Eric Chinje, the chief executive of the Nairobi-headquartered African Media Initiative, was in Germany recently and took part at the conference Media and Migration: Perspectives from Africa – Challenges for Europe, held at the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism in Dortmund.
In an exclusive interview with our correspondent Ousainou Bayo, Chinje talks about a plethora of issues ranging from the problems faced by the African media in contributing to African development to the role of Western governments and multinational companies in the refugee crisis facing Europe. The Cameroon-born journalist also takes the European media to task on their reporting of the issue of migration from Africa.
What is the African Media Initiative (AMI) about?
The African Media Initiative was created back in 2008 but its incorporation was in 2010. Its initiation came from a report that was approved in 2005 by the Group of Eight (G8) at a summit in Lennen Goss, Scotland, under the chairmanship of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Prior to the G8 meeting a series of studies was launched and one of them included the media. How can the media play a more significant role in helping to find real solutions to the problems that Africa faces? How can the media be more forceful in promoting good governance in Africa, because that was one of the problems identified?
How can the media address the range of problems that Africa faces?
The media exists to be part of the overall context of transforming the continent. The AMI has to create a structure that would look at how the media would be more effective, other than being a mouthpiece of those in power.
What does the AMI do to assist this process?
What we at the AMI do every day is work with African media organisations,
work with journalists, work with media leaders, think what we can do to enhance the role of the media within the changing society. We help to keep the media on a sustainable path and help the media to adopt new technologies.
How do you see the relevance of the conference topic [Media and Migration: Perspectives from Africa – Challenges for Europe]?
The West has a very narrow view of the critical issues at stake. The Western journalists should not be focusing on the young man who is struggling to live. They should be focusing on the leader who is causing this man to leave his homeland, who does not create the conditions for the young man not to leave.
And if the media does not focus on that but instead starts frightening their citizens, they will not get at the heart of the problem.
Let us focus on the bad leader. Let us focus on what the multinational companies are doing. How can one explain what Shell did to Ogoniland in Nigeria. Shell exploited billions and billions of US dollars’ worth of oil over the past decades from Ogoniland, and yet Ogoniland is poor and its land and waters destroyed. Western companies continue to do the same thing in Congo, Mozambique and other countries across the continent. These multinationals should be investigated if the media wants solutions to the immigration problems.
What do you think is at the heart of the migration crisis?
There is no well-governed country from which you will find a massive exodus of people. There are no refugees from countries that are well-governed. We are not talking about perfect governance. There is no perfect governance anywhere in the world. There is no perfect democracy. None in the world. So it means that everybody is striving for the ideals of good governance. But there are countries that are well-governed and those that are not. And if you look at every single country where refugees are coming from, they have a governance problem. They are not coming out of Rwanda. Rwandans are not running away from Rwanda. There are no Africans running out of Botswana. In countries that are well- governed, the people stay at home. So governance is one of them.
What can Europe do?
The key factor is how the wealth of the land is being exploited and managed. And when you talk about that in many African countries today, a finger is pointed at the multinational corporations. Multinational corporations in extractive industries and in most other industries bribe their way. They take away as much of the resources and funds as they can and they help to sustain incompetent, corrupt governments.
But Europe cannot question these corporations because it is those corporations that bring money to them. Africans cannot question them either because if they do, the same corporations will ensure that their leaders clamp down on those who are questioning them. So we are in a very difficult situation but whether we like it not, that is why we need European leadership.
These refugees or migrants they are talking about will be nothing but a frontline army of invasion compared with what should be expected in the future. And it will continue until a sense of fairness comes to international diplomacy and relations. That is the second problem. The first problem is leadership. Second is multinational corporations and the third is the Military Industry Complex – the people who produce arms and sell.
Africa does not produce any arms of significance. So where do all the weapons come from that the governments use to intimidate their populations? Where are these weapons coming from that allow the militias to emerge and sustain wars for decades?
So you ask yourself again, if we focus on these problems, we can transform African states. We can significantly reduce migration from Africa. We can change our society and Africans will stay in Africa and will love it, and will actually open up opportunities for more people to come to Africa.
What is your take on the role of media reporting in Africa, especially on the issue of national development and migration?
Show me any African news organisation that has dealt with critical problems like the issue of migration. Show me any media that has dealt meaningfully with the various crises we have in the continent.
We have many crises on the continent. We have a health crisis, education, agriculture, infrastructure and environmental crises on the continent. We have an energy crisis. We are surrounded by crises and they affect the quality of life on the continent. We are not asking the media to find solutions to them. That is not the role of the media. We are asking the media to enrich our social conversations so that we can understand these things better.
How will that contribute to solving to these crises?
By understanding these things better, we can develop the right policies.
If there is no pressure on the government to develop the right agricultural policies, the crisis will continue. When the media starts telling people that you should have this and that, the people will forcefully demand for them. If there are no pressures on the government on electricity, the people will not have electricity. In the Democratic Republic of Congo you can have electricity every day. Congo has more water resources to generate power for itself and even sell to other African countries, and yet the Congolese live in darkness. Why does the media not bring it out in a way that will make the ordinary man revolt and say enough is enough, and tell President Kabila that enough is enough, take us out of darkness! It is true for Cameroon and many central African countries. It is true for Nigeria but where is the media in all this? That is the problem of our continent.
Photo: Eric Chinje (© AMI)