Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes (2nd from left) poses with attendees at the annual African Media Leaders Forum, held this week in Johannesburg. Photo by Denise Rolark-Barnes
Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes (2nd from left) poses with attendees at the annual African Media Leaders Forum, held this week in Johannesburg. Photo by Denise Rolark-Barnes

The 7th annual African Media Leaders Forum, which brought together media industry professionals to discuss how digital technology and other relevant strategies are transforming Africa’s media landscape, ended Friday in Johannesburg, having included a two-day training workshop on “Resilience Reporting,” exhibitions, and the much-awaited “Zimeo Gala Awards Night.”

The event themed, “Shaping Development Conversations in Africa: The Role of Media in the Digital Environment,” and celebrated as one of Africa’s largest media gatherings, took place at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Center, where Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the D.C.-based Washington Informer, listed among the attendees.

During the conference’s Nov. 11 opening, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a biodiversity scientist elected in June as president of Republic of Mauritius, addressed a vast audience in a speech titled, “Toward a New African Narrative for New Times.”

Gurib-Fakim, 56, who began her comments by congratulating the conference, its sponsors and the African Media Initiative on their choice of locale, stated that South Africa occupies a unique position in the African imagination and ethos.

“South Africa’s political transition – from a reviled apartheid state to a beacon of democracy – is a remarkable story, and a continuing source of inspiration for all Africans and the world,” Gurib-Fakim said. “As South Africa’s evolution shows, the path to democracy can be rocky but at such times it is reassuring to recall how South Africans have demonstrated that truth and reconciliation can go hand in hand, and how some of the deepest scars of the past can be erased.”

Gurib-Fakim highlighted some of the common areas where science and media meet, explaining how they can be natural allies for achieving the common good.

“We meet at a consequential time in Africa’s evolution,” she said. “Africa, south of the Sahara, is undergoing unprecedented economic, social and cultural transformations.”

Gurib-Fakim said adding that economic growth rates are up, with estimates showing that growth will remain strong in Africa’s low-income countries – which serves well in the fight against poverty, hunger, malnutrition and disease.

“We are making progress in education and health,” Gurib Fakim said. “Between 2000 and 2008, secondary school enrollment increased by 50 percent, and life expectancy has increased by 10 percent.”

She also touched on the issue of Ebola, stating that the disease has exacted a heavy toll in human suffering on the populations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

According to Gurib-Fakim, economic losses alone from the Ebola crisis are expected to top $30 billion with far reaching impacts.

“[However] there is good news from West Africa,” she said. “In early September, the World Health Organization declared Liberia to be free of the Ebola virus. And last week, Sierra Leone has also been declared Ebola-free.”

Gurib-Fakim said issues such as demography, high population growth rates, rapid urbanization and slumping commodity prices all of which pose major challenges and threaten to reverse the continent’s hard-won development gains.

“I would be remiss if I did not address climate change and the fundamental threat it poses to balanced development in Sub-Saharan Africa,” she said. “Food production in SSA will need to increase by 60 percent over the next 15 years, and yet the agriculture sector will be hit hardest. Without adaptation, Africa will suffer severe yield declines in important food growing areas. Extreme weather events are increasing, in frequency as well as intensity.

While the overall thrust of the forum sought to address and seek practical solutions to the harsh realities that news outlet owners, editors and journalists consistently face, Gurib-Fakim said global communications, which affect all facets of human behavior, list as the dominating features of the 21st century journalism.

“We take instantaneous communication granted,” she said. “The rapid rise of social media has been breathtaking, with Facebook ready to enter the history books as the third largest ‘country’ of ‘netizens,’ numbering over one billion and counting.”

Gurib-Fakim also noted that good journalism, which “serves as a barometer of society,” can be a powerful force for the common good, and that the presence of more women in the media is key to its effectiveness.

“The ability to search for truth, based on evidence, is a fundamental aspect of journalism,” she said. “Discerning trends, locating stories in their local contexts, connecting the dots, speaking truth to power without fear of retribution, these are all about seeing the general in the particular.”

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