Tuesday, February 19, 2008



JAN 16, 2008.

By Jerry Okungu

Despite the mounting crisis in my country, I feel honoured to be present here and share with you my thoughts on the important process of strengthening governance institutions in Africa especially in relation to NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism

This is the fourth such gathering in different parts of the continent since the inaugural meeting in Nairobi eight months ago.

It is true the African journalist and the political class have been strange bedfellows. This relationship is not unique to Africa. It is a universal relationship between the State and Media.

In Africa, this love- hate relationship has persisted for decades since the African State gained independence from colonialism. It abounds in virtually every state including Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Mozambique among other countries!

At times the ruling class has seen the journalist as the enemy of the State.
This perception as an enemy and an adversary has been institutionalized due to the misinterpretation of the true role of a journalist in our governance process.

The situation gets worse when our political governors begin to misinterpret their roles and mandate without accepting to be corrected or brought back to line!

What is the role of the political class? Its job is to govern us according to the laid down rules of engagement. Those rules include an established and accepted constitutional document that becomes the mother of all laws of the State.

The other requirement for the rules of engagement is an independent parliament where citizens have the authority to express their desires and have direct input and say in the way they are governed. They do this through participation in an elective and participatory process that must be seen to be fair, transparent and democratic.

The other requirement is the establishment of the Third Estate- the Judiciary that is independent, non-partisan, unbiased and fair enough to arbitrate in disputes between citizens, institutions, organizations, state actors and non-state actors. The judiciary that works for its citizens is that which must be expeditious and as blameless as Caesar’s wife. The citizens must trust and have confidence in its decisions.

What then is the role of the journalist in this scenario?

The journalist must play the role of the social mirror, interpreter, watchdog, the conscience of our society, the moral barometer of our society, the whistleblower on evil and injustice without ignoring the good in society and the picket-line that the state organs and non-state actors should never cross.

These are the different roles a competent journalist should have in mind when dealing with governance issues in our continent.

There is dire need for the African journalist to go the extra mile and reach out to her counterparts in Africa and tap into one another’s stories and talents.

The African journalist must begin to see Africa as her Common Market to operate from. She has to accept the responsibility of being an authority on African issues.

If there is famine in Ethiopia, war in Kenya, regime breakdown in Zimbabwe or creeping dictatorship in Senegal, let us not fold our arms in Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Angola or Mozambique and say it does not concern us, because it concerns us!

When civil strife breaks out in one country, the ripple effect goes beyond the borders of the nation in crisis. When the economy collapses in Zimbabwe, the entire SADDC region sneezes. When Kenya went up in flames three weeks ago, not less than seven countries were directly hit

What Africa needs are stronger institutions, not strongmen. Leaders come and go. Institutions remain forever. The more reason the African journalist must be involved in building institutions like MARP, NEPAD and the AU to strengthen Good Governance best practices in Africa. It is a responsibility a true journalist cannot run away from.If we run away from it; one day, we will run away from our countries!


Maputo, Mozambique
January 16, 2008.