The role of the media in shaping positive East Africa scenarios, an abstract by Mwalim Akol Monday, teacher and Journalist.

Abstract

The word scenarios can be defined in deferent ways depending on the context of use, ranging from an outline of plot of dramatic work to an imagined or projected sequence of events. But in the context of the theme of the 16th IREN Eastern Africa Media Forum that is The East Africa scenarios, scenarios can be defined as imagined pattern of events for the future or a possible plan. Therefore East Africa scenarios cannot be discussed or tackled minus looking at the four pillars of the East African Community which are; customs union, common market, monetary union and political federation.

For the East African region to achieve all the above mentioned pillars has come up with a number of protocols, signed treaties, established commissions or  organs and developed  visions as vessels to guide the people and their leaders to the desired dream.

Therefore the role of the media in shaping positive East Africa scenarios is enormous. The media has to rise to the occasion to claim her space by playing roles that include though not limited to; advocacy, educating, informing, entertaining, being the watch dog and setting the agenda in as far as helping the people of East Africa appreciate the positive scenarios.

However, for the media to shape the positive East Africa scenarios effectively in the six member states of the community and even beyond, it needs to be empowered, professionalized, patriot, focused and above all left to enjoy certain amount of freedom. For the East Africa scenarios to be realized, the issue of easy communication among East Africans regardless of their education levels has to be championed by the media so that the region can fully embrace Kiswahili. The media has a huge role to address the misconceptions that work against having one unifying language and using it as a serious tool to shaping the East African dream.

Introduction

According to English Oxford Living Dictionaries, media is the main means of mass communication (broadcast, publishing or internet) regarded collectively. Therefore in the context of the topic the role of media in shaping the positive East Africa scenarios, media shall be defined as the channels and personnel involved in mass communication. The East Africa scenarios in simple terms can be referred to as the East African dream(s) or a projected plan for the region that is social, economic and political.

In the late 90s when the East African Community (EAC) was being revived and later fully re-established in the 2000s, four pillars were agreed upon through a treaty. Therefore all efforts of bringing the region together have been geared towards achieving these four pillars. Whereas Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda have thought of fast tracking the integration, Tanzania and Burundi chooses to take a slow pace. The first two pillars which are customs union and common market are both social and economic. The third pillar of monetary union is purely economic and the last pillar political federation is purely political.

In the struggle to achieve the four pillars there have emerged negative scenarios more especially politically so much that at times the unity of the community is threatened. East Africa that originally was formed by three countries of Uganda Kenya and Tanzania now has Rwanda, Burundi and lately South Sudan as members. There are also high chances of Somalia joining the regional body before 2025. East Africa is widening and bringing on board other members because the leadership is conscious of preserving the community having learnt from the past mistakes of the community’s founding fathers.

The desired dream is having a people of East Africa socially together as they forge unity in diversity, economically trading among themselves using the local currencies and politically well governed either under one government in form of a federation or separate state governments in form of a confederation.

 The role of media

With only five years left to 2025, the media has a key role in keeping the region together and in shaping East Africa scenarios as discussed below.

Advocacy; both local and international media outlets in the region should show support for the positive East African scenarios. The media should support for example cross boarder trade, movement and cooperation. It’s such open support from the media that will rally the masses to understanding and appreciating the common dream of the region. Minus well programed media advocacy, vision 2025 and the East Africa scenarios will remain on paper and only known to a hand full of people in the region.

Informing; in the new world, information is power. And this is where the internet as one form of media has bridged the gap in as far as getting of information is concerned. Therefore the media can shape the East Africa scenarios by having all key information about the region readily available. The main stream media can have this information in key major languages of Kiswahili, English and French or in all the languages that are used on the media for it to sink down to the grass root person. The unfortunate situation currently is that it’s only those involved in regional activities that seem to get information about East Africa’s projected plan.

Educating; media in some circles is referred to as the public educator. Therefore the role of media in educating the public or masses of the importance of the East African projected plan in form of vision 2025 is very cardinal. People that have not got chance to associate with issues of regional integration must learn through the media how important the East African dream is and what each one’s role is going to be if we are to have it achieved. This can be done through designing programs that tell the history and future of East Africa.

Entertaining; in some circles music and drama, are regarded as the palm wine with which life is eaten. The Swahili people say “burudani ni kitoweo cha maisha” translated as entertainment is the stew of life. The media can selectively promote and use music and drama that promotes or inspires the masses to appreciate and love the East African dream. For example music and drama was used in South Africa to fight against apartheid. During elections music and drama are used to drum up support for particular candidates and parties. Therefore media through entertainment can have the masses and the leadership conscious of the East Africa scenarios. Through entertainment media can awaken the masses’ love for matters and or issues of East Africa.

Agenda setting: According to Max Mc Combs and Donald Shaw who are credited for developing the agenda setting theory of mass media, the media has the ability to influence the importance placed on a topic on public agenda. The media local or international that operates in East Africa by prioritizing publicizing news and events that promote the East Africa scenarios can set the agenda for the wananchi in the region to appreciate what goes on in the region. For example the media in Uganda and more so Uganda Broadcasting Corporation by frequently playing the East African Anthem and also having a number of programs on East African integration has created some awareness to a section of listeners in Uganda and beyond.

Wider coverage of regional activities; the media in the region should give wide coverage to activities and events that promote East Africanness for example regional sports competitions, cultural festivals like JAMAFEST that is celebrated on rotational basis in the East African countries. For starters JAMAFEST (Jumuiya Afrika Mashariki Utamaduni Festival) is a cultural gala that is held after two years in East Africa to showcase the various cultures. It was first held in 2013 in Kigali Rwanda, then in 2015 in Nairobi Kenya, in 2017 in Kampala Uganda and it will be held in 2019 in Tanzania.

Sensitization on Kiswahili: in 2007 EAC passed a protocol of Kiswahili as the lingua fracas of the community. EAC went ahead to establish the East Africa Kiswahili Commission (EAKC) to coordinate and over sea the development of the language in the region and beyond. The media has to rise to the occasion in promoting the language that identifies East Africa as one. The media can play this role by using Kiswahili in its correct form, by sensitizing countries like Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda that have not yet fully embraced the language. No community can develop and unite using a foreign language and this applies to East Africa. By the media championing the growth of Kiswahili the gap between the learned and not learned in the region shall be reduced and thus leaders shall be free to speak minus use of translators.

Watchdog; it’s an open secret that media plays the watch dog role by informing the public where the powers that be have acted contrary to expectations. The media in shaping the East Africa scenarios can deliberately report on those that are not playing their part in as far as the East African dream is concerned. This will awaken those that are sleeping on their responsibilities to do the needful. Besides the media can also show how far we have moved towards achieving vision 2025 and how much is left to be done.    

Telling the East African story; every people or community have their story to tell. For example the people of South Africa always had a story to tell in form of their experience and fight against apartheid. This struggle brought them together as a people. East Africa equally has her own stories especially why the first community collapsed, the tribalism that has failed us and corruption. The media by retelling such stories will increase on the level of consciousness in as far as preserving the region is concerned.

Marketing East Africa; the media has a wonderful role of marketing the economic potential of the region. With East Africa having the highest mountain (Mt Kilimanjaro), the biggest lake (Lake Victoria), largest national park (Serengeti National Park) and source of longest river (River Nile) on the continent, there is much the media can do to attract tourists and investment. The region still has a big room for investment that can translate into job creation, widening of the tax base and eventually economic development.

Challenges

In shaping the positive scenarios certainly the media has, is and shall encounter challenges to which also solutions have been proposed as well.

Press restrictions; the media in East Africa is not as free as it’s supposed to be. In some cases we have seen media houses being closed down, restricted from covering certain events and even editors arrested on fabricated charges. In Tanzania Raia Mwema was affected , in Uganda the Red Pepper was shut down for some time, in South Sudan the Southern Eye was closed and in Kenya, Citizen TV was stopped from covering an opposition event in January 2018.Therefore lack of enough media freedom also undermines the forth estate’s role in shaping positive East Africa scenarios. Remember it’s a media that is given space that can work around the clock to identify her role in the development of the entire region.

Professionalism; some media houses resort to cheap labour that in most cases is less professional and lack the relevant expertise in handling regional matters, this is common with media outlets that are found in the rural and semi urban areas. The challenge of lack of professionalism can be addressed by calling for a sound journalism education from universities and media schools. Students of journalism should be taken through issues of regional integration while still at school so that as and when they are out in the field they are knowledgeable about the issues. Likewise media houses should consider working with professionals.

Commercialization of the press ; ever since the liberalization of media, government monopoly of ownership of broadcasting media say like television and radio has been over taken by establishment of  many FM stations and televisions. However the desire to make profits by the private media houses has some times superseded the common good. Worse still some media houses have not even bothered to have programs that talk about issues outside their communities of operation. So as media houses not to prioritize money over and above regional and national issues, guidelines or minimum standards must be set. And these guidelines must include how much role media houses can play in matters of regional integration and national unity.

Technology; at times the media has wanted to report or relay certain events at regional level; say like the summit of the East African heads of state, trade shows, competitions. But very few media houses in the region have such capacity. Therefore media owners should invest a lot in technology so that they are not out competed by the international media which in most cases might not have the East African agenda at heart. For the media to effectively shape the East Africa scenarios it has to advance in technology.

Conclusion

World over media is known to have the ability to make or break any people’s desired destiny. In this case the media in shaping the positive scenarios of East Africa has got be to conscious of the forces within and without that can be crucial or detrimental to achieving the ultimate scenarios or vision 2025. The media must play the role of the giraffe to the region in shaping the East Africa scenarios.

Paper presented at the 16th Eastern Africa Media Forum

Organized by

 Inter Region Economic Network (IREN)

By

MONDAY GEOFREY AKOL AMAZIMA

Of UGANDA BROADCASTING CORPORATION&  NDEJJE UNIVERSITY

Venue: Royal Tulip Hotel Nairobi, Date: 18th – 21st April 2018                  

Theme: The East Africa scenarios

Topic: the role of the media in shaping positive East Africa scenarios

About the author:-

MWALIMU

Monday Geofrey Akol Amazima is a teacher, journalist, author, activist and Pan African. He has taught in secondary schools, written for the print media in Tanzania and Uganda. Currently he is completing his M.A. (Kiswahili and Communication) at Laikipia University in Kenya. He works with Uganda Broadcasting Corporation and also is teaching at Ndejje University. He is a regular panelist on BBC, DW and VOA talk shows. While working at the Global Pan African Movement he got the opportunity to participate in fast tracking the East African Federation campaign in Uganda. Besides being widely travelled in East Africa, he is one of the stakeholders and media point person for Uganda for the East African Kiswahili Commission (EAKC) a body of the East African Community (EAC) that was established to spearhead and harmonize the development of Kiswahili within the region and beyond.

References

English Oxford living dictionaries

Wikipedia

EAC Treaty 1999

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