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The Financial News Reporting course in Casablanca, Morocco, the week of October 24 was a brainstorming session on issues ranging from story structure to corruption and capital flight.
As always there was as much scope for exchanges between participants, who hailed from different parts of French-speaking Africa including Cameroon, Morocco and Benin. We discussed some softer cultural points including cuisine, but also more serious issues such as ethical constraints on journalism and different ways to address corruption and boost transparency in African countries.
The course, one of a series sponsored by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), was taught in French by David White and myself at Casablanca's Ecole Superieure de Journalisme et de Communication.
As well as normal teaching modules - covering subjects like how best to use and present numbers, how to calculate inflation and and in-depth look at how governments raise funds, we ensured the course retained enough interactivity through a series of exercises culminating in a half-day multi-stage long role-play in which the participants had to cover a run on a fictional African bank caused by a suspension of its shares.
Visits and prestigious, knowledgeable outside speakers also boosted the course. Mustapha Aman, head of taxes in Morocco's northern Tangier region gave a memorable and open discussion about the challenges involved in raising tax in Morocco, while a half-day visit to the Casablanca stock exchange gave trainees the opportunity to learn more about the institution - one of the biggest such in Africa - and meet and speak with its senior management including chief executive officer Karim Hajji. He presented to the group and also took questions.
But even the best-planned courses need to improvise sometimes. The group was left in the lurch on Thursday afternoon after the last-minute cancellation of a presentation by Abdessamad Saddouq, the head of Transparency Maroc, the anti-corruption NGO. We instead used this to focus on te attendees' writing stories, an integral part of this course.
These story ideas - a central feature of the course, with each course attendee having to pursue one - resulted in pieces covering issues ranging from the cost to the continent's economy of changing currencies in Africa to the impact of rising food prices. A selection of these stories was posted to news aggregator allafrica.com.
All in all, the one-week course gave us the chance to go over may basics of financial reporting, look at issues affecting the continent and developing countries specifically; and to hear what African journalists had to say about them. We hope the trainees found it as useful as we did as trainers.