The African Union (AU) member states who voluntarily acceded to the continent’s self-monitoring mechanism, Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), need a team of credible communicators to tell a story about a stable, peaceful Africa that values good governance and vibrant democracy. Despite being established in 2003, many ordinary Africans still know too little about the APRM and its role in Africa’s development. For many years, we have heard others through their ‘parachute’ journalism saying that Africans know nothing about good governance, media freedom, respect for human rights and the rule of law, writes Nthambeleni Gabara
Today, as technological development continues its rapid expansion, the APRM just like any other institution, needs valuable communicators to ensure that African governments are visible, accessible and answerable to the public they serve.
This specialised agency of the AU, requires communications specialists to disseminate and manage the flow of information to the public via multiple platforms such as the mainstream media.
Set up by the AU as a voluntary governance self-monitoring system within the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the APRM has been developed and is ‘owned’ by African countries to provide opportunity for civil society participation and public dialogue on governance issues.
The review process includes country self-assessments based on a questionnaire, expert review teams and on-site visits by expert review teams who consult with government, private sector and civil society representatives to interrogate the data collected.
Addressing the South African National Editors Forum’s (SANEF) conference focusing on media freedom in Africa in 2003, former President of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Thabo Mbeki, touched on the importance of “reporting Africa to Africans”.
“As Africans, I presume that you are at one with this old African objective and would therefore, see it as one of your central tasks to report Africa to the Africans: reporting Africa as Africans.
“Again, this presumes that those who would report Africa to the Africans themselves know Africa. I therefore, believe that you should answer the question honestly, whether you yourselves know Africa. I do not believe that there is anyone amongst us who would claim that press freedom permits that we should have the liberty to present a false and uninformed picture of our continent.
“I am suggesting that the South African media has a responsibility to report Africa to the South Africans, carrying out this responsibility as Africans. I dare say this applies to all of us gathered here and therefore relates to all our countries. I am, of course, proceeding from the assumption that you were African before you became journalists and that despite your profession, you are still Africans,” he posited matter-of-factly.
Now, both those active in the media space as communications specialists can use the long list of communication technologies that never existed 58 years ago when the then Organisation for African Unity, now AU, was formed to develop and execute programmes for the socio-economic development of the African continent.
The continued sensationalised reports of conflicts in certain parts of Africa, clearly indicates that the media too, should stop operating as a negative force to foster hatred or incite violence in Africa.
Today, Africa needs the type of media fraternity that promote conflict management and resolution. Therefore, the media should take a leading role in promoting the values of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.
However, for all this to happen, we need an Africa, which is blessed with a free press… where the safety of journalists is guaranteed. In that way, we will proudly inform the world that in our continent, we are enjoying the existence of a complete free press, where journalists report without fear or favour.
South Africa has produced a post-apartheid Constitution which has regarded by many as one of the most progressive across the world as it also guarantees freedom and rights. This includes freedom of the media, expression, association, assembly, artistic creativity, academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
This notion of freedom is however not absolute. The Constitution adds that these rights do not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or the propagation of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
It is true that the continent is not yet socially cohesive. Thenmedia should not be expected to write stories that seek to promote hatred amongst Africans, but stories that are like a glue that defines and unites all Africans.
A week ago, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Public Service and Administration, H.E. Sindisiwe Chikunga, used the APRM’s webinar on the role of African governments in protecting the media as the cornerstone of democracy to announce that the APRM agency values the media’s strategic role as a watchdog.
“The APRM appreciates that the media plays an important role in society as ‘watchdogs’ of democracy and good governance in Africa and in every social, political, economic and administrative fields.
“The watchdog mass media, therefore, serves as the guardian of the public’s interest. A fearless and effective watchdog is critical in fledgling democracies, like in some parts of Africa, where institutions are weak and pummeled by political pressure,” she said.
It is clear that ‘media bashing’ in the continent is now slowly dying a slowly but surely.
The Deputy Minister continued: “African governments understand that ensuring wider access to information and free flow of information through the enactment of freedom of information and legislation, ensures greater citizen participation in governance.
“This allows for maximum verifiability of information and allows all stakeholders to come to the table equally informed on important issues.
“African governments should also explore ways to strengthen ‘e-governance’ systems and infrastructure which provide media and citizens with direct access to administrative information and decision-making processes.”
Public Service and Administration Minister, Senzo Mchunu is the Focal Point for the APRM in the country, while he also serves as the Chairperson for the APRM Focal Points of Ministers in the continent.
Indeed, an effective communications team for the APRM is needed to realise the AU’s agenda 2063 of an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential offered by African people.
Nthambeleni Gabara is a professionally-trained journalist who holds a Bachelor of Technology in Journalism degree from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). The journalist-turned government communicator has almost two decades of experience in the media space.