Interview: Chika Oduah on women, technology and “demystifying” Africa

Interview: Chika Oduah on women, technology and “demystifying” Africa


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This post is part of ONE’s “Reporter Perspectives: Covering Africa” blog series.

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Chika Oduah has built her career on using journalism to advance women’s rights in Africa.

Oduah is a Nigerian-American journalist and photographer currently based in Abuja, Nigeria. Last year, her coverage of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram—a topic she continues to write about today—earned her the prestigious Trust Women Journalist Award from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Her reporting explores a wide range of cultural and political subjects—particularly gender issues, including a current project on domestic violence—and has appeared in publications around the globe, such as The New York Times and Al Jazeera.

In a phone interview last week, Oduah discussed the biggest challenges facing women and girls; what the ‘cellphone revolution’ means for African news; and why Americans should be jamming to the tunes of Fela Kuti.

Last year, you were recognized by the Reuters Foundation for your coverage of women’s rights issues. What do you think is the most critical issue facing girls and women in developing countries right now?

I would definitely say lack of access to quality education.

There are 12-year-old girls who are being forced to marry older men. Many African women face prevalent violence and abuse. Then there’s what’s happening in northern Nigeria, with the Boko Haram insurgency.

A lot of girls have been denied access to quality education, which is what they need to empower themselves. They are not able to make informed decisions because they don’t know how to make them.

Chibok _ girls playing

Girls play in Chibok, Nigeria. Oduah went to Chibok in 2014 to cover the schoolgirl kidnapping. Photo credit: Chika Oduah

We love celebrating local heroes. Who is an “unsung” Nigerian hero you’d like our members to know about?

African women. I really believe that in many places across Africa, [women] are the ones holding up communities. For example, a lot of African women I’ve come across are paying the majority of their children’s school fees or doing the bulk of the farming. [The Western audience has] no idea because the African woman is often presented to them as a victim of child marriage or poverty or Boko Haram. While this is sometimes true, the other side of the story is that these women are strong heroes.

I love your “Afrocentric Confessions” blog! You’ve said its goal is to ‘demystify’ Africa—can you elaborate on that a bit?

I come into contact frequently with the misconceptions that the average American has about Africa. For most Americans, Africa is still just a huge blur—just a big space. Most people in America actually know more about African animals than about African people, and that’s a problem.

And when you talk about specific countries, [many Americans] have very little information. For example, if you bring up the country South Africa, all most people know is two words: ‘apartheid’ and ‘Nelson Mandela.’ For Ethiopia, it’s ‘famine’ and ‘starvation.’ There are very limited concepts and narratives.

Having a limited perspective can be dangerous, so I want to help people see other sides of Africa.

How has increased access to internet, mobile phones and other technology changed the way Nigerians share news and information?

A cellphone revolution has been taking place! People don’t always have great access to traditional media like televisions and newspapers—so they’re using their phones to spread information instead.

This was huge with the Ebola epidemic, for example. We had a WhatsApp Ebola public service outlet and it was huge throughout West Africa. And people were sending messages on WhatsApp about how to protect themselves against Ebola.

As far as social media, the Nigerian Twitter lobby is thriving and they have so much social influence. Politicians are looking at what the Nigerian twitter audience has to say about the issues of the day. It’s mostly young people who have social influence that has morphed into political influence.

Chika Oduah Headshot 2

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What else should we know about the media and Africa?

I would say that social media offers an excellent opportunity for people abroad to get a better understanding of Africa. I think many people get all their Africa information from stale news sources with outdated views– the naked villager or the diseased person. But if you follow real Africans on social media or blogs, it opens up your perspective and illuminates a lot of the dark shadow that many people still cast over Africa.

Nigeria has become a hub for music, movies and pop culture. What Nigerian musician should ONE members be listening to?

Maybe I’m just saying this because I’m Nigerian, but Nigeria really does set the pop trends in Africa, especially for English-speaking countries!

As far as getting into Nigerian music, I always recommend Fela Kuti. He was a revolutionary music maestro. He pioneered a sound called Afrobeat– a funky, jazzy music that he used as a form of social activism.

He’s also a great kind of introduction into Nigeria because he really talked about the Nigerian political and cultural space that is still very much in place today.  It’s a Nigerian telling his own story through music.

Thanks again to Chika Oduah for taking the time to talk to ONE. To learn more about her and follow the stories she’s reporting, check out her blog.

We agree with Chika that women are unsung heroes. Demand better for girls and women everywhere: Sign our petition NOW!

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