Of course I spent six months backpacking and not a lot of time actually doing my journalism. Throughout my travels I had many story ideas etched into my mind and written in my notebook, but unfortunately no funds to pursue these ideas. On the bright side, I was able to mix my travel with media development work. However, the one thing I could do with a lack of money was reach out and connect with NGOs and media organizations doing the kind of journalism I admire.
While working in Ghana, teaching an Accra radio newsroom basic journalism skills and human rights coverage, I met and connected with Ghana’s Farm Radio International branch. FRI is a Canadian NGO working in Sub-Saharan Africa, empowering farmers and villagers through radio. In South Africa, I reached out to the Cape Town-based NGO Children’s Radio Foundation. CRF also works throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, teaching children how to make radio. This media education gives them the skills to potentially become journalists and effect real change in society.
I studied the media in every country I visited along my travels, by picking up newspapers to read on those enduring bus rides. Every once in awhile I’d hear a radio news broadcast while sitting in my bus or taxi seat. My ears would perk up and I’d try to tune into what was being reported, because most English speakers on the continent use it as a second language, so they’re always heavily accented or it’s even broadcast in a local dialect I don’t understand.
A few months back, I was on the bus in Malawi from Blantyre to Lilongwe and a girl sat next to me as I was reading the local newspaper. It was a story about the constitutional coup plotted against President Joyce Banda, who took power after the previous president Bingu wa Mutharika died in office last year. It outlined how the backers of wa Mutharika tried to keep Banda from taking office by using unconstitutional methods, which are now being investigated. Anyway, the girl seated next to me asked if she could borrow my newspaper once I finished. I agreed and handed it to her and she asked me what I was doing in Malawi. I explained to her that I’m a journalist traveling through Africa.
As we sat there on the bus, the driver turned up the volume on the radio once the news bulletin began. My ears perked up. It was the Zodiak Radio news. In the middle of the broadcast everybody on the bus erupted in laughter. I turned to the girl next to me and asked what was so funny. She explained to me that the radio presenter was interviewing the former president’s brother on the phone, and he asked him what he makes of the charges against him put forth by police. Well, the president’s brother responds; “I’m at the police station now taking care of these charges.” Or something to that effect. She then says everybody on the bus laughed because it was easy to tell he was in jail doing the interview and tried to play it off like it was of no concern to him.
I smiled and laughed a bit myself. Only in Africa!
Throughout my travels, I met and interviewed journalists. Whether it was sitting down for a coffee or beer with them, or even going into their media houses and introducing myself as a Canadian journalist. Most were usually fascinated that a young, white journalist would be interested in their plight and want to work with them at improving the situation for journalists across the continent. I have to admit I haven’t accomplished much, so far, in my career, but I’ve dedicated myself now to the cause of press freedom.
I remember back in early 2012, before my trip through the Middle East, I began in Paris, France. I flew to Paris from Montreal to make a trek across Europe to Turkey, where I started my adventure that took me from Istanbul to Cairo, Egypt. Before I set off I wanted to touch base with the Paris-based media watchdog RSF- Reporters Without Borders. I used to host and produce a weekly human rights and press freedom radio program in Montreal, and I always cited many RSF reports on the show. This was to highlight the plight of journalists around the world fighting for press freedom. So, I visited RSF’s offices and Benoit, the Americas desk correspondent who I’d been in touch with before, introduced me to everyone.
I left that meeting inspired. But I realized all of the true work in fighting for press freedom is being done on-the-ground in newsrooms around Africa, Latin America and Asia, not in Europe or Canada. Developing countries need a strong media sector and there’s not many NGOs out there working in media development. I have found one. It’s another Canadian NGO, one I’ve been doing campus and community volunteer media work with for the last few years in Montreal. It’s called JHR- Journalists for Human Rights. If you don’t know about them, well, you should.
JHR is a true media development organization. It has been working in West Africa for many years, sending Canadian journalists to work alongside their African counterparts to empower and educate on how to produce human rights media, or #RightsMedia in social media parlance. Of course, JHR does other great work around Sub-Saharan Africa, giving local journalists the tools and support they need to continue human rights reporting. A good example of this is their work in DR Congo.
When I was asked to take on a media trainer position with JHR I was excited. I flew to Toronto from Nairobi, where I ended the second leg of my journey, over a month-and-a-half ago. I was put through an intensive training program. One about intercultural learning, hosted by the Canadian government, and another by JHR itself, about how to teach human rights media. I only had a bit of background in teaching, since I worked with a few members of my campus JHR group informally teaching radio and television editing.
I took this assignment with gratitude, knowing they placed a lot of confidence in me as I was sent to Arusha, Tanzania. This is the very first time JHR has operated in East Africa, and I would be the only one working in Arusha, while four colleagues of mine would be based in Dar es Salaam and have the support of each other. Me, I was left to my own devices, being the only media development trainer in Arusha, as I would soon find out. It’s a lonely task, but somebody has to do it and I’m glad it’s me.
Upon arrival in Arusha, I would try to make an impact at Mambo Jambo Radio. MJ FM, as it’s known colloquially, is a local music and entertainment station. I’m not being condescending, seriously! It’s extremely popular with Tanzanian youth, as I could tell by the amount of interns working there (about half the staff are students). I look at this situation as my chance to make real change. To try and engage the youth with human rights radio journalism. At first, they were all excited to have me join them and they kept asking how long I would stay (hoping forever as they did in Ghana). I kept saying I’d be here for awhile, being as vague as I could be, knowing that I’ll only be working with them for the next six months.
Immediately, I had a team of about 10 journalists who were interested in attending my workshops. I had to start off with basic reporting, or as I like to call it ‘Journalism 101′ as it became evident that nobody in the newsroom actually knew how to practice the craft despite calling themselves journalists. When I held my first news meeting to pitch story ideas – a first at MJ FM – I asked everybody what their name and role was at the station. As we went around the circle everybody responded in the exact same manner starting with their name, then their program, and finally; “Presenter, Journalist.”
I could tell many of them had no idea what being a journalist actually meant. But I appreciated their honesty. So, I had my work cut out for me. I started with basic reporting and storytelling methods, then I moved on to multi-track editing, and right now I’m teaching them about the theory behind investigative reporting and documentary radio. I have expressed myself many times how human rights stories are all around us, and I’ve pointed out many local ideas that I hope have resonated with them
We are all learning from each other. I think of myself more as a facilitator than a trainer. I’ve still got a lot to learn myself. I’m glad that I have this opportunity to continue my media development work until October, then there’s no telling where my career will take me next. I’m all ears.
Faith Benson Moshi works with the Arusha-based Wild Hope Artisans Project, which is run by Wild Hope International, a U.S.-based NGO. This project empowers Maasai women by helping them sell their crafts, mainly beaded necklaces, around the world. This, in turn, helps these women send their children to school and avoid harmful cultural practices like female genital circumcision, also known as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).
Wild Hope will be displaying their work at the Artisans Market in Dar es Salaam (Oyster Bay) on May 25, 2013.
Located inside the historical Arusha Declaration Museum, near the Uhuru monument, there’s a small workspace for Tanzanian artists and students. The ACAA – Arts and Cultural Association of Arusha – provides studio and gallery space for indigenous artists from Arusha and other nearby regions in Tanzania. Featuring the voices of Seth Kenguru, a renowned painter; Anna Kombe, an artist from Kilimanjaro; and Emanuel Samson, a performance artist from Arusha.
For the compendium photo gallery of the ACAA, click here.
ARUSHA, Tanzania - Meet Martha Mganga. She’s a 50-year-old Tanzanian woman with albinism.
She’s not afraid to use the term “albino” when referring to herself and others living with this condition. Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically-inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.
As the first born out of three albino children (seven children in total, four being non-albino) Mganga’s father abused her psychologically. She recounts in vivid detail how residents in her village blamed her for everything that went wrong, from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes, believing she was a curse upon them.
This lead her to contemplate suicide, as Mganga couldn’t bear the mental anguish anymore.
“When I was a teenager I tried killing myself several times,” she said. “I threw myself into a river because I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. But God had another plan for me and I washed up on the shore, alive.”
For almost 30 years, Mganga has worked with albino children to educate and empower. She teaches these kids, and family members, about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
People with albinism lack pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all albinos are visually impaired. They may also have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life-threatening skin cancers, states the UN.
Mganga, single-handedly, runs a non-profit organization called Albino Peacemakers. She works alongside established non-governmental organizations; Under the Same Sun and Tanzania Albino Society, to help provide sunscreen, sunglasses and hats to albinos across the country.
According to the UN, in Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected by the condition.
So far this year, attacks against albinos have increased dramatically in Tanzania. In 2008, BBC Swahili bureau chief Vicky Ntetema exposed to the world how albinos were murdered and graves robbed for body parts, to be used for witchcraft purposes.
Ntetema’s investigative stories caused an international outcry, one which continues to this day.
Mganga says Ntetema’s journalism gave her reason to branch out and begin work as a peacemaker in regions of the country where albinos are seriously threatened, like the area around Tanzania’s second largest city: Mwanza.
“I often visit Mwanza and villages close to Lake Victoria to give talks to Tanzanians about how albinos are ordinary people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s still a stigma associated with being albino. One that leads ignorant and uneducated people to carry out horrendous acts.”
A recent upsurge in violence against albinos made the UN condemn the violence, with four attacks in a period of sixteen days, three of those being albino children. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is urging the Tanzanian government to bring those responsible to justice.
“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks which are committed in particularly horrifying circumstances which have involved dismembering people, including children while they are still alive,” Pillay said.
The UN human rights chief states that successful prosecutions are extremely rare in Tanzania. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented since 2000, only five cases are reported to have resulted in successful prosecutions.
“Apart from physically protecting people with albinism, the government needs to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism,” Pillay said.
Mganga just returned to Arusha, her home since leaving the village she grew up in, after spending National Albinism Day in Tanzania raising awareness and trying to battle the discrimination faced by albinos in the country.
Close friends of Mganga refer to her candidly as “Sister Martha” and liken her work to that of Mother Teresa, due to her religious devotion and dedication to society’s less fortunate.
Dr. Ayub Rioba is a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. At the World Press Freedom Day conference in Arusha, Dr. Rioba produced a document known as the “Arusha declaration on media protocol in Tanzania.”
This Arusha declaration 2.0 brought together ideas from journalists and media organizations from all over East Africa to call for meaningful change in the way journalism is practiced in the region, putting an emphasis on the need for community-focused media.
Every May 3, journalists, activists and media organizations in developing countries around the world acknowledge the importance of World Press Freedom Day. This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom.
Most don’t celebrate it publicly, or even give reporters the day off work. But deep down there’s a respect for those operating as media professionals in hostile environments.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) state in their most recent report that 70 journalists were killed last year and 232 journalists are currently imprisoned. This is the highest number of journalists in jail on record, states the report.
Over the last year in Tanzania, several journalists have been violently attacked. Just a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) was brutally assaulted outside his home. Last September, a television reporter was killed by police covering a political opposition party demonstration.
According to the CPJ, Tanzania was the seventh deadliest country for journalists in 2012. These unfortunate events have led many Tanzanians to believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead up to the 2015 elections.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 Press Freedom Index indicates Tanzania dropped 36 points since the previous year, from 34 to 70 (out of 179 countries). This in a year of unprecedented economic growth for the East African nation.
One of the many reasons for this drop is due to President Jikaya Kikwete’s decision to shut down a Swahili language newspaper. Tanzania’s information minister deemed MwanaHalisi too critical and ceased its publication under the guise of the 1976 Newspaper Act.
The directive states the weekly investigative newspaper published news that was false and seditious:
“The government has decided to close down the production of Mwanahalisi for an unknown period according to the Newspaper Act of 1976, clause 25(i). The clause will be in effect from July 30th, 2012 based on the government notice 258 published on the government newspaper produced in Dar es Salaam on 27th July, 2012.”
Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the Kikwete government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish this repressive media law. There’s also been a strong push for media reforms to be included in a new constitution.
Back in 2008, MwanaHalisi was banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the elections. The newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Kikwete government. Since then several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom by thugs.
Media reform activist Henry Maina, director of Article 19 East Africa, writes that the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Maina cites Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
From May 3 to 5, 2013, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from all over East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania at Naura Springs Hotel for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Safer and better working environment for journalists in East Africa” and will highlight the need for media reforms all over the continent, with a focus on Tanzania, a country where many journalists still operate in fear of reprisals.
In the KiSwahili language ‘uhuru’ means freedom. In Kenya, a man named Uhuru was recently elected president of the republic. Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn into office on Apr.9, 2013. He brings with him serious baggage after being accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in post-election violence in 2007 along with his running mate, newly-minted Vice President William Ruto. This time around it looks like Kenyatta is building bridges between his Jubilee Alliance and the opposition Raila Odinga’s CORD Coalition. Odinga thought he had this election locked after serving as prime minister in a power-sharing agreement with outgoing president Mwai Kibaki.
Kenyatta served as deputy prime minister from 2008-2013 and finance minister from 2009-2012. He resigned from his position in the government once charges were brought against him at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now that he’s the president of Kenya, the international community will step back and watch the court’s proceedings against Kenyatta. If he’s vindicated then many world leaders will embrace him as leader of the east African economic juggernaut and want do business with Kenya.
In other news, I finished my trek from Cape Town to Nairobi by land a few weeks ago, and on Apr. 27, celebrated the six months since I left Montreal to travel Africa. Originally, I was only expecting to travel West Africa and work in Ghana for a few months, but once on the continent it’s hard to stop! After I finished my work in Accra, I wanted to make my way from Ghana to South Africa by land. I quickly realized this wouldn’t be feasible in a reasonable time frame.
Luckily, I found a cheap Ethiopian Airlines flight to Johannesburg, South Africa (with a night in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) and was on my way to JoBurg. So, I actually started the second leg of my journey there, but for distance’s sake, I began in Cape Town. Besides, many great adventurers who trekked across this vast continent headed from Cape Town to Cairo, Egypt (or vice versa).
My original plan was to get from Cape Town back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, because that one night there only wet my palate for more Ethiopian sights and its world famous coffee. A month of travel around South Africa made me realize I needed to get back on the hard road (backpacking there isn’t a challenge because it’s over developed). However, I was offered a media development job in Arusha, Tanzania, so I would have to, once again, change my travel plans and make it work (I tend to be very flexible and constantly change plans when travelling).
The next month was hectic. I squeezed Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya into a short time frame and visited as many sights I could pack into each day. I was relentless in my pursuit of the great African adventure. But this was a journalist’s journey. A rich cultural learning experience. When I arrived in Tanzania for the very first time I wasn’t sure how I could make this country my home for the next six months (my work contract is from April to October).
When I arrived in Kenya it was a totally different story. I love the pace of life in Mombasa and Nairobi. Both are cities I could see myself living in for extended periods of time. Mombasa is home to a majority of Kenya’s Muslims, so the city has a Middle Eastern intensity not at all like Zanzibar, which sways to a Caribbean-like rhythm. The Old City of Mombasa is as much as a souk one will see in Africa. Tuk-tuk’s (golf carts) race through the narrow market streets, giving it an ambience unmatched anywhere else in the world.
The UNESCO World Heritage site Fort Jesus sits at the port of Mombasa. This military fort built by the Portuguese hundreds of years ago is a fine example of the strategic location of the city along the Indian Ocean. I spent a day wondering around the Old City before returning to Nyali, which is a newer, much wealthier part of the city. I could see the contrast all around me. The beggars and market stalls were replaced by people driving BMWs going to shopping malls.
From Mombasa I took my final overnight bus (on this leg of the journey, mind you) into Nairobi. I slept terribly. To cut costs I bought a ticket on the Modern Coast bus, but I chose the bus without air conditioning, because most bus drivers blast air conditioning at night to keep themselves awake and the passengers suffer. Unfortunately, in this instance I really did need it because the bus was so hot that nobody could see out of windows due to the condensation.
I was seated next to an older woman. She had the window seat, so I couldn’t keep the window open all night. I sweated profusely and when I finally fell asleep had horrible nightmares. It was a hellish scenario. In the middle of the night, I reached across and opened the window because I needed some fresh air. Just to piss me off she closed it, so I’d again re-open it. It was back-and-forth until the bus arrived in Nairobi early that morning.
Feeling like I had finally arrived at my penultimate destination, I knew I would love Nairobi. As I stepped off the bus a taxi driver asked me if I was going to Milimani Backpackers. I confirmed and he agreed to take me for a decent price. Shocking when you’re a mzungu! Thanks to my Lonely Planet Africa guidebook, which I’ve carried with me for the duration of the trip (no mean feat if you consider it weighs a tonne!). I always review the map section of every city when I arrive, giving myself a decent idea of where I want to go. When you have confidence in where you’re going, then locals tend to leave you alone. Or so I find.
While we’re driving through Nairobi, the driver begins mentioning the political stalemate between recently-elected President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. In his view, Odinga should concede his defeat and not wait for the results of the Supreme Court of Kenya to decide if Kenyatta did, in fact, win a plurality (Kenyatta just barely got more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a run off ballot, or second round of voting).
We arrived at the gate to a hostel, which isn’t Milimani Backpackers, but its former location. I tell the driver this isn’t the place, but he inquires with the guard anyway (every residence has security in Nairobi). With confidence I say: “No. They’ve recently moved to another location on Denis Pritt Road [acting as if I knew where this was].” He jumps back into the driver seat and we find Denis Pritt Road. I tell him to keep driving to the end of the street. We stop. I get out and shout: “Milimani Backpackers!” Suddenly, a black gate swings open on my right-hand side. I found it.
At this point I pay the driver and he demands I give him more money. I reply: “I’m sorry sir, but you approached me saying you’d take me to Milimani Backpackers for this price. Just because you didn’t realize they’d moved doesn’t mean you can charge me more [I applaud his efforts though].” He hemmed and hawed until getting back into his car and driving away. Rule #1: Never let taxi drivers in Africa take advantage of you!
The rest of the week went well. I enjoyed every minute in Nairobi. I visited the Maasai market and produced a radio story about a compelling young man, selling his artifacts in front of the Supreme Court of Kenya, while police shut off streets due to on-going political opposition protests around the market. This has seriously hurt his business, as Americans were instructed by their embassy to stay out of the city centre for the duration of the protests. As I walked around I felt like there were so many stories I could pursue, but knowing my time was limited, I knew I had to come again soon.
I visited the Nairobi National Museum for the art exhibits and natural history component, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to spend time with orphaned baby elephants, and the streets of Nairobi to watch the on-going political unrest as the announcement of Kenyatta’s election victory swept across the nation. It’s an exciting and, at times, dangerous city. But a city I’ll be returning to nonetheless.