Fourteen investigative journalists from ten African countries have come together to market their stories to international media.
A veritable A-team of investigative journalists in West, East and southern Africa have come together to form a publishing collective that plans to knock on the doors of international media. “This is about creating a platform for our investigative stories”, says multi-award winning initiator Idris Akinbajo, from Nigeria. “There is no scarcity of news and opinion about Africa internationally, but what is often missing are the deeper truths. Many of our stories will challenge international perceptions in cases where these perceptions are based on superficial observations. We’ll come with surprising findings, well-sourced and based on fact.”
The professional records of the participants in the Collective attest to this. Ivorian team member Selay Kouassi, for example, led a transnational team that proved that West African cocoa farmers were not benefiting from the much-advertised ‘Fairtrade’ label. Fellow participant Eric Mwamba, who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has published detailed accounts of the Congolese elite’s wealth and how exactly they obtained it. Ghanaian team member Anas Aremeyaw Anas has gained fame using undercover camera to expose state corruption and mismanagement, child trafficking and smuggling, whilst his colleague Selase Kove-Seyram entered, and reported on, the universe of child (and other) prostitution behind Accra’s railway line. Kenyan Ken Opala has unearthed the large-scale poaching and smuggling activities of criminal syndicates in East Africa, whilst the youngest team member, Somali reporter Muno Gedi, has exposed trade with food aid in her country. Gedi also challenged common perceptions of victimhood of women in her report ‘Circumcision Light’, which showed that Somali women were actively engaged in changing the tradition.
Another participant is Nigerian Tobore Ovuorie, who barely escaped with her life after going undercover in a human traffic transport. She discovered that the sex work syndicate had merged with the organ trade mafia and that one, once trafficked, ran the risk of being killed for organs. She has been invited to speak about her work at the upcoming African investigative journalism conference in Johannesburg, South Africa and is, in her own words, ‘eager’ to also work with the new African Investigative Publishing Collective (AIPC), as it is called, to present more of her work internationally. “It is necessary to be heard internationally, because current strategies meant to stop human traffic just don’t work,” she says.
The feeling that stories must be heard internationally to have an impact and to, hopefully, create an awareness that things must change, is shared by everybody in the team. “It is an important reason why we do this”, says Idris Akinbajo. “Our authorities listen much better when our stories appear internationally. If it’s published only at home, we tend to get ignored. And sometimes, international decisions that affect us are taken based on incomplete information.”
Many team members’ stories have already featured in ZAM Chronicle. Akinbajo says the team cherishes its partnership with ZAM and wishes to continue it. “But now we want to publish in many other places, too, and we hope ZAM will help us.”
Among the Collective’s first activities will be fundraising, Akinbajo says. “Media in our countries often don’t pay much, let alone for investigations, which take time, effort and often money for travel and so on. This is not just in Africa, by the way; we see all over the world that investigative journalism is becoming a non-profit activity which needs to be separately funded. We will therefore need some support to enable story production and marketing. We also want to head-hunt stories among other colleagues on the African continent, mentor them if necessary, and bring their stories out, too.”