Voices of Africa: Citizen Reporting With Mobile Phones

Posted by bartlacroix on Aug 16, 2007

Mobile phones change the media landscape in Africa. AfricaNews (www.africanews.com) starts working with mobile phone reporters. The mobile reporters cover current events in their area, using the mobile phones to produce video footage, written reports and photographs. With this innovative project, African citizens ­– from the sprawling metropolises to the most isolated villages – can let their voices be heard across the continent and around the world.

Africa is witnessing impressive growth in the development and use of mobile communication networks and the Internet. This development is changing the face of media and the way people are informed. Open communication and uncensored exchange of opinions are helping to build transparent societies. This serves good governance and helps to build stronger democracies.

Initiated by the Africa Interactive Media Foundation, the Voices of Africa project was launched in late May 2007 and is now in the preparatory phase. During the coming months, they will be testing and getting experience in uploading texts, photos and videos. We will be publishing their works on the Voices of Africa page on AfricaNews.com.

How does it work ?
In various African countries a number of talented people will be recruited by a local partner (coordinator) and provided with a state of the art mobile phone ( Nokia N73 plus separate keyboard or Nokia E61i, that has a build in keyboard) that includes adequate software needed to upload photos, films and text directly to ( via our partner) the website of Africa Interactive.

We call them camjos (combination of cameraman/journalist). The camjos will upload films, articles and photos about daily life in Africa; events they consider to be newsworthy. Each camjo will be instructed at the beginning, followed by mentoring and coaching during the first six months. In this way (eventually) Africans in both urban and rural areas throughout Africa will be able to talk to the world.

For the time being this project is only relevant for countries with access to an appropriate wireless network (GPRS). A pilot project was kicked off in 4 countries ( south Africa, Mozambique, Ghana and Kenya) where we do not foresee technical hurdles. This project will serve to gain the necessary experience.

First experiences Kenya
Kenya is one of four countries involved in the pilot programme. “Africa is experiencing a new revolution in journalism but African governments do not know it is happening,” says Mobile reporter Evans Wafula, Kenyan coordinator of Voices of Africa.

Wafula raised concerns over a new draft Media Bill in Kenya, designed to regulate the industry, which includes powers to gag or even shut down media houses. “With the new Media Bill, the pen and paper are doomed. The Media Bill takes a lot of achievements back five more years,” he says. “Mobile journalism makes it easier to independently broadcast, without the fear of the government confiscating the mobile phone.”

According to Wafula, local media will be able to tap into the resources of Voices of Africa. He says: “If the project succeeds it can spread and many media organisations can use it for publishing stories on Africa. The Daily Nation, Kenya Times and Citizen TV have shown interest in this pilot and want to know what the results will be.”

So far, the project has reported a successful test in sending images from all across Kenya, including rural and remote areas. Wafula says this prepares Voices of Africa for the mammoth task of covering the election results from several constituencies in December.

How is the project planned?
The ultimate goal is to select, in each African country, a number of skilful (young) men and women (with the help of a local coordinator) and to equip these people with high-technology mobile phones (with a small foldable keyboard) where a special piece of software is installed to permit direct uploads of photos, texts and videos to the Skoeps server, from where they are transferred to the AfricaNews website for publication. Once online, those stories and images are meant to trigger reactions from users and community members.

After this three-month experience-making phase, the project pilot phase will start in five African countries with a total of 20 camjos for a period of six months. The Foundation is trying to gather funds for this pilot phase. Then, after a successful pilot phase, a global implementation of the project will follow all over Africa.

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