At this year's Africa Day, hosted by Germany's development ministry (BMZ), DW Akademie presented innovative software solutions for better citizen journalism as well as its new "Media Freedom Navigator".
Holger Hank, head of DW Akademie's Digital Division (right) and H.E. Kulati Wangia, agriculture commissioner of the Kenyan regional government of Bungoma (center)
These days, it's easy to keep an eye on the state of media freedom around the world, as DW Akademie's Holger Hank proved on Monday, May 11, at the BMZ offices in Berlin. Hank, who heads DW Akademie's Knowledge Management and Digital Innovation division, demonstrated the "Media Freedom Navigator" on the sidelines of Africa Day, whose theme in this, its second year is "Bridging the Digital Divide".
This new online platform enables users to compare current information on different press freedom rankings compiled by various media watchdog groups and has raised quite a lot of interest since its launch. "I would be interested in seeing how Kenya ranks in comparison with our neighbors," said H.E. Kulati Wangia, agriculture commissioner of the Kenyan regional government of Bungoma. A few mouse clicks later, he and Holger Hank were looking at how Freedom House, Reporters without Borders, the Human Development Index and other organizations had analyzed the situation in Kenya's corner of the world. "Well, seen internationally we're not on top regarding media freedom," he said. "But as we see in the Navigator here, compared to our neighbor Uganda we're doing pretty well," he added with a grin, looking slightly relieved.
New technologies, sustainable development
At the Africa Day event, more than 150 international development experts were able to meet and exchange ideas with representatives of the internet community from Europe and Africa. They all shared a common goal - to work together on innovative solutions that can narrow the "digital divide" on the continent, the gap between those with and without internet access. The goal of the BMZ’s Strategic Partnership "Digital Africa" program is to create closer ties between African partners and German and European ICT companies. "New technologies and digitalization are important factors in sustainable development and improving the lives of people in concrete ways," said BMZ State Secretary Friedrich Kitschelt at the Africa Day kick-off.
DW Akademie's Holger Hank and Natascha Schwanke also presented two visions of what an ideal linkage between Europe and Africa might look like, including one that involved software "made in Africa".
"Two start-ups in Uganda have created software that can make it easier for community radio stations to get in contact with listeners," said Hank. With the help of an app for Android smartphones, users can pass on information to local stations easily and quickly. The app could help stations learn what’s happening in surrounding villages, places where they might not have their own reporters on the ground. "This simple app makes it possible to send information, a picture or even a recorded message to the station," Hank added. The station could then decide whether to follow up on the story or even broadcast the information directly. And since the mobile phone market in many African countries is so well developed, the app has a great deal of potential when it comes to boosting citizen journalism.
For Hank, the app is a perfect example of how the digital transformation is moving media development to the very center of development work. "Digital transformation is THE driver," he said.
Media and development: the best of friends
None other than German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Africa commissioner, Günter Nooke, came by the DW Akademie stand to learn more about new digital media development ideas in Africa. Nooke sees a great deal of potential for German development work that is based on an orientation toward partners. "We need to look at what is happening in Kenya and then ask the Kenyans themselves: what kind of support do you want to have?"
At their best, today's new internet tools allow ideas to pass among "millions and billions of people" in seconds. That means situations where, for example, rural African youth receive part of their vocational training via social media no longer belong in the realm of fiction. According to Nooke, for media development, the digital transformation is like an infusion of fresh blood. "Of course, that’s a challenge to old media ideas, which means that Germany can learn a few things from Africa as well," he said.
Also at the event, Natascha Schwanke from DW Akademie's Africa Team presented the results of a debate on sustainable support for digital skills building in African societies. She was surprised by the different viewpoints held by experts on the digital capacity-building needs of Africans. Do people in rural parts of Africa need above all easy-to-use devices that they can use to learn - very analog - skills like reading and writing? Or is a better long-term strategy to support highly qualified software experts who could potentially spur digital development driven by Africans themselves.
"Our programs at DW Akademie focus above all on the competence of users as it relates to content," Schwanke said. "It's about their being able to use the inexhaustible information resources on the web competently, finding and evaluating sources, and even distributing content themselves. And, it's about being able to manage their own opinions and messages in a responsible way."
She was especially inspired by the open exchanges with people who could be considered pioneers, those who were already busy building up Africa's digital economy. "The true experts are there on the ground," she said, summing up. "When it comes to innovation, it would do us a lot of good to just listen closely to what they have to say."
DW Akademie Digital presented "digital tools for community radio stations in Africa" at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on May 11, 2015. In addition, DW Akademie introduced its new online platform on media freedom, the "Media Freedom Navigator".