Interview: Kenyan journalist Coletta Wanjohi on the state of African media

Interview: Kenyan journalist Coletta Wanjohi on the state of African media

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

Coletta In November in Nzako, Central African Republic

Coletta in November in Nzako, Central African Republic

For Coletta Wanjohi, the new year brings an opportunity for journalists around the world to commit to highlighting Africa’s untold stories.

Wanjohi, who was born in Kenya, works as a news correspondent for Press TV in Ethiopia and Channel Africa Radio, which is based in South Africa. She has covered a wide range of issues across the continent, including the South Sudanese Civil War and the Ebola crisis.

Wanjohi and I connected last week to reflect on the international media’s coverage of Africa in 2014, look ahead to 2015 and discuss the increasing importance of balanced news coverage.

What do you think were some of the most important news stories about Africa in 2014?

The Ebola virus took over the [international] media for some time because of the damage that it caused. This [coverage] embarrassed Africa, but it also highlighted the external challenges that Africa faces. [And] it highlighted the genuine friends of Africa.

Different countries, of course, had their own headline-making stories [aside from Ebola]. For instance, in Kenya, my country, the International Criminal Court debate raged on throughout the year [regarding post-election violence in Kenya in 2008]. The South Sudan crisis was also a big story.

All in all, the economic transformation in Africa, which is impressive, was overshadowed by the reporting on crises.

Looking ahead to 2015, what types of issues would you like international news outlets covering regarding Africa?

Being in the international news business, I know well that news cannot be predicted, so we shall wait and see what happens that makes news in Africa. [But it’s important that] when the good stories [arise] they be told, [just like] when challenges arise.

For this blog series I have spoken with several reporters who cover the African continent for Western news outlets. In general, do you think Africa is accurately represented in Western media?

[I think] there is an obvious bias on stories about Africa in some international media. It is never a good representation when someone tells the story that he/she doesn’t know enough about, or hasn’t lived.

News by some media is…often the old story of Africa being backward and full of problems. Africa has a different narrative, a narrative that is bright and full of success; a narrative that carries with it wealth, success and great people. Every coin has two sides and Africa [does] too. [Africa] has good stories that need as much attention and energy as the bad.

Some journalists I talked to spoke about the need for more African voices telling their own stories, instead of people in the U.S. or Europe telling Africa’s stories for them. What do you think?

There is no shortage of African reporters; universities in Africa are graduating professionals in mass communication, and we have many institutions dedicated to media production of the highest level possible. These are the people that should be employed to cover African stories. If the story is [negative], they will [be able to report it accurately], but they will also have the chance to highlight the untold stories of Africa that are brighter.

One goal of this blog series is to encourage ONE members to stay informed about Africa and development issues in general. Do you think this is important?

If [people] are interested in Africa, then they should find out means of getting the right information from Africa. We in Africa research through different platforms to get the factual information about Europe and America, and they should do the same. But if people want to rely on biased [coverage] then we can’t stop them!

ONE is excited to have been working with a group called the Young African Leaders Initiative. Half of Africa’s population is under 25 years old—What impact do you think this has?

The future of Africa is in the youth! A right-thinking group of youth will steer our continent in the right path of all-around development.

As a journalist, what do you think is your proudest accomplishment or your favorite story you’ve covered?

The highlight of my career so far was the exclusive interview I had with South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar in April 2014…This was a time when he was undercover and no one internationally knew exactly where he was.

We travelled to Nasir amid uncertainty of where we were going and braved the risk of entering a South Sudan rebel-controlled area. We slept on the dusty ground at the rebel camp and woke up the next day for the interview with Riek Machar.

We had an exclusive 25-minute interview with [him], plus other stories on the conflict inside South Sudan. That still is my proudest moment: braving the whole journey and delivering the most internationally valued interview at that time.

Thanks again to Coletta Wanjohi for taking the time to talk to ONE. What stories about Africa would you like to see journalists cover in 2015? Tell us in a comment below!

2015 is an important year for you, too. Take a pledge to do more this year.



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