Al Jazeera Journalism Review

outside image
A television presenter does a piece to camera in the midst of protests in Khartoum, Sudan, May 2019 [David Degner/Getty Images]

Sudan shows us why Africans must tell their own conflict stories

Africa lacks freedom of expression because its stories are told by others


Days after the fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitaries from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began in Khartoum, Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea in the east of Sudan, began to swell with Sudanese and foreigners hoping to escape the conflict-struck country. As is often the case when a catastrophic event which affects citizens from various countries occurs, foreign correspondents from some of the biggest and best-known international media outlets began to arrive in Port Sudan to report not only on the evacuations but also on the conflict in the country.

But the thousands of dollars spent on their trips to Sudan may well have resulted in stories or reports that may have been distorted or incorrect, or even analysis and argument that may appear racist.

Frequently, foreign correspondents who cover conflicts in Africa miss the real story mostly for two reasons: first and foremost because a number of them only spend a few hours in the places they report; the other reason is that some have preconceived ideas about the places and people they report about.

About a decade ago, during my self-sponsored trip to the Nigerian northeastern city of Maiduguri which happens to be the birthplace of Boko Haram, I lodged in the same hotel as two foreign correspondents from well-known international media outlets based in the United States and took the opportunity to have a few conversations with them. A great deal of money had been spent to fly them from their organisations' bureaus elsewhere in the continent to Maiduguri, a city they were visiting for the first time and where they planned to stay no more than 24 hours. 

I wondered how they were going to report the story after conducting interviews with internally displaced persons in a particular settlement for only a few hours when I had spent a week in the same area and had barely gotten to the root of the problems they were facing.

From my experience, having spent years reporting on the Boko Haram uprising in Nigeria and the humanitarian disaster caused by the conflict, I know for certain that the impact of the insurgency affects the people in the northeast region in ways that are cruel but not often similar. But many foreign correspondents, in their analysis, get this aspect wrong either because they haven't spent enough time in the region to be well-enough informed or they are simply biased - or a combination of the two.

What we often see when we read reports in international media about conflicts in Africa are misleading generalisations


What we often see when we read reports in international media about conflicts in Africa are misleading generalisations  by foreign correspondents who either do not understand local complexities or are simply following the "standard" narrative about the continent. The average reader in the Americas, for example, could mistake the war in eastern Congo for the conflict in the Central African Republic simply because both countries are defined by the usual impoverished, starving and deadly stereotypes.

The current conflict in Sudan is just the latest example of how the world continues to read about Africa's challenges from correspondents who only made very brief visits. What is more galling is how some have made their reporting of the war more about the role of foreign mercenaries as opposed to focusing on the dire humanitarian issues that the conflict has created and the challenges that the Sudanese people are facing. It appears as if the war in Sudan has merely created an opportunity to report about the Wagner Group, which some reports claim is arming the RSF, rather than the conflict bitself.

In all of this, local Sudanese journalists who should be well placed to tell the stories about the conflict in their country rarely come into the picture. A few have written feature stories that have only barely touched on the issues on the ground because they have been briefed to limit their word count and are most likely issued with a narrative to follow. The little amount of money offered to them, compared to what foreign correspondents would get, even limits their ability to pursue in-depth reporting.

Because the media in Africa lacks the resources to ensure that the news is widely covered, many Africans themselves depend on the news from international media outlets to know what is going on around them. Even the local media, many of which copy and paste from the foreign outlets, rely on information from overseas to serve their own readers. 

The continent's media houses - including the most successful ones - simply cannot match their foreign counterparts, especially newswires like AP and AFP, when it comes to recruiting reporters and sending them to various locations to cover the news. 

The result is that the news reports and analysis that Africans consume are not often stories told by African journalists to their own audience.

What Africa needs to read are stories told by African reporters for African readers, but that is always going to be difficult to achieve because the funding to do so regularly is not readily available.

The consequence of poor funding is that the most skilled African journalists are forced to pitch tent with foreign outlets, which continue to request stories that fit into their narratives or which edit their reports to suit their template, continuing the trend of biased reporting even when Africans are the authors.

Africa's wealthiest people and institutions should also pay attention to its media by offering reporting grants to African journalists


The best solution to this is for African media outlets, which suffer from a shortage of skills and training, to close the funding gap. 

In addition to helping African journalists to better report about issues around climate, development and inclusive economies, which are areas the international media often pays attention to when writing about Africa, donors should focus their funding on training journalists to tell the untold stories about conflicts so that when they occur, Africans can report them in ways that are correct and offer the best perspective. 

Africa's wealthiest people and institutions should also pay attention to its media by offering reporting grants to African journalists to produce stories about the continent's most pressing issues. It shouldn't only look overseas for help in this regard. After all, it is in the economic and political interests of all Africans for the world to see and understand the continent as it really is, rather than as it may be imagined by Westerners.

Platforms like Google should make it easier for African publishers to earn money through digital advertising by providing them with tools that can enable them to sell more ad space to advertisers across the globe.

Finally, there is a need for more collaboration between news organisations at the industry and the reporters’ level. Media outlets in Africa should feel free to share their news content with one another rather than having journalists always sourcing reports from international news websites whose contents are usually created for foreign audiences.

At the moment, it seems Africa lacks freedom of expression because the continent can't easily find ways to tell its own stories. But it can change that by having its media organisations collaborate with each other and getting Africa's most generous individuals and organisations to support the media.

Philip Obaji Jr is an investigative journalist based in Nigeria


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance


More Articles

Under Fire: The Perilous Reality for Journalists in Gaza's War Zone

Journalists lack safety equipment and legal protection, highlighting the challenges faced by journalists in Gaza. While Israel denies responsibility for targeting journalists, the lack of international intervention leaves journalists in Gaza exposed to daily danger.

Linda Shalash
Linda Shalash Published on: 9 May, 2024
Your Words Are Your Weapon — You Are a Soldier in a Propaganda War

Narrative warfare and the role of journalists in it is immense; the context of the conflict, the battleground has shifted to the realm of narratives, where journalists play a decisive role in shaping the narrative.

Ilya U Topper Published on: 21 Apr, 2024
The Privilege and Burden of Conflict Reporting in Nigeria: Navigating the Emotional Toll

The internal struggle and moral dilemmas faced by a conflict reporter, as they grapple with the overwhelming nature of the tragedies they witness and the sense of helplessness in the face of such immense suffering. It ultimately underscores the vital role of conflict journalism in preserving historical memory and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu
Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu Published on: 17 Apr, 2024
Journalism in chains in Cameroon

Investigative journalists in Cameroon sometimes use treacherous means to navigate the numerous challenges that hamper the practice of their profession: the absence of the Freedom of Information Act, the criminalisation of press offenses, and the scare of the overly-broad anti-terrorism law.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 12 Apr, 2024
The Perils of Journalism and the Rise of Citizen Media in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's media landscape is grim, with low rankings for internet and press freedom across the region. While citizen journalism has risen to fill the gaps, journalists - both professional and citizen - face significant risks due to government crackdowns and the collusion between tech companies and authorities to enable censorship and surveillance.

AJR Contributor Published on: 6 Apr, 2024
Orientalism, Imperialism and The Western Coverage of Palestine

Western mainstream media biases and defence of the Israeli narrative are connected to orientalism, racism, and imperialism, serving the interests of Western ruling political and economic elites. However, it is being challenged by global movements aiming to shed light on the realities of the conflict and express solidarity with the Palestinian population.

Joseph Daher
Joseph Daher Published on: 1 Apr, 2024
Ethical Dilemmas of Photo Editing in Media: Lessons from Kate Middleton’s Photo Controversy

Photoshop—an intelligent digital tool celebrated for enhancing the visual appearance of photographs—is a double-edged sword. While it has the power to transform and refine images, it also skillfully blurs the line between reality and fiction, challenging the legitimacy of journalistic integrity and the credibility of news media.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 26 Mar, 2024
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Citizen Journalists in India's Fight for Media Inclusion

Grassroots journalists from marginalized communities in India, including Dalits and Muslims, are challenging mainstream media narratives and bringing attention to underreported issues through digital outlets like The Mooknayak.

Hanan Zaffa
Hanan Zaffar, Jyoti Thakur Published on: 3 Mar, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
The Perils of Unverified News: A Case of Nonexistent Flotillas

Can you hide one thousand ships in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? I would say not. But some of my fellow journalists seem to believe in magic.  

Ilya U Topper Published on: 16 Jan, 2024
In the Courtroom and Beyond: Covering South Africa's Historic Legal Case Against Israel at The Hague

As South Africa takes on Israel at the International Court of Justice, the role of journalists in covering this landmark case becomes more crucial than ever. Their insights and reporting bring the complexities of international law to a global audience.

Hala Ahed
Hala Ahed Published on: 12 Jan, 2024
Did the NYTimes Manipulate the Sexual Violence Allegations of October 7?

An in-depth examination of the New York Times's investigation of alleged sexual assaults by Hamas during the Israeli war on Gaza, highlighting ethical concerns, and the impact of its reporting on the victims' families. It questions the journalistic integrity of the Times, especially in the context of Western media's portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 7 Jan, 2024
Is The New York Times Reproducing Allegations of 'Sexual Violence' to Downplay Israeli Crimes?

The New York Times' report on alleged sexual violence by Palestinian militants raises profound concerns about discrepancies in key testimonies and a biased reporting that aligns with Israeli narratives and downplays Israeli crimes in Gaza.

Mohammad Zeidan
Mohammad Zeidan Published on: 31 Dec, 2023
Embedded journalism: Striking a balance between access and impartiality in war zones

The ethical implications of embedded journalism, particularly in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, raise concerns about the compromise of balance and independence in war coverage.

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 19 Dec, 2023
Through a Mexican lens: Navigating the intricacies of reporting in Palestine

A Mexican journalist's journey through the complexities of reporting on Palestine and gives tips on how to manage this kind of coverage.

Témoris Grecko
Témoris Grecko Published on: 10 Dec, 2023
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Critique of German media's handling of Gaza Conflict

The German media's coverage of the Gaza conflict has been criticized for being biased, presenting a distorted view of the conflict, focusing only on the Israeli perspective, and downplaying the suffering of Palestinians. This biased reporting undermines the media's role as an objective source of information and fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict.

AJR Contributor Published on: 16 Nov, 2023
Colonial legacy of surveillance: hidden world of surveillance technology in the African continent

African nations’ expenditure on surveillance technology from China, Europe and the US is a direct threat to the media, democracy and freedom of speech, and an enduring legacy of colonial surveillance practices.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2023
How the New York Times fuelled a crackdown on journalists in India

Vague reporting and a piece ‘laden with innuendo’ by the New York Times gave Indian authorities the excuse they needed to crack down on news website Newsclick

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 31 Oct, 2023
Journalists feel the pain, but the story of Gaza must be told  

People don’t always want to hear the historical context behind horrifying events, resorting even to censorship, but the media must be free to provide it

Aidan White Published on: 30 Oct, 2023
Queen Rania is absolutely right - Western media’s double standards on Gaza

Why does international media use loaded and dehumanising language about the Palestinians when reporting on the Israeli bombardment of 2.2 million people in Gaza?

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 27 Oct, 2023
'War propaganda' - Brazil’s media has abandoned journalistic standards over Gaza

Brazil’s mainstream media, in its unwavering support for Israel, is out of step with public and social media responses to the bombardment of Gaza

Bruno Lima Rocha Beaklini Published on: 25 Oct, 2023