Ousman Sillah reporting from Accra
Journalists from seven countries have concluded a training workshop on ‘Improving Media Coverage of Conflict and Peace Building in West Africa’ held at the University of Ghana, Legon, on the 30-31 March, 2016.
Organised by the School of Information and Communication Studies, in partnership with the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD) and sponsored by the Africa Peace Building Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council, the training gathered 16 participants from The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria who also formed themselves into a Network of Peace Building Journalists in West Africa.
Addressing the workshop participants in her opening remarks, Prof. Henrietta J.A.N. Mensa-Bonsu, Director of LECIAD, said the reason for her institution’s acceptance to partner with the School of Information and Communication Studies of the University fo Ghana stems from their shared commitment to promote peace through informed and conflict-sensitive media coverage of events in the sub-region. She indicated that LECIAD, since its establishment in 1989, has been engaged in the training of diplomats from Ghana and other West African countries, as well as training of civilian personnel in peacekeeping, peace building and good governance from all over Africa.
“The media as is well known, not only provides the citizens access to the public mind and also opportunity to freely express thoughts and share ideas on issues of public interest, but enables the governed and governors, including the international community to mobilize public opinion on issues, set the political agenda, create awareness of emerging issues of concern and educate the public on all matters of national and international concern,” said the LECIAD Director.
She noted how technological developments have expanded the remit of the practitioners of journalism with the instruments of mass communication going beyond the traditional media or platforms of print, radio and television to new forms made possible by the internet and referred to as social media.
“All these developments have thus increased the power of the media for good or for ill, and magnified the potential for exacerbating conflict or raising societal tension by careless and insensitive reportage of events,” said Prof. Mensa-Bonsu.
She noted that some forms of reportage may be the kind of truth-telling that does not serve the polity well, for it may create conflict by setting groups against one another or denigrating some within the country and thereby generating tension and threatening the cohesion of the society.
“Journalists who practice their craft in conflict prone-areas owe a responsibility to themselves, and to the public they purport to serve, to be always mindful; of the effect of their reportage. Serving myopic political agendas may be self-defeating in the long run,” said Prof. Mensa-Bonsu.
Following the opening session, Chukuemeka Eze, the Executive Director of THE West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), delivered a presentation on ‘Conflict and Peace Building in West Africa: The Media as Foes or Friends’. He said the assessment of democratic achievements in nearly three decades of the advent of political pluralism in Africa remains ambivalent.
“Democratic processes in the West African region is fraught with constraints and challenges, especially with regards to the conduct of elections, constitutional coup d’etats, functional state institutions and institutionalising term limits for presidents,” said the WANEP Executive Director. He added that “inspite of the notable improvement in the cessation of hostilities, these above mentioned challenges prevent a wider participation of the citizens in the exercise of their franchise, self-expression and self determination.”
Mr. Eze said democratic transitions remain a challenge to peace and stability across West Africa, adding that it is estimated that 10, 000 citizens have lost their lives in political crises in the last three decades.
“Regrettably, a few leaders in the region continue to nurture the possibility of long term rule even if that means manipulating and influencing constitutional changes to extend their stay in power beyond the limited term mandates in constitutions. Such practice is exacerbating the crisis of political instability, uncertainty, good governance and breeding extremist groups,” said the WANEP Executive Director.
He said the media or “Fourth Estate” plays a crucial role in building an accountable state and society at both the national and local levels.
He noted that “media mostly covers conflict and not peacebuilding”, adding that the media’s impact on the escalation of conflict is more widely recognised than their impact on peacebuilding.
Mr. Eze said the media are key stakeholders in all the various pillars of peacebuilding as they are critical in serving as effective channels for the communication of conflict early warning signals and early response in communities under threat.
“Meetings and trainings like this provide opportunity for articulation on how we address the challenges that present the media as foes rather than friends in conflict management and strengthen them as partners in progress,” concluded the WANEP Executive Director.
The participants were introduced to the Concepts and Key Issues in Conflict and Peace Building with presentations on ‘Gender, Conflict and Peace Building’ by Dr. Peace Medie, LECIAD/APN Alumna; ‘The Role of the Media in Conflict and Peace Building’ by Dr. Margaret Amoakohene, Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana and ‘NGO-Media Partnerships in Peacebuilding: Experiences of WANEP’ BY Vincent Azupah, WANEP Regional Coordinator Monitoring and Evaluation’.
The second day started with a ‘Critique Session of Participants Coverage’, moderated by the workshop facilitator, Prof. Audrey Gadzekpo, Dean of the School of Information and Communication Studies, University of Ghana. Working groups were set up to review and critique the stories and proposals submitted by the participants and to present feed backs and recommendations at plenary.
This was followed by presentations on ‘Media and Elections-Related Conflict’ by Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and ‘The Theory and Practice of Peace Journalism’ by Dr. Admire Mare, Research Associate, University of Jourhanesburg, South Africa/APN Alumnus.
During the ensuing discussions following the presentations, it was noted that The Gambia and Togo are the only two countries in West African sub region where there are no presidential term limits. It was also noted that The Gambia and Ghana are facing an election year as both will be holding presidential election in December 2016.