Often the most difficult questions to answer are the simple ones. One such question today is: “why are we here?”
Well, the easiest answer is that we are here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Nation Media Group. True, NMG is among Africa’s – and in some respects the world’s – most successful media companies. It offers a valuable experience in how to insert oneself into the trust of a country and a region, because its leadership had the vision to list it on the stock exchange in 1973 when most of Africa didn’t have stock exchanges.
However, NMG is also part of something larger. A bigger African story because 50 years ago - in 1960, the same year when we started our journey, a record 17 African countries became independent from colonial rule. That was and remains a world record.
Our story, then, is only a small part of a wider African movement that expressed itself in different ways in different countries. Part of that story that I will speak about today is the one about the African media.
The statistics of media freedom in Africa tell a tragic story on the face of it — but the picture is more complex if you look deeper.
Sweet and Sour
In 1964, for example, there were 220 daily newspapers in Africa; a very impressive number then.
Six years later in 1970, there were 179 - a death of many due to harassment by governments. Today, the number of daileh y newspapers is 386, reflecting an upward trajectory. Here we have a sweet and sour story.
Further, since 1990, some 290 journalists have been imprisoned in Africa and 160 murdered since 1992.
According to recent figures by the Committee to Protect Journalists, some 157 African journalists went into exile between 2001 and 2009. This is 40 percent of the 389 journalists forced into exile worldwide.
Overall, then, the real story of the media in Africa is not primarily one of repression, but one of resilience. This is a story of many journalists who have stood their ground, and kept the faith to keep the lively African media scene alive.
So even without the revolutionary mobile phones and mobile internet in Africa, that have jointly transformed reporting in both continental and international media, there is a lot to celebrate.
For this reason, NMG was encouraged to include as the theme of our conference, the “African promise”. Given that the idea that every African cloud has a silver lining, we should have very interesting conversations during this conference.
I highlight one cloud. In 2009, the UN reported that Africa’s population had reached one billion people. The UN also forecasted that by 2050, the population of Africa will reach a record two billion people.
Many wonder, and rightly so, how Africa will feed that many people while we know quite well that we struggle with only 850 million of us.
George Friedman, one of the world’s leading forecasters in his latest book “The Next 100 Years” reports: “By 2050 advanced industrialised countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate.” These countries’ current anti-immigration policies, he argues, will be replaced by a new scramble for immigrants from less developed economies.
But a scramble for less developed African population will not be the only outcome. In the last 10 years, Africa has enjoyed some of the highest economic growth rates in the world – averaging about 5 per cent annually. And with a rapid urbanisation rate, 742 million Africans will be living in urban environments. This is a huge jump from just 294 million in 2000.
The stark reality of this outcome may be increased urban unemployment and slums, crime, and violence but it is also likely that Africa will take over most of the world’s labour-intensive manufacturing. It is also likely that such a large urban population will provide a great opportunity for modernisation, the growth of the middle class, and huge markets with high incomes.
Most people in this room will be alive in 2030. Fewer will be alive in 2050. This conference is an important watershed for the remembrance of the last 50 years peppered with murders, jailing, and sending to exile of so many journalists so that we could tell stories that are far bigger than Africa. This should be the moment when we should begin, in earnest, to imagine that future.
The one feature that we at NMG hope to support as part of that future is to host more conferences like these. Some visionary Africans have suggested that we collectively hold every two years - “An African Festival of Media Freedom”. I would suggest that instead - “A Festival of African Media Futures”.
A lot of things are going to change, and we are prepared for some, and not prepared for others. Today, entertainment news is ghettorised into weekly pull-outs, fluffy stuff and mostly targeted for young people. However, with the growing popularity of local programming, and Nollywood in particular, in a few years this could very easily become the biggest film enterprise in the world.
In five years, more than 30 per cent of African countries will have reached 100 per cent mobile phone penetration, and mobile internet will have reached “the critical mass” in over 40 per cent of them, and nearly all the countries will have more people using mobile to access the internet than computers. There is a lot of talk about how this will kill “legacy/traditional” media. But I think that should be the least of our worries. We should adjust our outlook and create new opportunities. Today, 70 per cent of our revenue - be it newspapers, FM radio, or TV - come from the main urban areas. The real challenge that technology poses, is that we don’t know how to write about, or do media business with people in small towns and the rural areas – which is where the majority of new media consumers will be. It is the failure to master this that could kill us.
For a long time, we have talked of the economic and development gap between Africa and the west, and lately Asia. We have not focused enough on the emerging markets within Africa, especially between countries. Mauritius offers 100 per cent access to safe water. Somalia offers per cent. Mauritius offers 75.8 per cent access to contraceptives, Chad offers 2.8 per cent. We must ask ourselves, for how long shall small prosperous African nations neighbouring huge poor ones, and not have major political crises? How prepared are we for both the troubling and exciting scenarios?
Again, according to recent World Bank figures, Seychelles has Africa’s highest life expectancy – 73 years - which is an industrialised country average. However, Mozambique has a very low life expectancy at 42 years. In the same Seychelles, 92 per cent of women are literate, but in Niger it is 15 per cent and even worse in Chad at 13 per cent. Countries that free their women with knowledge and economic opportunities will flourish. We have so far explained national failures on colonialism or an unfair international system. When you have very contrasting fortunes on the same continent, how shall we explain the differences? And in an Africa that is so divided economically, shall continental institutions like the African Union still work? Who shall hold this continent of over 1 billion together? Are we ready to tell this story?
Finally, to succeed in all these we need to get one thing right – the politics. Today, more Africans live in relative freedom than at any point in the last 50 years. Majority of countries elect their governments. However, in most cases, elections are disputed tearing countries apart. When there were no elections, people launched bush wars to demand for elected government. Now that we have the vote, we are killing each other because elections are thought not to be free. Elections, therefore, are today’s greatest threat to the survival of many African countries as united nations. If Africa doesn’t find a way to hold free elections, then there is every possibility that countries could break up. For the media, the task is, first, not to be the catalyst for this break up during elections. Secondly, to create a movement for accountability and fairness in governance.
- The bottom line is that the next 50 years belong to the continent of Africa and we in the media have a critical role to play to help speed up this reality. While remaining fiercely independent, we must also seek to partner with the forces of good in order to drive growth of this continent. We must be big catalysts of development.
In the words of Amitabh Bachchan, the great Indian actor, he would have said…
There are two sides of Africa, One Africa is saying give me a chance and I’ll prove myself, the other Africa says prove yourself first and maybe then you’ll have a chance.
One Africa lives in the optimism of our hearts the other Africa lurks in the skepticism of our minds. One Africa wants, the other Africa Hopes. One Africa leads, the other follows and quietly while the world is not looking, a pulsating, dynamic, new Africa is emerging. An Africa that doesn’t boycott foreign made goods but buys out the companies that make them instead.
This is that rarely–ever moment in history. History is turning a page. For over half a century, Africa has sprung, stumbled, run, fallen, rolled over, gotten up and dusted herself and sometimes lurched on. But now over 50years of self rule, the ride has brought us to the edge of time’s great precipice, and one Africa – a tiny little voice at the back of the head is looking down at the bottom of the ravine and hesitating, the other Africa is looking up at the sky and saying it’s time to fly.
I thank you all.