Eyes widened, jaws dropped and amazement murmured across the room. We were speaking to the 19-year-old founder of an African space company, Mugisha Gift Arnold from Uganda. His start-up Astronica Quo had successfully launched 20 rockets into outer space and this was exactly the kind of story we were looking for when we set the objectives for the Africa Rising Reporting workshop.
Without hesitation, our 12 journalists leapt into action: What’s your vision? Who funds your research? What was your first invention?
“I feel humbled,” said Daniel Sabiiti, senior reporter and photographer at Rwanda’s Kigali Today. “He’s so young but his ambition knows no boundaries. Where are the stories about this?”
And, indeed, where are the stories of the millions of Africans inventing, innovating, launching and, basically, taking their own destiny in their hands?
The inaugural Africa Rising Reporting workshop, developed and held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Nairobi in March, sought to combine the fundamentals of economic and financial reporting training with a fresh look at investment, financial inclusion and entrepreneurship in Africa.
We achieved this and more, said our participants from Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Swaziland, Ethiopia and Malawi. We helped them realise that their voices are valuable in telling the continent’s narrative from the perspective of those actually living there, they said.
“This workshop affirmed my belief that Africa is rising. We have our challenges, but we will get there. You showed us the importance of telling our own story and I believe I will work on my new SME column with a deeper appreciation of why these stories are important,” said Rose Muthoni, senior sub-editor and columnist at Mediamax Network in Kenya.
Finding the real stories
“I loved the workshop. It was very interactive and it had a lot of insights. It helped me to understand the importance of looking beyond the numbers and behind the 'rosy' official statements. I now question every press statement I come across and have become better for it,” Muthoni added.
Our three-day workshop at the Kenyan School of Monetary Studies discussed how the Africa Rising phrase came about a decade ago, introduced broadly by the world’s financiers and media when commodity prices boomed and carried so many of the continent’s economies higher.
While doing this we also considered the growing might of China as Africa’s biggest direct foreign investor and the implications for Africans. Were they dealing with an investment partner or a new coloniser? Participants passionately discussed this, switching sides in the debate numerous times. The question remains open but the journalists are more determined than ever to question.
We explored how many African countries are still fast growing and could continue to grow richer on the back of the digital revolution, improved governance and the surging awareness among African youth that the future is theirs to drive. The example of Arnold and his rockets but also his award-winning, face-recognition, medicine dispensing machine ProFec was a case in point.
The continent is full of innovation and entrepreneurship, by reporting these stories of human aspiration journalists can help propel economic and social development.
Yet elephants in rooms can’t be ignored. We also took a long, hard look at the widespread corruption and nepotism still rampant on the continent and how millions struggle to escape the vicious poverty that traps generation after generation.
“Challenge and Explain” – these were the key messages our workshop delivered: never accept anything at face value and always show the relevance to your audience so that they may make their best-informed choices.
Corruption, of course, is always a tricky topic and we strove to bring a real – and yet, dare I say it, amusing – perspective. My Zimbabwean co-trainer Emelia Sithole appeared one morning in jewels, heels and headscarf. Aloof and dismissive, she delivered an Oscar-winning performance in a role-play exercise as Grace Mugabe, wife of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
I believe “Mrs Mugabe’s” passionate speech announcing her plans to run for president and lift her country from the economic decline it endured during her husband’s tenure might have triggered excellent stories from the group -- if any of them had stopped laughing long enough to take notes!
To find out more about the Thomson Reuters Foundation's Media Development programme, click here.