Banner Graphic - Rustat Banner Graphic - Rustat
Report on Media and Development in Africa: A Case Study based on North Kenya

Science and Human Dimension 2005

Following a study trip to the arid lands areas on the northern borders of Kenya, John Cornwell convened a meeting to explore the media coverage of development in Africa. Senior development workers came from Kenya to discuss poverty, development and the media with specialists from NGOs, the Department for International Development (DfID), charities funded by the Churches, development academics, and journalists.

The media segment was particularly controversial and enlightening. Michael Holman, former Africa editor of the Financial Times, spoke of the difficulty of getting stories into print. He argued, however, that it was as much a failure of writing power and imagination as the constraints of space and editorial preoccupation with other matters (such as sport). He reminded the audience that the future of Africa would depend increasingly on China than the UK or the US. John Vidal, environment editor of The Guardian, complained that there was only one full time Guardian correspondent for the whole of Africa. The fact was, he explained, that the mainstream political agenda in Africa is dull for most readers. He underscored Holman’s point about the vital importance to western journalists of African NGOs, who are effectively the eyes and ears of the newspapers. Lisa Curtis of DfID argued that the media is mainly interested in images of famine and conflict even years after those problems had been solved. There was a tendency not to report good things that are done in Africa by governments, citing the movie Blood Diamond. A number of women’s groups attending the conference, many from Africa, tended to agree with Curtis and clashed with journalists. A participant Ghana said that when she saw documentaries about her country she often did not recognise it.

It was an emphatic and unanimous verdict of those who attended the conference that it was a bold and productive decision to bring development workers to London and give them an opportunity to speak about their experiences on the ground. Many of the sixty students in the audience were pursuing courses in development studies and journalism. They felt that they had profited from the case-study approach and the opportunity to meet “front-line” workers.

The proceedings of the meeting are published by the Science and Human Dimension Project as Report on Case-Study African Development edited by Austen Ivereigh.