A mapping of investigative journalism “hubs” in sub-Saharan Africa has highlighted a new wave of activity across the region.
The map has shown 32 such centres of investigative journalism in 19 of the region’s 42 countries, as well as seven centres doing support activities, such as training. This reflects pockets of investigative reporting that have popped up in recent years, most of them outside of traditional newsrooms.
“It’s evident that there is a resurgence of investigative journalism in some countries and regions in sub-Saharan Africa with a number of hubs emerging to join the league of old established media outlets that have produced journalistic work, many winning international recognition,” the report concluded.
There were some countries where these initiatives – facing police and economic pressures – have struggled, and some where no initiatives at all were possible.
Although there remain some traditional newsrooms that continue this kind of accountability reporting, most of the new “hubs” are small, independent, non-profit clusters of a small number of dedicated journalists. Many are less than five years old and some are still finding their feet under difficult circumstances.
Most of these units are supported by international donors, foundations and networks, raising questions about their long-term sustainability. But it has meant a rise in the quantity and range of investigative reporting done in sub-Saharan Africa.
Some are specialist reporting units – such as Oxpeckers in South Africa, which does environmental reporting. Some are quite well established, notably Cemozo in Cameroon and amaBhungane in South Africa. Stories covered in recent years include organized crime and violence, health, drug trafficking, illegal wildlife transactions and human trafficking.
They work in all media, and some are doing advanced data journalism and using cutting edge digital tools and open source information.
The mapping has also highlighted networks of journalists doing cross-border, collaborative work, such as Water Journalists Africa, which does the InfoNile project which monitors data around the Nile River Basin. And there are a number of international networks which have a strong Africa presence, such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
What also emerged was the extent to which many of these units are working with non-government civil society organisations who have expertise in subjects of mutual interest.
Activity has spread in the more “open” countries with established traditions of investigative reporting, such as Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda, but they have also sprung up in places where conditions have been tough for journalists, such as Mozambique, Rwanda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Sudan, Ghana, Liberia, Burkino Faso, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Angola.
Sustainability, the report says, remains “shaky”, as most of these organisations report their main sources of income being “grants from local or international partners, philanthropy organisations and special interest groups”. But, they add, “some hubs have alternative ways of supporting their work, including selling of journalistic packages to third-party media outlets, advertisements and consultancy”.
Other major challenges include restrictive laws, corruption, safety of journalists, opaque media ownership, and lack of investigative reporting skills”.
The report also highlights the role the internet has played in enabling this new wave of investigative reporting. It has changed the practice of investigation, with the use of open source digital data and tools, and many of these units use online platforms to carry their work.
*The mapping exercise was part of the CHARM project by the Fojo Media Institute at Linnėuniversitetet in Sweden and Wits Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Research was done by Peter Mbiwe and Sbongile Nkosi, designed by Peter Munyasi and Jimnah Njue. It is an ongoing project.
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