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Zainab Bala and Bernadette Vivuya Win The Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling


Congratulations to Zainab Bala and Bernadette Vivuya on winning the 2021 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling!

The winning entries

Bala, a Nigerian broadcaster with Viewer Television, produced The Almajiri, a gripping documentary that focused on children in northern Nigeria who left their homes for Islamic education in the nation’s capital where they were neglected and abused by their religious teachers. In graphic footage, she showed how some children were restrained in chains and others were forced to beg for food.

Vivuya’s winning entry focused on children in Congo who toiled in niobium, cassiterite, and coltan mines that produce raw materials used in making capacitors for electronic devices. Published by Equal Times, the story showed how Congolese children facing crushing poverty were forced into such backbreaking work and fell outside the global goal of ending child labor.

Judges were also impressed with the work of Samar Medhat of Egypt, whose investigative piece, Egypt’s Corpseless Coffins, centered on fraudsters faking their own deaths to scam insurance companies.

About the award

The award is given by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in partnership with ONE and the Elliott family. It was established in 2016 in honor of Michael Elliott, an editor at Newsweek, philanthropist, and CEO of ONE from 2011-16, whose life was a testament to the power of storytelling to bear witness to and improve the human condition.

The prize aims to advance the work of emerging journalists in Africa who strive to strengthen people’s voices and improve their well-being. Previous winners include Kenyan journalists Mercy Juma and Dorcas Wangira, and Nigerian journalists Abubakar Ibrahim and Kiki Mordi.

“I am delighted that the generosity of donors, along with fresh support from The Economist, allows the program to benefit two winners for the first time this year, the award’s fifth season,” said Emma Oxford, Michael Elliott’s widow. “Mike would be thrilled by the range and quality of the finalist entries, as were the judges. I am most grateful to my fellow judges and to the staff of ICFJ for their thoughtful review of the entries, and I wish much success to the two talented winners: Zainab Bala and Bernadette Vivuya.”

“The award is a fitting tribute to Mike Elliott, and a brilliant reflection of the richness of storytelling talent in Africa,” said Daniel Franklin, executive and diplomatic editor of The Economist and a member of this year’s jury. “This initiative to support rising journalists goes from strength to strength, and The Economist is delighted to support its expansion.”

Bala and Vivuya will receive a cash prize and take part in a customized digital program designed to further their professional development. They will exchange knowledge with journalists from top U.S. and U.K. newsrooms and learn new skills from media mentors. One of the winners supported by The Economist will be hosted for a virtual internship at the corporation’s headquarters in London.

The panel

Lionel Barber, the former editor of the Financial Times and author of The Powerful and the Damned, chaired the international panel that selected Bala and Vivuya from 130 applicants. The judges included:

  • Joyce Barnathan, President, ICFJ
  • Matthew Bishop, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution
  • Kate Critchley, Executive Director, Communications and Content, ONE
  • Daniel Franklin, Executive and Diplomatic Editor, The Economist
  • Catherine Gicheru, ICFJ Knight Fellow, Kenya and director of The Africa Women Journalism Project
  • Abubakar Ibrahim, Features Editor, Daily Trust and 2018 Elliott Award winner
  • Mercy Juma, BBC Africa correspondent and 2017 Elliott Award winner
  • Rik Kirkland, Senior Advisor, McKinsey and Company
  • Emma Oxford, Author, At Least We Lived
  • Dorcas Wangira, Feature Writer, Citizen Television and 2019 Elliott Award winner

Michael Elliott served as a top editor at The Economist, Newsweek, and Time before becoming CEO of ONE. A passionate writer and editor with a gift for unraveling complex issues, he shone a light on global development issues and the people at their center. A longtime board member of ICFJ, Elliott championed great journalism as a tool for empowerment. As ONE’s CEO, he lobbied to improve the lives of all Africans. Shortly before his untimely death in 2016, he spoke of his dream to establish an award that would bring together his belief in great journalism with his commitment to progress in Africa.

What winners will receive

Each of this year’s winners will receive a cash prize of $5,000 and will participate in a special program tailored to their journalistic interests. In previous years, the program consisted of a special tour organized by the ICFJ and the opportunity to spend time in newsrooms in New York City and Washington, D.C. This year, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, that program will be done virtually and the ICFJ will organize a number of sessions with media experts from The Economist, The Washington Post, and more. The winners will also be invited to participate in a virtual internship where they can interact with top journalists and media experts.

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