African Muckraking is the first collection of investigative and campaigning journalism written by Africans about Africa. The editors delved into the history of modern Africa to find the most important and compelling pieces of journalism on the stories that matter. This collection of 41 pieces of African journalism includes passionate and committed writing on labor abuses, police brutality, women’s rights, the struggle for democracy and independence on the continent and other subjects. Each piece of writing is introduced by a noted scholar or journalist who explains the context and why the journalism mattered. Some of the highlights include: Feminist writing from Tunisia into the 1930s, exposés of the secret tactics planned by the South African government during apartheid, Richard Mgamba’s searing description of the albino brothers in Tanzania who fear for their lives, and the reporting by Liberian journalist Mae Azango on genital cutting, which forced her to go into hiding. Many African Muckrakers have been imprisoned and even killed for their work. African Muckraking is a must-read for anyone who cares about journalism and Africa.
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About the Author
George William Lugalambi, PhD, is a media development practitioner and researcher based in Kampala, Uganda. He is interested in journalism training and in monitoring and evaluating media programs and interventions. Anya Schiffrin teaches and runs the Technology, Media and Advocacy Program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York. She was the editor of Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from around the World (New Press, 2014).
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African Muckraking: Past and present
African journalists are well aware of the power of their trade. When officials try to pay them off with stuffed brown envelopes, when police officers harass them, when thugs intimidate them – all these things happen because the media still has the inherent ability to disrupt the status quo and challenge vested interests. Journalists know it, and so do politicians.
For the public in both Africa and in the Global North, however, the essential work of African journalists is seldom recognised. In Africa, there are many reasons why it's hard for even the best journalists to reach a truly broad audience: the low education, literacy and income levels of potential audiences, poor infrastructure which makes both reporting and distribution more difficult, language barriers, soft censorship and other factors. In the Global North, the contributions of African journalists are unknown, often because of a sneaking assumption that good journalism simply doesn't originate in Africa: Western audiences may trust the satellite news, parachute journalist more than they do local reporters.
This book aims to dispel these assumptions about Africa. African journalism not only exists, but is part of a tradition going back more than a century. Further, it is activism-oriented, influential – and growing.
For jaded readers, it bears reminding that journalism really can 'change the world'. In today's maelstrom of 24-hour satellite, clickbait, financially struggling newspapers, Twitter hot takes, and 'fake news', we can sometimes lose sight of journalism's foundational role in a properly functioning society. But the dissemination of truth by skilled and credible journalists has, at least since the dawn of the Industrial Age, been a bulwark against the excesses of the powerful and greedy. In particular, investigative journalists have made brave and essential contributions to safeguarding rights and social and political change when the other institutions of democracy have failed.
The US Muckrakers
In the United States, the best-known such reporters were a group known as Muckrakers. A tight-knit group of investigative and campaigning journalists, they rose to prominence during the Progressive Era (1890s–1920s), a time of reforms that their work helped precipitate. The preceding Gilded Age (which began in the 1870s) had been a period of rapid and unscrupulous industrialisation, war against the indigenous peoples of the American West, and exploitation of workers and natural resources on an unprecedented scale. Post-Civil War America was like a broken piñata, and the most powerful and ruthless – the robber barons – seized the spoils. The turn of the 20th century was a time of oligarchs, large and powerful banks, rapacious oil monopolies, high levels of economic inequality, social unrest, political patronage and corruption.
A clutch of gritty journalists stepped into the fray. These included Frank Norris, Jacob Riis, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Ray Stannard Baker and a dozen or so others. They were not numerous, but their impact was broad. Over a 15-year period from about 1902– 1917, they took on topics like food safety, the quack patent medicines then being sold all over the United States, overcrowding and poverty in America's rapidly growing cities, brutal working conditions, child labour, and corruption and patronage in local government. Their stories outraged the reading public, who pressed for new laws to reign in the excesses of monopoly power. We remember these journalists as heroes today, but in their time, they had detractors. President Teddy Roosevelt, himself a Progressive, helped coin the term 'muckraker' – which he drew from a well-known, 17th-century Christian allegory, Pilgrim's Progress – during a 1906 speech in which he admonished journalists to focus on more than just the filth (Goodwin, 2013). Luckily, the writers didn't heed the criticisms, and many of the worker protections, food safety laws and other industrial regulations, which America enjoys today, exist partly thanks to the movement they started.
The American Muckrakers are the most famous, but there were other journalists around the world who made similar contributions, many of them in colonised lands where disparities and oppression were even worse than those in the United States. In Africa, George Washington Williams (who was born enslaved) and British activist ED Morel were known for their exposés of the brutal conditions in the Congo during the reign of Belgium's King Leopold (Hochschild, 2013). And in 1905, British correspondent Henry Woodd Nevinson travelled to São Tomé and Principe and wrote about the dreadful working conditions and indentured servitude on the cocoa plantations that supplied the Cadbury chocolate company (Nevinson, 1935; Satre, 2006; Higgs, 2013).
But the change-making investigative journalism of Africa was not limited to the contributions of a handful of crusading outsiders. Indeed, there is an entire tradition, lesser-known, of African muckraking that spans multiple generations on the continent. It was a key component of the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, has been essential in exposing corruption from Nigeria to Kenya and from Egypt to South Africa, and has influenced the thinking on the continent about environmental degradation, citizenship, war, women's rights, human rights and democracy.
The topics the American Muckrakers tackled are familiar to their African counterparts today. Corruption, poverty, big oil and labour abuses are all subjects that African journalists have returned to again and again. But in general, this work – whether contemporary or decades old – is relatively unknown overseas, and even in Africa itself. A comprehensive, up-to-date volume about the history of journalism on the continent has yet to be written, although James Brennan from the University of Illinois has begun one such project. Louise Bourgault's Mass Media in Sub-Saharan Africa (1995) and William Hachten's Muffled Drums: The News Media in Africa (1971) are still widely cited, as are more recent academic papers and studies, including workby Fackson Banda, James Brennan, Julia Cagé, Martin Scott, Wisdom Tettey, Elizabeth Barrett and Guy Berger.
African Muckraking was conceived in the hope of making a significant contribution to closing this gap. With 41 pieces of campaigning and/ or investigative journalism from around the continent, each with context provided by today's foremost experts on the continent, this book provides important evidence that the reporting exists, that it matters and continues to matter – and that it deserves recognition in Africa and the world. When choosing the pieces to include, we tried to be inclusive: we included excerpts from pamphlets as well as newspaper stories, looked to find pieces from a wide range of countries and stressed pieces that had impact or covered an important topic, even if they weren't classical works of investigative journalism by today's standards. We wanted to include remarkable stories that stay with the reader long afterwards, like Richard Mgamba's harrowing description of the albino boys living in fear of their parents or the exposé by Sam Sole and Brendan Seery about nefarious covert operations during the apartheid years in South Africa, or Fatuma Noor's reporting on the young men who join Al-Shabaab.
Africa is diverse and African newspapers and magazines were influenced by writing and newspaper traditions from the colonial powers as well as India. We wanted to reflect this rich internationalism in these pages so the writers we include come from many parts of the world. Some, such as David Martin, weren't born in Africa but still called it home. Others covered countries that they didn't live in. All have their place in the important story of African journalism.
The project feels especially important because of the difficulty of finding historical records of African journalism. When I began working on African Muckraking, I had recently completed another edited volume, Global Muckraking (2014), which is a collection of a century and a half of campaigning and investigative journalism from the Global South – Africa, Asia and Latin America. The book inspired young journalists around the world who read those stories for the first time. After Global Muckraking was published, Professor Anton Harber, then the director of the investigative reporting programme at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, suggested that we edit a book that would focus exclusively on African journalism, thus planting the seed for this volume.
From my work on Global Muckraking, with crack researcher Vanessa Pope, we knew that many treasures could be found in the newspaper collections of libraries. These are the places to find old and obscure newspapers. But searching for copies of African reporting, especially reporting from before the 1990s, introduced me to new and deeper research difficulties. Records are in disarray everywhere. Most are not online and the archives in several African libraries are incomplete. There are original newspapers in the British Library, School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the Library of Congress in Washington DC, among other places, but many of these collections are fragmented. Often, even when the writer or editor of an important piece was still living, the original story was impossible to find.
The paucity, or complete absence of, records pushed us to persevere – it felt even more essential that the world see the passion, commitment and range of coverage displayed by so many African writers. Despite the historical tragedy and injustices of colonialism, government control and repression of the media, and the hurdles caused by limited revenues from advertising and low newspaper circulation, there has been plenty of important journalism written by Africans over the years. This book, we hope, gives some overdue acknowledgement of some of that journalism, and shows why it was so important, and remains relevant.
To start, it is perhaps helpful to give an overview of the history of journalism in Africa, in broad strokes.
The history of African journalism
Each African country has its own traditions and historical trajectory, and one should take caution when generalising about the continent. However, a few general points stand out in the history of African journalism: the key role of the missionaries in establishing newspapers, the tremendous lag between Anglophone and Francophone sub-Saharan Africa, the fact that many newspapers were run by editors from France or Britain, while in East Africa, some of the first newspapers were founded and owned by the Indian immigrants who brought with them newspaper traditions from the subcontinent (Hachten, 1971; Brennan, 2011).
In her 2014 paper 'The Economics of the African Media' Julia Cagé describes the establishment of newspapers in sub-Saharan Africa:
The first newspapers in sub-Saharan Africa did not appear before the beginning of the 19th century. The Cape Town Gazette appeared in South Africa in 1800 and the Royal Gazette in Sierra Leone a year later. The first truly indigenous press ... was founded in Liberia in 1826 with the monthly Liberia Herald of Charles Force (Mytton, 1983), in Ghana in 1857 (the West African Herald – the first newspaper of an African from Africa) and in Nigeria in 1859 (Iwe Irohin – 'The Newspaper').
Newspapers by this time were already well established in other parts of the world. The press in sub-Saharan Africa only emerged with colonialism, and even then, only in fits and starts. This was because precolonial Africa had its own, different methods of information dissemination. Newspapers became a social necessity as the colonisers transformed the political culture of the places they invaded. But production required economic and technological development and, in particular, printing-press technology. Colonial governments made overtures about bringing such advancements, but the reality, as we now know, is that their effects on sub-Saharan African societies were mostly quite the opposite of progress.
However, Protestant missionaries – because they needed to print Bibles and educational material to spread their religious beliefs – both imported the printing-press technology and allowed the indigenous population to use it (Woodberry, 2012; Cagé & Rueda, 2016). In time, printing technology enabled the local development of a culture of writing and the spread of information. Those African regions that had earlier access to the printing press developed local newspapers faster than others. In her important work, Cagé tells that most of the first indigenous newspapers were printed and sponsored by mission centres. Strikingly, in regions where Protestant missions were less active, the first newspapers appeared only at the beginning of the 20th century and no indigenous newspapers were created before World War I. By the end of the 19th century, about 34 newspapers had appeared in Sierra Leone, 19 in the Gold Coast, nine in Nigeria and one in the Gambia (Mytton, 1983), before the war. But in former French colonies the printing presses were still mostly owned by the colonial powers. In these colonies, the only publications were religious or official; newspapers were made by and intended for Europeans (Daubert, 2009, cited by Cagé). The first paper in Côte d'Ivoire to be owned and edited by an African, the Eclaireur de la Cote d'Ivoire, only appeared in 1935 (Mytton, 1983). That the rise of newspapers was entangled with that of other colonial institutions produced strange tensions, since many newspapers ended up being part of the vanguard of independence movements. In their attempt at total transformation or at least domination of indigenous societies, the colonisers had also imported a tool that would be part of their own undoing.
Importantly, as Cagé reminds us, this lag of more than a century before the creation of the first indigenous newspapers seems to be one determinant of the differences in the current state of the newspaper industry in different sub-Saharan African countries. Newspapers take time to consolidate.
Again from Cagé: at the time of independence, 88 per cent of the former English colonies had a private press, against only 27 per cent of the former French colonies (including Madagascar and Mauritius) (Daubert, 2009) ... Between 1859 and 1937, a little more than four dozen newspapers were established in Nigeria (Omu, 1978). Former Portuguese colonies, which did not have printing presses until 1854, are more similar to the French ones. In May 1854, the Boletim do Governo da Provincia de Moçambique was published, an official newspaper that was the first Portuguese-language journal in Mozambique. The first private newspaper, O Progresso, appeared in 1868 but was banned after the first issue, and not until 1870 was there a new newspaper, A Impresa (Tudesq, 1995). The French discouraged the establishment of indigenous African publishing. All the early newspapers – such as Le Réveil du Sénégalais launched in 1886 and L'Union Africaine in 1896 – were published by Frenchmen (Mytton, 1983).
Gems from library research
Looking through old issues of West African newspapers in the Colindale newspaper collection of the British Library, I found that the preoccupations of the 19th century often resembled ours today. In the 19 October 1894 edition of the Gold Coast Chronicle, an article (possibly unsigned) complaining about the local civil service included a robust defence of the watchdog role of the media: 'Occasionally, it is not amiss to look round and see if the machinery of Government in this Colony is exactly what it should be; and if there are any defects therin [sic]. It is our duty to point them out so as to get them rectified.' Among the auction notices, announcements of boat and bath chair rentals, notices to creditors, complaints about transportation and cheating merchants, I found a lengthy letter to the editor of the Lagos Times supporting the paper's editorial in favour of education in the Yoruba language. The letter concluded with an affirmation of the importance of truth telling: 'Mr. Editor, Truth is like oil poured into the river and it is sure to float; and as your Editorial is based upon facts, it is sure to prevail no matter how long.' Sadly, my notes don't include the name of the writer.
In the 5 September 1882 edition of the Lagos Times, another long letter to the editor began with an appreciation of local cultural performances:
It is certainly delightful and refreshing to notice that a change for the better is being made by some of our young men in our Public Entertainments, by the introduction of interesting Native scenes and performances. Those to which we have always been treated hitherto have always been mere transcripts and copies of English or other European performances which like all copies have hardly come up to the beauty and excellence of the originals.(Continues…)
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Table of Contents
African Muckraking: Past and present - Anya Schiffrin ix
The Struggle for Independence
Sol Plaatje: 'All we claim is our just dues' Catherine Higgs 3
David Martin: Tracking the 1969 killing of Mozambique's independence fighter, Eduardo Mondlane James R. Brennan 11
Gwen Lister and Pius Dunaiski: Exposed plans to stop SWAPO at 'all costs' Ron Nixon 20
Anton Harber calls an apartheid strongman a 'liar' and changes the game in the negotiations that led to a free South Africa Ferial Haffajee 26
John Kamau: Understanding the seeds of discord Bob Wekesa 31
The Struggle for Democracy
Dictatorships and brutality in Africa Anton Harber 41
The horrors of Hola: A British atrocity that eclipsed Empire Peter Kimani 43
Ruth First: The obligation to dissent Catherine Higgs 52
Albert Porte: Speaking truth to power Rodney Sieh 61
Prima Curia: The hoax that turned out to be true Eric Mwamba 68
Learn the lesson: Norbert Zongo warned that no one is safe Ernest Harsck 73
Kamau Ngotho: Unearthing the truth behind a 40-year-old murder Tom Maliti 79
Achebe and the Biafran War Okey Ndibe 87
Exposing apartheid's death squads Anton Harber 96
The team of journalists who exposed the biowarfare experiments of the apartheid regime Peter Klein 101
Sheila Kawamara in the killing fields of Rwanda Lydia Namubiru 108
Health, Rural Affairs and the Environment
Famine and epidemic disease in Africa Alex de Waal 115
Mo Amin: Memories of Salim Amin and the Ethiopian famine Salim Amin Nicole Pope 121
Omololu Falobi: Journalist who made the media care about HIV/AIDS Anselm Okolo 126
Violet Otindo: Condom shortages in Northern Kenya Christoph Spurk 134
Adrienne Engono Moussang investigates the weather Tilda Abou Rizk 142
Toyosi Ogunseye fought for justice for all of Lagos's residents Ben Colmery 147
Francis Mbala, Ohemeng Tawiah and Janneke Donkerlo: On ruling elites and malaria Evelyn Groenink 158
Reporting corruption in Africa Nicolo Gnecchi 167
Erdéa (Sékou Touré or Mamadou Madeira Keita), 'Montout, Negro colonizer' Gregory Mann 171
Exposing presidential corruption and standing up to censorship in Cameroon Dibussi Tande 174
Simon Kaheru: Reporting on privatisation gone wild in the sale of Uganda's biggest bank George Lugalambi 181
Carlos Cardoso: Determined to investigate an assassination attempt - even if it meant his life Erika Rodriguez 187
Anas Aremeyaw Anas goes undercover in Hell's Kitchen Evelyn Groenink 193
Barry Sergeant: The Panama Papers showed how African assets were taken offshore Khadija Sharife 202
Idris Akinbajo: Global Witness and investigative reporters track government and big oil corruption Toyin Akinniyi Barnaby Pace 209
In Mali, beware of targeting religious officials, especially Catholic ones! Ramata Diaouré 216
Media coverage of the extractives sector in Africa George Lugalambi Anya Schiffrin 225
On the coming war in the Delta Clifford Bob 228
Khadija Sharife on the Kimberley Process: How a system created to eliminate conflict diamonds hid conflicts through secrecy, legislative blindspots and a good ol' dose of one-eyed policy-making William Gumede 233
234NEXT: An institution unafraid to challenge Nigeria's most powerful Ethan Zuckerman 239
Selay Marius Kouassi and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist's Fatal Extraction team: The human cost of Australia's mining empire in Africa Will Fitzgibbon 246
Gender reporting in Africa: An in-depth analysis on the visibility of women in the media Rosemary Okello-Orlale 257
Tahar Haddad: Raising awareness about discrimination against women Kamel Labidi 262
Made of steel: Fatuma Noor dared to expose Al-Shabaab Catherine Gicheru 268
Standing up to the Sande: How Mae Azango shifted public conversation on FGC Prue Clarke 275
Hicham Houdaifa: Giving voice to the forgotten women of Morocco's 'Lead Years' Anissa M. Bouziane 279
A history of human rights reporting in Africa Eamon Kircher-Allen 289
Nxumalo goes undercover to expose human rights violations in apartheid South Africa Anton Harber 294
Aliro pulled back the curtain on unlawful detention and torture of Muslims in Uganda George Lugalambi 300
The intersection of human rights and investigative journalism in Angola's 'blood diamond' industry Lisa Misol 307
Richard Mgamba describes the burdens people with albinism carry in Tanzania George Lugalambi 314
About the Contributors 320