Thanks to tremendous progress achieved by the General Packet Radio System (GPRS), the wireless communication protocol, it is now possible for Africans to send articles and images (still and moving) about events taking place in their countries without using a computer and without having traditional internet connection. Under those circumstances, the bigger the number of people expressing their opinions through that technology, the stronger becomes democracy, and the more valuable is the contribution to good governance efforts in Africa.
initiated by the Africa Interactive Media Foundation, the Voices of Africa project was launched in late May 2007 and is now in the preparatory phase. Reporters are now working on it in four countries. During the coming months, they will be testing and getting experience in uploading texts, photos and videos. We will be publishing some of their works on this website. At this moment, Nana Kofi in Ghana, Evans Wafula in Kenya and Elles van Gelder in South Africa have overcome almost all technical issues. In the near future, we expect to receive contents Mozambique reporters.
Besides, a number of students at the Technical University in Delft take part in this preparatory phase. They have a Nokia E61i mobile phone for their trip across 20 African countries, during which they will test the usability of that phone for each of those countries.
The development of Internet and mobile communication in Africa has impressively progressed , thereby putting Africans in a much better position to take part in discussions that have been taking place about their continent for centuries without their knowledge and participation. This trend is very promising as communication and interaction among people are preconditions for reinforcing democracy and greatly contribute to good governance and the rule of law.
Although the communication channels are making considerable progress, the number of African journalists, reporters, photographers, film makers and internet experts taking advantage of them is still relatively very low. Also, the number of citizen journalists - who are very active in Western countries through mobile communication and internet (See the example of the Netherlands where sites like www.nu.nl and www.skoeps.com attract big numbers of people who run their own weblogs) - is very low.
The objective of the Voices of Africa Project is to help talented Africans build a career in media, using currently available technologies that are not yet financially affordable in Africa.
The Africa Interactive Media Foundation initiates this project because it falls and fits in its initial mission. The Foundation endeavours to find donors in order to have necessary funds for the implementation of this project. In practice, the Foundation collaborates both with Africa Interactive - one of the largest international online communities grouping people interested in Africa – and Skoeps.com – a Dutch news website exclusively publishing pictures and short videos made by eyewitnesses using mobile phones. Skoeps is a young and innovative company founded in 2006, with shareholders such as Talpa and PCM.
How is the project planned?
The ultimate goal is to select, in each African country, a number of skilful (young) men and women (with the help of a local coordinator) and to equip these people with high-technology mobile phones (with a small foldable keyboard) where a special piece of software is installed to permit direct uploads of photos, texts and videos to the Skoeps server, from where they are transferred to the Africa Interactive website for publication. Once online, those stories and images are meant to trigger reactions from users and community members. The project´s selection policy gives a bigger chance to skilful women in an effort not only to have diversified contents but above all to contribute to their emancipation efforts through media.
The Africans who take part in this project are known as 'camjos', a short combination of 'camera' and 'journalist'. A camjo writes, takes photos and makes videos about daily life in Africa, on subjects that s/he finds newsworthy. Each camjo receives a training on the use of the phone and is coached during the first six months. With this initiative, Africans, whether in cities or in the countryside, will have the opportunity to have their voice heard all over the world.
If the camjos perform well, they will generate incomes for themselves as they will be paid based on the number of visitors viewing or reading their contributions.
The implementation of this project is only possible in African regions covered by the GPRS and the TU Delft students touring Africa are greatly helping identifying those regions.
After this three-month experience-making phase, the project pilot phase will start in five African countries with a total of 20 camjos for a period of six months. The Foundation is trying to gather funds for this pilot phase. Then, after a successful pilot phase, a global implementation of the project will follow all over Africa with an expected total of 250 camjos (African Voices!).