand write and/or type letters using a typewriter. The letter was then stamped and posted and received through the post office. Often it could take days for a person to receive through their box number (if they had any) and respond back the same way.

Journalists working at that time used a notebook, a pen and a tape recorder to collect stories. It made the news gathering process slow making it difficult to beat deadlines.

While people still use these traditional methods of communication, advancement of technology in the 20th Century has shaped the way we communicate. Today, Africa is now the second most connected region by mobile subscription in the world with over 600 million subscriptions, beating Europe and America.

Information Transformation

Technology has revolutionalized the way people communicate today especially in Africa. Mobile phones have made it possible for people to communicate anywhere and anytime. People use it to send, receive messages, bank, take pictures, record sound and videos and access the Internet, and send emails as they would on a computer.

Having access to information has meant that people can choose what type of news they want to consume. The Internet has made it possible for people to connect with the rest of the world instantly. One just needs a computer or mobile and an Internet connection.

Infact, the trend shows that in Africa, people prefer to use their phones to receive and send information.

Statistics show that by 2014, cell-phone use in Africa will grow to an estimated 100 percent. This is due to the fact that the cost of owning and maintaining a phone has reduced drastically, increasing the phone penetration in Africa.

What does this new development mean for journalists today?                       

Technology in relation to journalism

The digital revolution has meant that people can choose what type of news they want to consume. It has also meant that people can also be part of the news gathering process and do not have to depend entirely on the media as the main sources of information.

All one needs to do is to log on online through either their mobile phone or computer and browse the information they want to read.  They can either choose to read the whole story or part of it and even participate by leaving a comment.

A while back newspapers and radio served to be the main source of information and enjoyed the monopoly. One however had to wait for the morning paper to read yesterdays news and the flow of communication was one way.

Journalist and media houses have had to contend with new times. The new powerful tools at the journalists disposal has made it possible for information to be collected and distributed to larger networks giving readers different options.

On the other hand, the consumers of news are steering away from the old traditional media; creating their own news and dictating the kind of news they want to read.

For journalists, reporting on stories was limited to the media houses they worked for. They used expensive equipment such as cameras, video cameras to capture their stories.

Today however, most phones are equipped with a still and video camera, audio and Internet. This capability meant that anyone with access to a phone with these capabilities could be part of the news gathering process.

This gave rise to what is called ‘citizen journalists’ a term used to refer to ordinary people reporting on any story of interest and sharing it on the net.

There were fears that with the proliferation of citizen journalists, professional journalists would not have a job. As time went by and new media platforms arose, research has shown that journalists will always be there – they just have to adapt to the new reporting methods

Other labels that have come up include ‘civilian journalism’, ‘user generated journalism’ and ‘participatory journalism’ which are collective terms used to refer to digital content that is produced and shared by ordinary people aside from the professional journalists.

Most African countries have seen an increase in mobile and internet connection.  Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa are currently the biggest mobile phone markets in Africa. Nigeria is has 100 million mobile subscribers, making it the largest mobile money in the continent.

Kenya’s mobile phone subscriptions have risen to 29 million due to cheap calling rates and introduction of fiber optic cables. It also enjoys a wide network coverage. South Africa on the other hand, which has a population of about 40 million, has the largest fixed line broadband market in the continent.

From the examples above it clear that the future for Africa is mobile. An increase in mobile subscription, data availability and internet access contribute to this increase. There are currently 8.5 million internet users and around 7.9 million of these accesses the internet through their phone.

With the above facts in mind, how then has technology has played a role in shaping journalism in the continent? I will look a brief history of the African press.

 A brief History of African press

According to Barton (1979) and Faringer (1991), Egypt had the firstnewspaper in 1797followed by South Africa and then Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Most of these newspapers were government owned and operated by Europeans since most African countries were then under colonial rule. In East Africa, the Europeans, Indians and Africans owned the newspapers.

Politicians ran the African press the Asians own printing presses while the Europeans provided advertising.

The first newspaper in East Africa was the East African and the Ugandan Mail in 1899. While the Standard (then called the East African Standard) was started in Mombasa in 1902.

Research show that radio has been the widely most used from of communicating in the continent.

After most African countries achieved independence, most of the media houses continued to be under the control of politicians, most of them owning a stake in most of the public broadcasters.  This meant that they could only report on what was favourable to them.

Community radio and media has been set up to steer away from this kind of reporting and new media tools such as Facebook and Twitter has made it possible for people to participate in the news gathering process.

Using such new media tools, the public demands transparency from their governments and even air their views as seen with the case of The Arab Spring.

Social Media 

One cannot talk about technology and not talk about social media. Over the past three years, the world has seen the power of social media. The Arab Spring is perhaps the best example to illustrate this fact.

Ordinary people took it upon themselves to report on what was going on the ground. As seen in the case of countries such as Tunisia and Egypt, the digital revolution has made it possible for people to self-publish on the web either through blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter among others.

The digital revolution has provided new communication platforms which gave people opportunity to say ‘what is on their mind’. Although Facebook and Twitter weren’t set up with political activism in mind, they have proved to play an important role in relaying information to a group of people and was successfully used in Egypt and Tunisia to mobilize people to action and change.

For journalists, this has meant that they are in the spotlight. Sometimes what they report in the media comes under scrutiny and can make or break the journalist.

Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalist or CJ’s are non-professional journalists reporting and producing stories. Most of them produce stories that are not reported by the media houses because they either do not consider them newsworthy or do not have a correspondent on the ground to cover the story for them.

They use mobile phones, audio recorders, pen and paper as well as computers. They are driven to tell stories because they feel a sense of responsibility and not because they will get paid for what they do.  The power of citizen journalism was illustrated in Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Ordinary citizens took it upon themselves to report on what was happening on the ground and captured powerful footage that the media used compliment their stories.

In countries where the mainstream media was controlled by the government, citizen journalists were at the forefront in reporting about what was going on around them.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) In Africa

It is safe to say that online journalism in Africa is growing at a tremendous rate due to the reducing cost of electronics such as mobile phones and computers and even electricity.

The fiber optics cable has also contributed to the availability of information because it has meant people having cheaper access to the Internet.

Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) have also increased in the continent so have mobile service providers.

Just ten years ago, the cost of making a mobile call very high and even owning a mobile phone was a privilege – reserved for the elite. Today however even in the remote places of the continent, communication is possible due to the affordability of the mobile phones and the good reception.

Kenya

Kenya has seen a tremendous increase of mobile phone subscriptions. In 2000, there were only 127,404 mobile phone subscriptions. Today more than 54% of the population has access to a mobile phone.

Most of their phones can not only send and receive messages but access the Internet.  

While Internet and mobile penetration might seem lower in some countries, studies show there has been a steady increase Internet users.

Since the inception of mobile broadband in 2009, most people prefer it to the fixed broadband subscriptions.

CASE STUDIES

A number of organizations have come together with brilliant ideas for citizen journalism. It seems that from the case studies, most of the organizations want to work with people with some knowledge of reporting and have access to mobile phones.

One of the projects that have been successful is Voices of Africa. It is a Netherlands based organization based in the Netherlands that trains reporters across the African continent on the effective use of mobile phones for reporting. 

The reporters are given with second-hand mobile phones, which they use to report on almost anything.

Some of the content produced has been picked up by leading media houses and used to compliment their stories.

Frontline SMS

Most of the messages are sent to a group of people that have subscribed to the service. It has proved to be effective in that one does not need Internet access to receive the message.

This has proved effective in the area of health and has been used by doctors to disseminate information to their target group. Subscribers can also respond to the message regardless of their location making it important for information gathering and dissemination.

With all this changes then, what is the role that technology plays in shaping journalism in Africa?

Technology and Journalism

The 20th century has media types experiencing what they call convergence. It refers to the coming together of different mass mediums into one platform. 

This digital revolution means that journalists and media houses at large will have to conform to the new trends of reporting. The world now is experiencing a ‘multiplicity of media’, which gives the consumer of news the power to share and even report.

The recent trends discussed above show that citizen journalists will work hand in hand with the professional journalists and the former has actually made mass media more responsive to customer needs.

Additionally, modern journalists have to acquire new skills in order to be versatile, produce in-depth stories, enrich their stories by linking it to other stories and make it available online.

New media has made it possible for people to watch and even create what they want and ‘self broadcast’. No longer does communication flow in one way. 

All these trends prove that since most of the news is captured digitally, it is obvious that it will be shared online.  Infact hard copy newspapers have felt the pinch over the last couple of years and have had to migrate online.

However, this does not mean that they will be done away completely rather they will compliment the online issues.

This online shift has led media houses to team up with mobile service providers to come up with a subscription services for news via Short Messaging System (sms). People who subscribe to these services receive updates as and when they appear.

Subscribers can also send a text or email to report on traffic or an incident as and when it happens.

The BBC sums it up very well, ‘The changing nature of news offers a diversity of voices, sources and choice…and lets anyone join in global and local conversations’. The new media is indeed shaping journalism.

According to The New Market Leaders book by Fred Wiersema, in order for media companies to ‘survive and thrive, they need to attract valuable customers now and in the future’.  Media houses are now diversifying in order to survive as businesses.

What does this mean to the journalists in Africa? They also have to look for ways to diversify and acquire skills necessary to keep up with the digital age.

Challenges

While the future of journalism in Africa is bright due to the convergence and multiplicity of media there are however some significant stumbling blocks. Apart from access to technology, training and infrastructure, there is also the issue of restrictive governments.

In Tunisia, there are laws in place that limit the freedom of expression even on the Internet. ISP’s are required to release the names of the users to the government on a monthly basis. In addition, the country has a single telecommunications network that is government owned and all traffic passes through it.

Tunisian online journalist Toufik Ben Brick was beaten up criticizing the government while two journalists from Sierra Leone were arrested for was termed as ‘illegal online activity’.

Senegalese journalist Daniel Bekoutou life was threatened after he wrote a story about the former Chad president Hissene Habre titled ‘Hunting the Dictator’. This is perhaps why only 1 percent of the country’s population are internet users.

According to Tanya Accone, executive producer of MWeb Africa, the Web enables African journalists to ‘access free information, to tap into experts anywhere on the globe, and the capacity to monitor alternate reporting and perspective on a variety of issues’.

She states further that one of the major need for African journalists and media consumers is ‘regional and pan African information.’ People know more about the western countries more than their own continent.

However, things are changing now thanks to technology, which encourages people local content. This has proved to be beneficial since people like to read about what they can relate with.

Infact most of the local content is read by people living in the Diaspora. For instance, 20 percent of the South Africa’s Sunday Times online newspaper launched three years ago,  is accessed by people living outside of South Africa.

Tanzanian based self-taught online journalist Majaliwa Nyenzi started a website also proved to be a portal whereby users could get firsthand information on all the aspects of life in Tanzania.

New media has fostered a culture of debate giving people an opportunity to air their views. It aids in getting to know the issues the readers are concerned with which are not accommodated in the traditional media.

Other challenges online journalism will face is the cost of building and maintaining the websites. What will make it succeed is skills infrastructure, marketing and advertising support. 

Another challenge is that most of the new media is character specific. If a journalist was to report about an event in real time on Twitter, they have only 140 characters to work with and with SMS 160 characters

They need to mould the Internet tools to suite their specific needs and device technical solutions to overcome these challenges.

Another challenge online journalists have to face is that most of the work is not paid for. Most of those who do what they do for the love of it will have to do most of it without the prospect of being paid.

Nigerian internet pundit Hank Eso believes that ‘despite the vast incursion of web pundits and presumed journalists, the field of journalism is (still) well and active’. 

He mostly writes for free to ‘promote dialogue and understanding and to express his freedom of expression. I am at liberty to decide when to write, what to write about, how long and with what regularity’.

The Future

It is safe to say that ‘the web is a way of life which we can no longer escape’ so journalists and media organizations need to embrace the Internet and take advantage of the opportunities it presents.

Even with the new technology, the basic tenets of journalism will remain; honesty, accuracy and fairness.

While some countries have registered a tremendous growth either through mobile telephony, access to internet and internet speed some countries such as Chad are almost totally invisible while other countries battle with freedom of expression.

In conclusion then, it is safe to say that both traditional and new media will not disappear, infact they will work hand in hand and cater for their specialized target groups.

Journalists will therefore have no choice but to bring themselves up to speed and experiment the new technology since anyone with a mobile device that has access to internet has the ability to make news.

The journalist has to ensure that the information they provide is credible, legitimate and valid. We live in a time of what is termed as ‘participatory media’, which allows for comments and reviews of a news item by the consumers.

Journalists therefore have to ensure their stories are credible and give their readers content rich articles.

 Africa is indeed rising!