From 6 to 8 November, 2013, the African Media Initiative (AMI) will hold its flagship annual convention, the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AMLF’s sixth edition will focus on the theme “Media and the African Renaissance.”
Over the years, the Forum has become the largest gathering of media owners, operators and managers from across the continent and beyond. In November 2012, some 550 delegates attended the 5th AMLF in Dakar, Senegal.
While many have saluted the courageous decision of the AMI board to hold the Forum in Ethiopia, others have remained either sceptical or critical. The critics cite Ethiopia’s huge challenges in fostering an environment in which both press freedom and freedom of expression can thrive.
While I fully understand and respect the concerns being raised, I am convinced that Ethiopia remains the most appropriate venue for AMLF 2013 for a number of reasons.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the African Union/ Organisation of African Unity. Since its inception in 1963, the OAU has been a symbol of Africa’s desire and determination to forge ahead in the true spirit of pan-Africanism, and it has always been headquartered in Addis Ababa.
Admittedly, it has not always endeared itself in equal measure to its collective body of stakeholders. Yet we must recognise its value as Africa’s largest intergovernmental organisation, where the most critical matters touching every single African are debated throughout the year.
I must admit that like many other pan-Africanists, I have been quite critical of some of the organisation’s decisions. But I do acknowledge the key role it has played in the unification of Africa by promoting co-operation, friendship and mutual support among its member states, and the courageous positions it took at the vanguard in the struggle to liberate nations that were under colonial domination.
The AU is marking a positive resurgence, under the excellent leadership of its chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It is our responsibility, as thought leaders and as Africans, to both encourage her and her team and to roll up our sleeves to participate in the AU’s endeavours by contributing the best way we can. At the end of the day, building a brighter future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren is not the responsibility of politicians and development partners alone.
For these reasons, I am convinced that the story of the AU is the story of all Africans. Consequently, we must all participate in writing it.
The organisation deserves to be honoured in its golden year in the same place where its story started – Addis Ababa. The city is also where another key African institution is headquartered – the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) – which continues to work relentlessly for the improvement of the continent’s human and economic development.
As a strong advocate of constructive engagement, I see our coming-together in Ethiopia as a great opportunity to engage with media stakeholders within the country, including the government. In our preparations for the Forum, we have been both encouraged and actively supported by the Ethiopian media community – through its publishers’ association and the leaders of the nascent media council – which is known for its independence and commitment to building free and balanced media.
Under AMLF’s National Organising Committee, Ethiopian media leaders are playing a critical role in a collaborative effort with AMI, AU, UNECA and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
True to the spirit of AMLF’s theme, “Media and the African Renaissance”, the heads of the three most influential African institutions have been invited as co-chairs of the Forum: Dr Donald Kaberuka, president of AfDB, Dr Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of UNECA and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the AU Commission.
AMLF 2013 intends to engage all stakeholders in Ethiopia and elsewhere to discuss openly, freely and respectfully, ways the media can contribute constructively to renewed efforts to craft a narrative about Africa that both promotes a dynamic pan-Africanism and reflects the demands and expectations of the continent’s citizens.
We will structure our deliberations around plenary sessions and working groups – on ethics and leadership, access to finance and business development, as well as innovation and digital adaptation – to guarantee the full participation of all delegates.
A number of key challenges await us to ensure that in the next 50 years, Africa’s growing youth population has access to a good education and jobs; that the poorest segments of our communities are lifted out of poverty; that the environment, which is a source of livelihood for so many of our people, is not destroyed; and that peace and security prevail.
AMLF 2013 will be an opportunity for the public to play an integral role in the discussion. Indeed, AMI in collaboration with the Organisation of Social Science Research in Southern and Eastern Africa (OSSREA), based at the University of Addis Ababa, will organise a public debate on 6 November on the theme “My Africa in 50 years”.
In the midst of the media and public discourse, a range of conversations will contribute to a new pan-African narrative to inspire and re-energise us all. Indeed, AMLF will open what is now dubbed the “Governance Week” – with a number of institutions holding important meetings in Addis Ababa as a way to reaffirm their strong faith in the future of our continent, and its citizens and institutions.
These include AMI’s traditional partners such as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Africa 2.0. Fresh additions will be Femmes Afrique Solidarité, one of the most influential women’s organisations on the continent, headed by Bineta Diop, and ONE, the foundation set up by rock music star Bono, to contribute to Africa’s development.
What all these organisations have in common with AMI is the strong belief that Africa has great potential to considerably enhance the livelihoods of its people. We share an unbridled confidence that Africa will shed its stereotypical images and re-write its own story.
I remain convinced that participating in Addis Ababa Governance Week 2013 is the right thing to do for the African media community. We cannot miss this unique occasion to engage with leaders from around the continent and beyond to advance the cause of a free and prosperous Africa. As media practitioners, our greatest strength lies in our ability and courage to confront issues, no matter how daunting, as we seek to fulfil our mandate of serving the public interest.
In that regard, we must never refuse to engage in, or shy away from, situations that may seem to undermine our sense of community and fair play. Instead, we should embrace these challenges and meet them head on – this is the only way to progress. It is in the spirit of constructive engagement that we should view Ethiopia’s current media environment and, yes, add our collective “big voice” to its improvement. It is in this spirit and to create a forum for healthy debate that AMLF and its Governance Week partners are going to Ethiopia. Only by embracing all voices and perspectives can we engender public trust in the media, an institution that is critical for the consolidation of democratic governance. Together, we will refine pan-Africanism and re-define a narrative that is suited for our African renaissance.