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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Highway Africa-06: A plus for West Africa

Features of the week:

This year’s Highway Africa have ended, but emerging facts show West African media has been consistent in its improved reportage of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), as made evident by the two-fold African media awards held at the event, reports REMMY NWEKE.

THE 10th Highway Africa (HA) 2006, held at the Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, ended at the weekend with West Africa and precisely Nigeria, having lots to celebrate.

HA-06 with the theme "Celebrations, reflections and future directions" is an annual gathering of African media practitioners biased for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), which is organised under the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Welcoming participants at the event, Head, School of Journalism and Media Studies, Prof. Guy Berger, said that the very year that HA turned 10, its founding body, Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies, moved into its new premises, known as the African Media Matrix (AMM). As such, there is a link between the two developments.

According to him, the first link has been that the new building, AMM, was named to show the impact this conference has had on the character of the school.

"More than merely paying lipservice to Africa, we have built a new home that is deliberately rooted in the continent. It’s a matrix, a coming together of specifically African media issues," he asserted.

For the second link, Prof. Berger noted that HA has influenced AMM, which is more on in how technology is integrated into the edifice. In addition, he said, the conference is reputed for encouraging journalists to capitalise on new technology so as to play a bigger and better role.

At this instance, AMM also encourages its learners to make full use of vast information feeds, experiment on what he described as "dizzy-making digital gear" stressing that the media laboratories encircled in AMM were set up to give confidence to convergence, a collaboration he said, is across diverse media platforms and skills.

"Just as the AMM enables students to graduate with high-expanded capacities, so too does Highway Africa facilitate the rich growth of knowledge and skill amongst its participants," he asserted.

Prof Berger also hopes that these two resources would give participants strong sense of reflection and celebration during and after the HA-06, even as he invited more African media to take advantage offered by HA and AMM before the 20th anniversary of HA, which comes up in 2016.

The recently appointed vice chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr. Saleem Badat in his welcome speech, recollected the importance of the media in the struggle for enthronement of democracy and demystification of independence for South Africa as well as Africa in general.

"The power of the media to contribute to positive change is well known to the Rhodes School of Journalism and Media Studies, and also familiar to most participants at this conference," he entoned.

An indication he said, came out of the collective deliberations by Africans to take journalism to a greater height, emphasizing that HA presents the kind of community engagement initiative for which Rhodes University is widely known for its role as university engaged in the teaching and research expected of an institution of its calibre.

"Together, these roles reinforce each other and make for maximum contribution in a democratic society with a vibrant civil society," Prof. Badat said.

Equally for the Director, HA, Mr. Chris Kabwato, 10 years could be a long time and a short time too. Welcoming participants on the occasion, he enjoined participants and journalists to continue the crusade in deploying new media technologies in promotion of the continent.

He recalled that in 1997 when a small group of academics and journalists met under the auspices of the Rhodes University New Media Lab, then directed by the father of Highway Africa, Mr. Roland Stanbridge, with questions raised on the impact of the internet on journalism and media as a whole, no one had envisaged what they were setting in motion then.

The irony of Highway Africa growth, he noted, lies that it was largely unplanned and attributed this growth to the zeal of people like Prof. Berger and colleagues to sustain the tempo.

Also, he said, HA secretariat has invested in more permanent structure to improve upon the annual conference. This includes human capital and employment of permanent staff, pointing out that all these could not have materialised without the generous support of various partners of HA, namely OSISA, NiZA, SDC, KAS, OSF, MTN, ABSA, Telkom, SAA, Siemens, Multichoice, JohnnicCom.

He did not forget the unwavering support of the South African Department of Communications (DoC) as well as the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

However, some of the topics treated during the workshop sessions at HA included using the internet as a weapon against corruption, quality in journalism and media, peace journalism, ICT and digital commons, teaching the basics of investigative journalism, online resources for African journalists and doing journalism education across Africa; the Addis Ababa model among others.

Obviously, the most interesting aspect for media practitioners seems to be the award presentation angle, which saw West Africa gleaming with smiles, from Nigeria to Cameroon down to Ghana and Benin; all had cause to celebrate.

Although Nigeria for a second year running, swooped the African media awards on Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) at Highway Africa (HA) confab, getting away six out of the 22 awards.

It is remarkable to note that at the 2005 edition, Nigeria won more than six awards at HA, especially through the African Information Society Initiative (AISI). The awards came in two-fold namely the SABC-Highway Africa Awards for Innovative Use of New Media in Africa and AISI.

Whereas the HA awards were organised by Journalism Department of Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, in partnership with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in recognition and promotion of creative, innovative and appropriate use of new media technology on the continent, AISI was put together by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) based in Ethiopia.

Both awards were presented simultaneously at a ceremony at the Guy Berger Auditorium, Grahamstown.

At the HA-06, the Senior Reporter on ICT with Daily Champion Group of Newspapers, Lagos-Nigeria and pioneer member of the Highway Africa News Agency (HANA) editorial team, Mr. Remmy Nweke, took the cap as the HANA Journalist of the Year 2006.

Equally, five other Nigerians, namely Mr. Don Pedro Aganbi of ICT Africa on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA network), Mr. Emmanuel Okwuke of New Age and Ms. Evelyn Tagbo, as well as Mr. Chima Akwaja of Financial Standards, Mr. Segun Oruame of ITEdge, all emerged as first and second category winners in the AISI awards respectively.

Cameroonians also took home four out of the total awards on offer, just as the SABC-HA award on individual/student category went to David Kezio-Musoke, a HANA journalist from Uganda, while the non-profit category was grabbed by Jo’s Toolkit, a website created for student and grassroots media created by two fourth-year new media students, Carly Riz and Gregor Rohrig, even as the corporate award went to Andnetwork (African News Dimension’s Network).

Nigeria further took the first categories in the AISI-GTZ Media awards on promoting the Information Society (IS) on TV, AISI-IDRC award on Reporting on ICT policy and AISI-OSIWA reporting on ICTs and rural communities, even as Nigeria also grabbed second categories AISI-IICD award on local content and local content applications in that order.

Cameroon, on the other hand, went home with the first prize AISI-GTZ awards on promoting the Information Society, through Ms Marie Noelle Guichi and Ms Bapidi-Mbom Didier Parfait on print and radio respectively. Mr. Roger Taakam and Ms Jeanine Fankam were to emerged first in the local content as well as reporting on research and innovation categories in that order.

Uganda, nevertheless, got two award winners in the first and second categories of AISI-OSIWA best female reporter and reporting on research and innovation through Ms Ester Nakkazi and Mr. David Muwanga respectively.

Other countries that won in the single categories at the AISI awards included Ghanaian Jacob Kofi Mensah who took second category on Promoting IS for print, Kenyan Eric Ombok also second category on radio.

Equally, Algerian Laid Zaghlami came first in the local content applications, Malian Salif Sanogo came second on promoting IS on Tv, with Mr. Guedegbe Gerard of Benin coming second category in Reporting on ICTs and rural communities and Zambian Timothy Kasonde Kasolo also coming second in Reporting on ICT policy.

Apart from having about 500 participants from 42 countries in the continent, Highway Africa served as a ground to launch the first-ever Digital Citizen Indaba, which took place at the Fine Arts building, attracting over 200 attendees, a recognition that Africans are really embracing the digital citizen journalism, otherwise known as bloggers, participants were divide on whether bloggers should remain bloggers and journalists, journalists instead of some description like ‘citizen journalist’.

As the celebration continues, even beyond Rhodes Grahamstown environs, West African has shown that her media are yielding to the beckon to embrace new media technologies via understanding it and coverage as well.

Just as one observer said, let the baton of leadership provided by West Africa and Nigeria precisely on media scope as far as ICT information and disseminations are concerned, continue with the celebration, reflection and taking of new decisions that will further improve the face of African media.

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