Online media changing African news

Lydia Namubiru
Editor of ‘The Continent’ (South Africa)

At the start of the pandemic, we realized that a lot of fake news was being shared on WhatsApp. So, The continent chose to launch on this platform to insert real journalism in a way that could easily be shared. We now have around 100,000 readers across Africa and the rest of the world, but we’ve had to drastically change the way we write and edit stories: to compete with Twitter and Instagram, we try to limit stories to 300 words .

There is real variety. We can investigate corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a week after a front page about the fashion designer who dresses Africa’s “big men” [powerful leaders]. We cover feminist issues, the backlash against LGBT people in Ghana; the Namibian first lady told us about misogyny. This is not the kind of subject a typical African newspaper will cover.

There are refugees in camps doing data operations and being paid a pittance to help build multimillion-dollar systems for American companies — that’s a future problem

With a history like Ukraine’s, the impact of war on the cost of living was the most obvious angle for us. It plunged countries like Malawi into crisis, forcing a currency devaluation.

As for the future, we see two problems looming. The economic rights of workers and their treatment by multinational corporations will be a big story. There are refugees in camps in Kenya who work in data operations and are paid a pittance to help build huge, potentially multimillion-dollar systems for American companies.

Second, Africa has the youngest population in the world and the oldest leaders, which will likely lead to activism and protests. Young people are exposed to the global village, so they want different things and have different values. They speak a completely different language which their leaders do not understand. It will be an interesting conflict, but one that could lead to real violence.

John Githongo
Editor of ‘The Elephant’ (Kenya)

We created this platform four years ago. Due to political and commercial pressures, the mainstream media did not do much critical reporting. We have between 30,000 and 80,000 readers a week, the majority of them in Africa.

The digital space reaches a completely different demographic. When the elephant started, there were 80% men and over 40, but we gained more young people and more women. Now it’s 60% male, 40% female and that’s something we’re working on.

Our editorial approach is that as long as an article has a strong argument and fits within our pan-African brief, we will publish it – even if we disagree with it.

The conflicts in Ethiopia and parts of the Sahel make the war in Ukraine pale in comparison. So many people have died in Ethiopia or been displaced and now we have the start of a famine after four years of failed rains. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the Cold War made its way onto African soil, millions of people died – so caution should be exercised before getting involved in a European fight.

Ahead of the election, we expose those trying to change the level of debate with reputation laundering

There is always a lot of fake news during elections. But people are starting to be more skeptical. We pursue those who try to change the level of the debate with reputation laundering and try to expose their actions.

The future of democracy is going to be a big problem. When Africans watched the attack on the United States Capitol last year, they hoped it was not a Black Lives Matter protest, which could have resulted in a “dark bath”. As soon as they saw the white people wearing horns, people laughed in relief.

There is an ongoing recalibration of Africa’s geopolitical relations with the rest of the world. A poll released in June showed that China has overtaken the United States as the foreign power with the greatest positive influence in Africa in the eyes of young people across the continent. The younger generation is writing its own story.

Wale Lawal
Editor of ‘The Republic’ (Nigeria)

The Nigerian public is increasingly online and tends to read local and international publications. They also know that the issues they care about are either under-reported or reported at lower quality levels.

To The Republic, we provide political journalism which tends to require high levels of expertise. Yet online audiences also prioritize engagement: it’s not enough for an issue to be important, it must also be interesting.

Some of the topics we covered that Western media tend not to include how people experience darkness in different parts of the world; the waves of movements led primarily by women and youth rising up against autocratic governments across Africa; and relations between countries within Africa itself. At the start of the pandemic, we launched a series on Covid-19 and Africa, after seeing a distinct lack of voices from African experts in the global media.

We also cover the evolution of Africa’s relations with Russia. Whenever we come across a story like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the first thing we always ask ourselves is what missing voice can we add to the current discussion? All we read after the invasion was how neighboring countries opened their borders and their homes to Ukrainians. Most people just saw that.

We knew about 15,000 Africans were studying in Ukraine when Russia invaded, but their voices were missing from the discussion.

But we knew that around 15,000 Africans were studying in Ukraine, that Africans regularly faced harsh treatment at international borders, and that it was clear that their voices were missing from the discussion.

With fake news and information gaps on social media, our usual approach is to develop expert-led columns and distribute them as widely as possible.

Our next mission is to reflect on the role that independent media can play in supporting democracies, for example by increasing voter turnout. In the last elections in Nigeria, less than 35% of people who registered to vote actually did.

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