Award-winning journalist Mercy Juma is telling Africa’s stories

Award-winning journalist Mercy Juma is telling Africa’s stories

Mercy Juma, a journalist from Kenya, was the first person to win the Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling. This is her acceptance speech. 

Tonight, in a village called Waa, in Kenya’s South Coast, Amina, a 12-year-old girl is being taught how to latch a baby, her baby, on her breast. Thereafter she will be reminded to take her family planning pill before bed. Her age mates elsewhere have been guided to do their homework and they have been tucked in bed by their parents. A few months ago, Amina, and other young girls together with their parents, opened up to me unreservedly as I told the story of Teen Mums of Kwale, a feature on teenage pregnancies and the subsequent use of contraceptives among teen girls. This piece contributed to my receiving this prestigious award.

It is an incredible honour to stand before you today as the first recipient of this inaugural award in honor of Michael Elliott, particularly given the extraordinary attitude and character of the man it is named after. I feel humbled, but at the same time really proud, too.

Picture credit: ICFJ

I receive this award at a time when one of Africa’s biggest problems is that it is not allowed to tell its own stories. The agenda for African news is still being decided outside Africa. Sometimes, foreign reporting on Africa is excellent, other times, it is hit and miss.

This is why ladies and gentlemen, it gives me so much hope when effort is made to advance storytelling in Africa, by African journalists, through such initiatives.

It is true, there are big challenges in Africa… Teenage pregnancies, poverty, unemployment, corruption, poor governance… and they could be overwhelming if we let them. But we will not let them! We are determined to face them and win. And our part in this victory will be through story telling that holds those in power accountable, that fights for the rights of the less fortunate, that asks questions that make people uncomfortable, all with an aim to make our continent a glorious home for its people.

Such recognition should remind all of us who believe in the power of the pen, of the huge role that we play in the society. It should remind us of how powerful media is but at the same time of the great responsibility bestowed upon us.

From what I have read about Michael Elliott, he had hope that fellow writers would articulate the struggles of ordinary people. This award gives us more power and strength, to do that. To be the voice of the voiceless in Africa and beyond.

In the field: Mercy has reported on vital health issues in rural Kenya.

And therefore distinguished guests, I accept this award on behalf of Amina, that girl in Kwale County whose resilience and grace still shines as she juggles between being a student and a young mother in a poor home…and in the same measure, urge African journalists to never get tired of telling stories of Africa, those that show our glory, and those of our shortfalls alike. As Christiane Amanpour says, let’s fight for our values. And especially, let’s fight to remain relevant and useful.

Ladies and gentlemen, the honor that this award comes with is not mine alone. Behind every moving story I have told about Africa and Kenya is a team that has supported me tirelessly.  On behalf of all my colleagues in every part of Africa who have dedicated their life to being the voice of the voiceless through story telling.

My career as a journalist has been made possible by the sacrifices, love and support of my family, colleagues and friends who have taught me and guided me. Allow me to single out my husband Otieno Okande, who tonight is playing the role of both mom and dad to our six-month old daughter. To them, I offer my most profound gratitude.

I thank the members of the international panel that went through all the applications and chose to honour my passion. This award will always have a place of honor in my heart. Thank you again.

God bless you all.


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