Challenges and hope for Africa’s media sustainability

African media: where to?

High data costs, internet shutdowns, fake news and constant technological disruptions are plaguing Africa’s media. Yet many in the sector are hopeful

A Sudanese journalist poses with chains outside the Tayar newspaper in Khartoum to mark a hunger strike by journalists on 1 March, 2016 to protest the decision to withold publication of the newspaper Photo: Ashraf Shazly / AFP

Across the African continent, media are looking at ways to remain relevant in an age when technological disruptions have upended the business models for the sector. They are not alone. The Reuters Institute 2019 report on journalism, media and technology trends, as well as its report on predictions for 2020 released in January this year, sketches a challenging time ahead for media operations everywhere.

According to the 2020 report, mobile and social media are disrupting traditional approaches to journalism and media operations by fragmenting audiences’ attention, undermining advertising-based business models and weakening the role of journalistic gatekeepers. Add to that low levels of trust amid a plethora of fake news. Many of the industry executives interviewed for Reuters’ predictions for 2020 were confident about their own company’s prospects, but much less sure about the future of journalism.

The research is clear that if digital media are to be sustainable, media houses across the world – including those based in Africa – will have to work hard to find the revenue streams that matter. Some 50% of the executives interviewed on their predictions for 2020 said they had identified reader revenue as their major income stream for the coming years. That means more paywalls and subscriptions and membership models. Other models include advertising, but few of the executives believed that media could compete with the tech platforms, particularly given that Facebook and Google take the lion’s share of internet income.

How true is this for Africa? Southern and eastern Africa are seeing some developments with regard to digital media formats, but the continent still lags in terms of ease of payment. Digital media are, of course, dependent on the internet, but as of mid-2019, about 40% of Africans, or around 525 million users, had access to the internet, according to figures provided by the online source, Internet World Stats. However, levels of access vary around the continent, with around 1% of the population in Eritrea having access, single figures in the Great Lakes region, and almost 90% in Kenya.

Africa is a diverse continent with social, economic, political and cultural differences not only between regions, but also within regions. As WAN-IFRA vice president Lisa MacLeod points out, Africa is not a “generic continent”. Despite the continent’s variety, though, she says that “the one thing people around the continent are collectively embracing is mobile media”. In East Africa, Churchill Otieno, Nation Media Group’s digital managing editor and chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, notes that young audiences depend almost entirely on digital media for information and entertainment.

“Legacy establishments are working hard to stay relevant, but most of their interventions are challenged,” he notes. This changing structure has led to changes in the way information is acquired and published – including the emergence of new media roles, such as influencers and bloggers, who are often used as first sources of information, even if their information is often misleading. Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher and CEO of the Premium Times newspaper based in Abuja, Nigeria, says access to the internet in West Africa has seen “relative growth” which, along with the availability of smartphones, has driven growing use of social media in the region.

According to the Broadband Commission Report released last year, 29% of Nigeria has broadband access while more than 111 million Nigerians had access to the internet by the end of 2018. WAN-IFRA Women in News Africa Director Dr Tikhala Chibwana describes Africa’s efforts as a “mixed grill”. Provision of content through digital media in Africa has seen “quite a positive uptake” on the part of media organisations, though their capacity to do so depends on the size of the organisation. “Bigger organisations have been able to do a lot more, because they already have a digital presence,” Chibwana told Africa in Fact.

Many African media houses, especially those with print backgrounds, have seen their circulation numbers declining, he said. “It’s not as dramatic as what has happened in Europe or in America, but still, income from circulation is dwindling and the challenge is there’s not a corresponding amount coming from digital,” Chibwana notes. Given this uncertainty, some media organisations were “still trying to figure out what they need to do next”, he says, or experimenting. Meanwhile, consumers are moving into the digital space, but advertisers have been slow to follow. Some are also using social media to reach their audiences directly, but getting people to pay for content is a challenge.

Many media consumers worldwide still expect to access free information, and Africa is little different in this regard. As a result, Olorunyomi says, some media houses are turning to donor-funded news gathering models, most often to support investigative journalism. This has had a “huge impact” on the stories being told, he says. As regards general funding models in West Africa, though, he believes that that while donor funding helps, the commercial model is still the significant model of both advertising and in circulation, while event hosting can also bring in some extra income.

Though, reading between the lines, this approach might already be outmoded. “The sad part is that it’s clear that advertising is really decreasing,” Olorunyomi adds. Some Nigerian publications such Business Day are shifting towards online payments for subscriptions, but others have had to backtrack. Currently, the thinking is that a mixed model will be needed, which includes free and paid for content, as well as commercial and donor funded income streams, he adds. However, as if these commercial pressures were not enough, African media owners also face potential state control, including shutdowns.

Ironically, the internet itself makes this possible. Zoe Titus, a strategic co-ordinator at the Namibia Media Trust, says internet shutdowns across the continent are a cause of concern. Aside from this, African media are facing other challenges: “We see more violations against the media … not just by state activists but also non state actors. We are seeing less tolerance of the role of the media,” she says. Development NGO the Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) executive director Vusumuzi Sifile agrees. Governments around the continent are tightening media regulation or policing of the digital space through the enactment of cyber legislation, he says.

“Government representatives claim that cyber legislation is intended to protect citizens from fake news and unscrupulous online dealers, but stakeholders are concerned the cyber legislation may contribute to state-sanctioned infringements of citizens’ digital rights. This could potentially disrupt the growth of digital media around Africa,” Sifile adds. For some media operations, donor-funded investigative journalism is offering short-term respite, as is sponsored content. But the growth of sponsored content is, in turn, putting pressure on the media’s traditional strict separation of editorial content and advertising.

In many cases, African media houses are using converged structures in their newsrooms, says Otieno – which means that they are relying on small central editorial operations to control multiple publications. In East Africa, grant- and donor-funding is still nascent, he adds. In that region, media “find themselves in a vicious cycle of cost cuts, resulting in weaker products, which in turn limits investment in the sector”.

While donor-funded journalism is fulfilling a critical need, it also raises concerns, says Dr Admire Mare of the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. “The problem that it brings is dependency… I would say that in this current context, with these unstable business models gutting our operations, donor-funding must be seen as one of many [possible] income streams.” So how sustainable is Africa’s digital media future? Media houses are experimenting with digital media platforms and opportunities, but “there are still some missing dots”, says Sifile.

In his view, digital media are not yet functioning in ways that consumers in the region find useful. “As a result, a significant part of the population still relies on the traditional print and broadcast media.” African media operators are well aware that digital is the future, says Otieno. “There seems to be a certain appreciation that the solution is somewhere in the digital space. The audiences have migrated there anyway. Many are now seeking ways to monetise that audience.” But as MacLeod observes, levels of consumption of digital media depend on the audience.

“Affluent Africans are huge consumers of digital media, particularly through mobile devices,” she notes. And they often consume international media, not only local media. Meanwhile, people living at the lower LSM levels are often restricted, not just by the cost of hardware, but also the cost of data. Given these challenges, African media owners have sometimes been “ahead of the curve”, for example, by moving to mobile digital content offerings that avoid the problems associated with the widespread lack of infrastructure and limited access to desktops and laptops. What does this mean for business models?

MacLeod says that some media operations are shifting away from click-driven advertising to media models based on addressing people’s sense of community. Regional differences across the continent mean that media houses will identify different opportunities for monetisation, which might include hard paywalls, payment-per-story and advertising initiatives such as funded storytelling (native advertising). African media markets are in a “distressed state”, says Bilal Randeree, Program Director for Africa & MENA of the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), a New York-based, not-for-profit that invests in independent media.

Nevertheless, he says the continent is seeing “interesting developments”. Media houses represent a diverse media landscape with quite a mixture of different kinds of products, he told Africa in Fact. But the move to digital media is particularly constrained by Africans’ relatively limited access to the internet. Successful media operations find ways to add value, he says. “If you are a niche publication providing clear value to your audience, they become loyal. You reach an audience with a very specific product and a clear value offering.”

According to a 2019 report by Germany-based DW Akademie, an organisation that sponsors media development, the ongoing digital disruption of traditional revenue streams is also affecting newspapers in emerging democracies, including those in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 36% of newspapers in emerging democracies had no internet revenue, according to a survey by the World Association of Newspapers and News cited by the report. Yet, says the organisation, “media viability goes hand in hand with free expression”.

Successful media operations, and in particular good investigative journalism, are therefore also important to the development of democracy around the continent, says Titus. Chibwana agrees. While the current situation for media is difficult, “people are beginning to realise you cannot rely on social media, [so] there is a place for professional media,” he told Africa in Fact. Otieno predicts shorter-term pain for the media sector across Africa with longer-term potential. “Out of the embers,” he concludes, “new giants will emerge.”

Paula Fray is a leading media trainer and coach who works across Africa and the Middle East. The former regional director for Inter Press Service Africa, she is the CEO of the pan-African communications company frayintermedia, which has worked to improve the quality of journalism in Africa since 2005.

The Cinderella of sustainable development goals

SDG 6: clean water and sanitation

More than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand-washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services

A family fetches water from a well in a rural community in Lungobe, Zambia. Access to water is limited in many rural and isolated areas in southern Africa. Photo:

By Marcel Gascón Barberá

Giving everyone access to clean water and sanitation might well be the least engaging of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) set by the UN in 2015 to address a series of pressing global challenges. Though they are clearly important, complaints of a “lack of clean water and sanitation” rarely make it into the headlines. Moreover, unlike natural catastrophes, terrorist attacks or economic crashes, a lack of water and sanitation doesn’t occur at a specific point in time, nor is it often the result of a single act of negligence or inattention by a single actor. Rather, it is most often the result of persistent inaction on the part of governments, which is itself influenced by political, cultural and socio-economic realities within those societies. To all this we can add the influence of social taboos. People who have to deal with a lack of water and sanitation tend not to want to let others know that they have to defecate in the open, and that they lack facilities to wash afterwards. People are more likely to demand jobs, paved roads, health care and education than they are to protest about a lack of adequate sanitation infrastructure. The subject of water and sanitation is often marginal to the public conversation, which puts it conveniently at the bottom of most governments’ priority lists.

Yet the lack of clean water and sanitation is a major reason why life is harder in Africa than anywhere else. According to UN statistics, as much as 72% of Africa’s population did not have access to basic sanitation as of 2015. That means that more than 900 million Africans lack water-flushed toilets, hand washing facilities, clean drinking water and related services. Putting these numbers together within this broader context reveals the huge disparity between the magnitude of the problem and the amount of focused attention and action it receives. Things are particularly appalling in remote rural areas. The development of sanitation infrastructure requires complex and costly operations that only governments appear to be able to take on. “Sanitation or its converse, open defecation, is a negative externality,” wrote Shanta Devarajan, Senior Director for Development Economics at the World Bank, in a 2014 article (in economics, a negative externality is an activity that imposes a negative effect on an unrelated third party, according to a 2010 article by HR Varian). “People who defecate in the open not only harm their own children, but other people’s children,” according to Devarajan. “Their incentive to invest in sanitation is less than the costs.” He added that in rural India, the reduction in the incidence of diarrhoea from others’ adopting sanitation was about half of the effect of your own household’s adopting it.

But authorities often have neither the capability nor the political will to expand the state presence to outlying areas. Moreover, the lack of meaningful connection between governments and populations across the continent often makes it futile to lobby politicians to address these deficits. As Richard Jurgens and Luz Helena Hanauer wrote in Africa in Fact 49, for example, the continent’s leaders have successfully relied on the social fragmentation in their countries that is a result of the “diverse populations that were artificially yoked together by colonial projects” to render their constituencies powerless when it comes to demands for good governance and service delivery. To achieve this, and absolve themselves of any responsibility, the authors argue, many African rulers also resort to the “tactic” of blaming “imperial and colonialist” forces for their own shortcomings as lawmakers. The erosion of any accountability means that these shortcomings will be reflected, in particular, in politicians’ lack of incentives to provide sanitation infrastructure. The solution, experts are increasingly accepting, lies in realistic, creative actions that are clear about the limitations imposed by circumstance and which involve affected communities. Founded in 2010 by sanitation activist Kamal Kar, the community-led Total Sanitation Foundation has been one of the world’s leading advocates of this approach.

“Our vision is to unleash the hidden potential and capabilities of local communities to solve their own problems and take charge of their lives,” reads the NGO’s self-description. Basically, this means that communities are encouraged to stop relying on government intervention and to mobilise whatever resources they have to tackle the problem. It is only by doing so that they can start minimising the many negative health and wellbeing effects of not having adequate access to water and sanitation services, the NGO urges. Moreover, by taking the initiative themselves, the communities also push the authorities to pay attention and take action. “Often it has been seen that the ministers are foreigners in their own countries,” says Kar in an interview posted on his foundation’s website. “[The ministers] have no idea as to what is going on in their own country. They get totally surprised to hear the tremendous success of their local communities in achieving an ODF [open defecation free] status without any external help and support,” he adds. “We have noted that the moment you start triggering the institutional actors, the awareness and the sense of responsibility increases tremendously.” Born in Bangladesh and a specialist in livestock production, agriculture and natural resources, Kar pioneered the so-called “community-led total sanitation approach” (CLTS) approach in his country in 1999.

Its methodology “is based on a no-subsidy policy and rooted in a model of community empowerment and mobilisation” to end open defecation in underdeveloped communities. Since its successful execution in Bangladesh, the CLTS model has been adopted by the UN agencies for clean water and sanitation. Working with the UN, Kar has applied his approach “to more than 69 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America”. One such project has been put into practice with successful results in Madagascar, a cash-strapped island with one of Africa’s lowest indexes when it comes to access to sanitation. Working on the ground with local NGOs, the UN’s Global Sanitation Fund has succeeded in eradicating open defecation in more than 16,000 villages. Having identified a community in need of proper sanitation, a group of doctors travels to the village and calls a meeting with the residents. A visitor takes the floor and asks for one of those present to draw a map of the village on the ground. When the map is completed, the residents are asked to use pieces of cardboard to indicate the locations of the village houses, wells and latrines. The next step is to count the number of latrines and compare this number to the number of people in the village. The conclusion is invariably that there are too few latrines for the number of people. At that point, the speaker interrogates the public about their defecation habits. This might be done in direct and even vulgar language. Repeated use of the word “shit”, for example, challenges participants to be open. The residents might start off regarding the meeting with shame or embarrassment, but the mood changes as the speaker in the centre continues to tease them about their lack of openness about an important issue.

The ashamed or disapproving expressions on the faces of participants soon turn to wry smiles. The initial discomfort dissolves in some laughter, and that opens the way to more honest discussion. The meeting then moves to one of the open defecation spots. There, the person leading the meeting touches a stick to some faeces, which he dips into a glass of water. Would anyone want to drink this water? The audience’s response is usually amused and bewildered: of course not. Further discussion follows, during which villagers are informed that contamination of this kind is a source of diarrhoea and other health threats. Following this, they are encouraged to work out the most basic solutions, which they often arrive at themselves: fly-proof latrines and artisanal hand-washing facilities. Villagers with natural leadership skills then commit to forming teams to build latrines, and work begins immediately. A hole is excavated in the ground and a brick outhouse with a wooden seat and a roof is constructed above it. Their promise to “stop eating shit” – as the visitors bluntly put it – becomes a matter of pride and self-esteem. When researchers return to evaluate progress, they usually find healthier, cleaner communities. Moreover, villagers are keen to spread the message to nearby villages. Weeks after the doctors’ visit, the results are evident in those communities that have honoured their commitments.

Faeces has disappeared from the margins of the village. The village surroundings don’t smell as bad as they did and residents are proud to show the functioning latrines they have built. Access to clean water and sanitation is more extended in Africa’s cities. However, urban areas face increasing demographic pressures. Massive migrations from rural areas are multiplying the number of informal settlements in virtually all African cities. These new, makeshift urban developments also often lack the most basic sanitation infrastructure, while their higher population density makes things worse than in the rural areas. Moreover, the transmission of associated diseases, typhoid, malaria, diarrhoea and cholera, which are among the leading causes of death on the continent, is faster in crowded environments. Nigeria, for example, has the largest population of any country in Africa, and that has doubled in size since the 1990s. Its population is nearing 200 million, and that is likely to double by 2050. More than 50% of Nigerians live in cities, while only 15% lived in urban environments in 1960, according to the UN’s Population Division. Lagos, the country’s largest city, now has an estimated population of more than 20 million people. A World Bank report shows that two out of three people in the city lived in slums in 2015. One of those slums is Makoko, a succession of shacks built on wooden stilts on the Lagos Lagoon. Once a quiet fisherman’s village known as the “Nigerian Venice”, Makoko has become the world’s biggest slum on water, where more than 150,000 people are exposed daily to a lack of clean water.

There are no sanitation facilities and the sewage ends up in the lagoon, below the slum’s houses. Residents live in a fetid atmosphere and often die of the diseases mentioned above. “For every one urban dweller reached with sanitation in Nigeria since 2000, two people were added to the number living without [it],” says a 2016 Water Aid report. According to the same NGO, some 67% of urban dwellers (or almost 60 million people) in Nigeria live “without improved sanitation”. Between 2000 and 2015, all global regions saw a drop in the number of people practising open defecation, except for Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2017 UN study. The major influencing factor? High population growth. Even with more than a decade before the target date of 2030, it is likely that high population growth alone will prevent sub-Saharan Africa from meeting its target of universal access to clean water and sanitation.

Marcel Gascón Barberá is a freelance journalist. He lives in Johannesburg and writes for several Spanish and international publications. He has previously worked as a correspondent for EFE Spanish News Agency in Romania, South Africa and Venezuela.

Extremisms in Africa – Book launch & Workshop

Introductory Remarks: Extremisms in Africa – Book launch and workshop

Excellencies, members of the diplomatic corps, generals, officers and other dignitaries, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends;

It is my pleasure to welcome you to GGA this afternoon for the launch of our book anthology, Extremisms in Africa. When I joined in 2015, there wasn’t much material in place for this, one of our core programmes. I am therefore delighted to report that, thanks to a concerted team effort, we are here, a few years down the line with Africa’s first locally produced offering on the topic.

Extremism, as defined by Ben-Dor and Pedahzur, refers to “degrees of intensity in commitment to ideologies and the willingness to make sacrifices and remain faithful to that which appears to be worthy of belief”. As such, the term can be employed to describe a range of views, from religion and politics through to sport and recreational pastimes.

We chose to steer away from the popular term “violent extremism”, as propagated in the PVE and CVE (Preventing- and Countering- Violent Extremism) literature for a simple reason. The adoption of an extremist position in itself does some violence, to varying degrees, especially when considered from a dialectical point of view that entertains all available positions rationally before reaching a conclusion. There is, of course, a substantive difference between narratival violence and the weaponry of words, and the direct violence of an event that terminates lives.

In an honest, open attempt to move away from the prevailing Global War on Terror (GWOT) paradigm, which itself is rather extreme, at a spend of $50m/day for the US alone and with limited results, we sought to adopt a different approach and a shift of mindset, which may have scope for future application.

Our introductory anthology seeks to understand the phenomenon of extremism(s) from an informed social sciences and humanities perspective, that is necessarily multi- and trans-disciplinary in nature. We have, therefore, drawn on a diverse set of strengths, embracing journalists, anthropologists, conflict analysts, security sector specialists, academics, researchers and practitioners to produce this timely volume.

I say timely, because of the general state of poor governance globally at present. At best, a questionable “tone from the top” collides with a disturbing grassroots spread in “left and right” extremist practices that encompass ethnicity, nationalism, religion and evolving domains such as cyberspace, the world of virtual reality and AI.

Indulge for me a second, for suggesting that we consider the discipline of ethology as our point of departure for framing this workshop and our debate. Ethology, or the science of animal behaviour, examines in microscopic detail the behavioural activities of various species, and behavioural ecologists aim to understand their adaptiveness or functional relevance. Scientists such as Tinbergen and Lorenz have looked at cooperation, conflict and aggression.

My point is that whatever we observe in the world around us does not happen perhazard. There are multiple reasons informing the behaviour of different humans, at various times and across markedly different contexts. I have attended several meetings recently at which followers of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and in fact upon all of us, who express concern that in contemporary parlance extremism has become equated predominantly with Islam. Their concerns are neither unreasonable nor unfounded for, by and large, this phenomenon appears to have been interpreted reductionistically to refer to “radical Islam”.

At issue is that all religions and in fact any ideologies have elements that can be interpreted at the extremes and in radical ways. Judaism and Christianity, which started out as persecuted religions, themselves went on to have followers who persecuted others and, some might argue, have proponents who continue to do, along with members of other religions.

The 15th century conquest of the Americas is a case in point, where acts of terror and violence were dressed up as if they were acts of God. Only in 1550, did the Council of Valladolid in 1550 address this and recognise that “all humanity is one”. Various religions manifest evolutionary patterns where outbursts of violence are followed by theological refinement and a greater promotion of peace.

For this reason, our work looks at extremisms, plural. We consider various instances of extremisms comprising ethno-nationalism, such as espoused by so-called “white extremism” in South Africa, for example, although many other contexts spring to mind; and religion, where we engage extreme variants of both Christianity and Islam.

In recognition of the reality of the use of military force when all other means fail, we book-end our work with chapters on counterterrorism and military strategy. In between this, we look at popular culture, aspirations for self-determination, psycho-social support for survivors and especially children, along with analyses of the various groups operating on different parts of the African continent. In the main, these are not African extremisms but ideologies that infiltrate and permeate local contexts and promise some adaptive benefit, often financial or aspirational in nature.

Consider the notion of “endeavouring, striving, taking pain”, which, incidentally, is the etymological origin of the word Jihad, that has to be understood within the sources of Islamic teaching as well as in the lives/interpretation of individuals. When striving for good governance, in the “struggle for existence”, space is created for evil to thrive when governance fails and criminal syndication occurs, preying off – while promising to – desperate individuals and marginalised communities. A benefit of studying “divinity” in England was that all faiths were studied inclusively, under one roof. That contact between people from diverse backgrounds broke down stereotypes and negativity and promoted greater knowledge and awareness, stimulating harmonious co-existence.

We hope to have created a collegial microcosm where, for at least the next few days, we might engage together and dialogue towards creative and sustainable strategies moving forward. The first step perhaps lies in recognising our own pre-existing violence and stepping outside our comfort zones. We trust that the Chatham House Rule will facilitate this (no leaking of identity or affiliation, respecting anonymity and the confidence of the group).

Returning to behaviour, we would like to address, cooperatively, what is a difficult challenge and anticipate future trends to remain ahead of the wave. I would like to thank you all for joining us and encourage your full participation!

Thank you.


Alain Tschudin, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Good Governance Africa

Johannesburg, June 5, 2018


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