‘As African investigative journalists we to strengthen our local networks and work together, collaboratively.’

By Sandrine Sawadogo

What is the status of collaborative journalism in Africa? What has been achieved and who are the actors? These questions are worth asking in light of the success stories of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). In just a few years, their projects have gone around the world and have positively impacted the lives of the world’s citizens. The Panama Papers, the Fincen Files and, most recently, the Pandora Papers – to name just a few – have had a resounding echo everywhere.

Meanwhile, in Africa – more precisely in West Africa – things are much slower. Many journalists followed up on stories from latest ICIJ leaks. But, how many African journalists know colleagues from the same continent who participated in these investigations?

This question was raised during the panel on the role of partnerships and collaborations in investigative journalism during the AIJC2021 in Dakar, Senegal, on October 11, 2021. Based on the limited responses, another question immediately arose. Why is there so little interest among African colleagues who are members of ICIJ? These are a new generation of investigative journalists who are writing a new history of journalism, yet they seem to have so little interest in Africa.

Taking advantage of partnerships to strengthen investigative projects.

The benefits of collaborative work are well known. To counter criminals and unveil illegal and illicit practices it is necessary to be able to follow them, trace their paths and activities. This is where cross-border collaborative work becomes important. Interviewing the head of an arms sales company who is based in Serbia while you, the journalist, are in Burkina Faso is no longer an impossible feat thanks to alliances and partnerships between media companies and investigative journalists. And, a global network that transcends borders and brings together professionals, makes this possible.

To achieve this, it is important that journalist colleagues are interested and pay attention to what is happening around them. It is not enough to just reference and also follow up on articles published by ICIJ. As investigative journalists we have to be curious. This is the first condition of our profession. Let us find out who are the people who make the profession move in our respective countries and echo their work.

The second most important characteristic of an investigative journalist is audacity. I vividly remember this from my experience with the ICIJ. After the publication of the Panama Papers, I approached a colleague from Mali, David Dembelé, who had participated in the project with ICIJ. My question was to him was simple. How could I be part of such a project? He sent me contact details of Will Fitzsgibbon of ICIJ and I sent him an e-mail right away. I got access to the consortium’s data and was able to publish my first investigation related to the Panama Papers. I didn’t have to wait to be chosen or selected. The door is open, you just have to take the first step.

The tone is set and structures exist here in West Africa, such as the Norbert Zongo Unit for Investigative Journalism which is doing an amazing job in bringing change in this noble profession. Its program manager, who was invited to Dakar for the same panel, insisted that it is vital that we, investigative journalists, are united. Apart from the benefit of having information without moving, being part of a network like Cenozo and ICIJ is like having an umbrella in hand when it rains. Subject to lawsuits, threats, harassment and other forms of abuse, the lone investigative journalist is isolated and becomes easy prey. But, when sheltered behind a strong network, he or she becomes difficult to reach.

The dream of these investigative journalists, who are pioneers in collaborative work and partnerships, is to raise a 100% African leaks project. The bases are there, the resources also, and now it is up to the fellow members to accept and jump right in and make it happen.

Featured image: Journalists ask questions during an AIJC21 session in Dakar, Senegal.