Indeed, the SANKOFA concept admonishes that if you forget something and you remember it, it is no crime to go back for it. But the caveat is when you go back to fetch that which you might have forgotten, you should not remain rooted in your seemingly comfort zone alone , but to turn back and continue with your intended journey.
Today, some modern sociologists are trying to debunk the notion that the media is the fourth estate of the realm after, the executive, legislature and the judiciary. In fact, some of these ‘latter-day- sociological-gurus’ have “nickodemously” downgrade the media from the fourth position to the ninth on the scale of 1-10 where 1 is the highest and 10 the lowest. They are entitled to their imaginations.
This author recalls vividly that in 1994, after the Rwanda’s genocide episode, the then Former UN Under Secretary for Peace-keeping, Mr. Kofi Annan, issued a statement in May the following year, in commemoration of the International Press Day and called on journalists worldwide to practice what he termed as “Preventive Journalism.”
Dr. Kofi Annan who later became the first black African UN Secretary General in 1997, reasoned that if Rwanda journalists had practiced Preventive Journalism the unfortunate genocide that traumatized the conscience of the world could have been avoided. This shows how powerful the media was considered by such an international man of global wisdom.
But the object of this piece is not to eulogize the media or vilify those sociologists who think the media is of no consequence to societal evolution as far as socio-economic, political and cultural advancement of mankind is concerned.
The purpose is to alert the suffering masses of the West African sub-region that their regional political body – Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has identified journalists in general and science journalists in particular as a force to reckon with when it comes to the development of the entire African Continent.
This writer wonders why it took ECOWAS almost 40 years of its existence to discover journalists as being one of the best partners in development for the prosperity of the continent. But as it is commonly agreed in principle, too late is better than never. The French will put it this way: “Mieux vaut tard que jamais!” Of course, some previous military governments had their own notion about the media. Thus some media practitioners were treated more as common criminals than development agents on our wealthy but poor continent.
Did you know that on 17 and 18 October, 2011, in the magnificent capital city of Abuja, Nigeria, ECOWAS made history that could be described as innovative in the development strategy of the African Continent? On those two memorable days, ECOWAS, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Scientific, Technical and Research Commission (STRC) of the African Union Commission (AUC), organized a Science Communication Training Workshop for some selected journalists from the sub-region.
The workshop brought face to face forty (40) top-notch managers of communication training institutions, high level representatives of AU, ECOWAS, UNESCO and ECA, scientists and journalists for this innovative brain-storming event of capacity building. The workshop was under a broad theme of “Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development”
Without exaggeration, one can characterize delegates of the training workshop as ‘Commanders-in-Chief’ of development communication, who called for an emergency session to plot strategies to launch an attack on problems confronting Africa’s development. The strategy sought to deploy journalists as the first infantry battalions, who were armed with Science, Technology and Innovation as weapons to move onto the battle field. It was fireworks all the way! Intellectual and academic debates ensued.
Deliberations were frank amidst heated but friendly arguments of give and take. People spoke their minds freely without looking over their shoulders. Naturally, no genuine forum of journalists can flourish without some kinds of controversy. As a matter of fact, there was one topic on “Reporting on Controversies – Ethics in reporting science controversies”
Like other speakers, the resource person from Ghana expressed his views with passion. His area was to focus on the Ghanaian Experience as far as the deployment of ICT tools for development was concerned. With all humility, his presentation was one of those acclaimed.
He felt rather disappointed that Africa was crawling instead of flying on the developmental plane on this planet of science and technology. He could not fathom why Africa should be wallowing in abject poverty with all the resources at its command.
When he was challenged by a Professor from Nigeria that it was not totally correct to create the impression that Africa was not developing, he agreed with the view that something was being done. But he reminded the learned Professor of the natural resources such as gold, diamond, bauxite, uranium, oil and gas etc, with which the Continent was endowed.
He opined that if half of those resources were to be allocated to some other countries like, Singapore, Israel and others, the Continent would have been feeding, clothing and sheltering the entire world with ease.
At the end of it all, a comprehensive pack of recommendations were drawn up and adopted. An African Network of Science Journalists was launched and a ten-member (10) Steering Committee set up to ensure the implementation of the adopted recommendations.
Mr. Thierry Amoussougbo, Regional Advisor, ICT, Science and Technology Division of ECA, who chaired this gamut of ceremony of drafting, reading, adoption, nomination and inauguration of the steering committee, told members to live up to expectation.
Dr. Fackson Banda Programme Specialist Communication Development Division of Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO assisted Mr. Amoussougbo with his expertise in drafting of the recommendations. He did not mince his words at all when he told the Committee members in the face to “stop talking and work and work, and work,” he stressed.
Among other things, the recommendations were premised on the fact that, “Science, technology and innovation have served as the foundations of social and economic well-being since the beginning of human civilization.”
That Africa cannot meet its healthcare, water, infrastructure, education, employment needs, develop industries and overcome economic challenges without significant investment in science, technology and innovation.
That poor relationship which exists between scientists, research institutions and journalists tends to affect effective communication; adding that only effectively communicated knowledge could benefit individuals with the power and skills to put that knowledge in practical application.
Participants took special note of the tremendous efforts UNESCO is making in building science journalism capacity on the African continent. As to whether Ghana is taking advantage of these efforts is yet to be verified.
As part of the workshop programme, some of the representatives of the UNESCO Reference Centres of Excellence were given the opportunity to brief participants on activities of their respective countries. These countries included Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina-Faso and Nigeria.
Workshop participants also commended the efforts made by ECOWS, ECA, UNDP, AU and other individuals and organizations for the realization of the programme. This workshop happened to be the first of its kind. Resources were limited and the organization had not been easy at all.
It is the noble intention of the organizers to extend this training programme to journalists of other sub-regions such as Eastern, Central, Southern and Northern Africa to galvanize science journalists to champion the development agenda of Africa by making science and technology information available, affordable and accessible to all.
First batch of journalists who benefited from the training workshop were drawn from Benin, Burkina-Faso, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal as well as African Federation of Science Journalists, (AFSJ), USECO, ECA, ECOWAS and AU.
This writer will like to take the opportunity to call on Ghanaian journalists to embrace science reporting to enable them to benefit from the capacity building package UNESC has in store for media practitioners on the Continent. There is a need for ICT journalists in particular and science journalists in general to come together to form a solid national body and join the continental professional organization. It has been observed that apart from Nigeria, only French speaking countries are taking advantage of the science related training opportunities available.
It is also suggested that in future, some African millionaires like Moh Ibrahim and former African Heads of State like H.E. President Olusegu Obasanjor should be approached for sponsorships to supplement the efforts of ECOWAS for the advancement of the sub-region.
I have no doubt that some African industrialists and corporate bodies would be willing to support. ECOWAS has good intentions but its financial base needs to be strengthened in order to support journalists to champion the course of Africa’s Development Agenda.
The Writer is Deputy Director/Head of ICT at ISD