Recording Africa — One Cell Phone at a Time

Daniel Nana Aforo

Daniel Nana Aforo talks about video reporting with his Nokia phone. (Photo by Ben Fractenberg)

They’re young. They’re African. And they’re texting, videoing, and uploading content. They’re reporting?

If they’re with VoicesofAfrica Media Foundation, then yes, they are reporting.

VoicesofAfrica trains young people to do journalism with mobile phones. Project coordinator Oliver Nyirubugara said that the Nokia multimedia phones have text, audio, video, and image capabilities. Using the phones and portable keyboards, reporters can enter, capture, edit, and publish content.

But make no mistake – it’s not only about the technology. At a workshop entitled “The Mobile Phone as a Conflict Prevention Tool,” Pim De Wit, Voices of Africa managing director, said, “A mobile phone in its own right is a useless thing. You need a reporter – a mobile reporter, as we call them – to operate them.”

One major advantage of the mobile report is that it is local, and sources are usually more open. Nyirubugara explained:

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/on1_mr-is-community-based1.mp3]
Oliver Nyirubugara on community-based reporting

Also, phones are pretty common in Africa, so locals are not intimidated by them as they might be by large cameras and equipment.

How can mobile reporting help in conflict prevention, and in monitoring and minimizing conflict damage?

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/on2_when-theres-conflict.mp3]
Oliver Nyirubugara on conflict reporting

Some examples shown were videos about the Kenyan election conflict by Peris Wanjohi Wairimu. Nyirubugara said the fact that these were done via mobile reporting is crucial. Here’s why:

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/on2_when-theres-conflict1.mp3]
Oliver Nyirubugara on mobile reporting

But not everyone is as excited about mobile reporting. Nyirubugara gave this “big-camera complex” historical context.

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/on4_mr-are-not-yet.mp3]
Oliver Nyirubugara on Plato

Mobile reporter Walter Nana Wilson of Cameroon talked about his experiences using a mobile phone instead of traditional materials when reporting on an outbreak of cholera.

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/wnw1_generally-its-very-different.mp3]
Walter Nana Wilson on his experiences

Mobile reporter Daniel Nana Aforo of Ghana said they don’t only report on conflict, even though that is the focus of the conference.

[audio: http://cdn.journalism.cuny.edu/blogs.dir/55/files/2009/06/dna1_that-does-not-mean.mp3]
Daniel Nana Aforo on mobile reports

Aforo said that even though traditional journalists may not understand or appreciate mobile reporting, mobile reporting is here to stay.

However excited the VoicesofAfrica members are about mobile reporting, there are still many unanswered questions, as is clear from tweets of the workshop. Here are just a few from guyberger:

#dwgmf Oliver N says that cellphones reduced violence in Kenya. (Did they help fuel it too?)
#dwgmf He’s showing cellphone video’s of citizen testimony – but who viewed it? Any of the ppl committing violence?
#dwgmf Qtn: what if inflammatory statements on the video go online and inflame people? And what’s the visibility of Voices of Africa?
#dwgmf Peris Wirimu Wanjohi has had 7 months training, Pim thinks she is ready to sell her services… if there’s a buyer

Click here to read The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson take on the workshop.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Rachel Geizhals » Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany

  2. walter wilson nana says:

    Prof Lonnie Isabel and her students. Once more, thank you for this visibility given to my modest person and my online media house; Voices of Africa Media Foundation.

    I will love to one day study in your university and journalism school so as to build my capacity. If you can negotiate a grant or scholarship for me in that light, i will be most obliged.

    Yours,
    walter wilson nana
    Voices of Africa Media Foundation,
    Africanews.com
    The Post Newspaper,
    Buea, CAMEROON
    00237 77 53 66 55

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