What role do the media play in deepening democracy in East Africa?

Over 200 media owners, CEOs, government officials, publishers and journalists came together at the Hyatt Regency Dar es Salaam on 14 and 15 May 2015 to discuss this salient question in a series of roundtable discussions and speeches. During the Summit’s opening ceremony, Dr Richard Sezibera, the Secretary General of the EAC, expressed his concern regarding the ongoing crisis in Burundi and called upon all actors to “protect freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the lives and property of the fourth estate”.

Later the same evening, the 4th EAC-EABC Media Awards honoured the work of journalists from EAC Partner States. Nine out of seventeen award winners in a total of 23 categories were alumni of previous media training courses organised by the EAC in cooperation with the EAC-German Cooperation Programme implemented by GIZ. The prizes were awarded by the EAC Secretary General, the EABC Chairman Felix Mosha and the event’s Guest of Honour, Dr Reginald Mengi.

As part of the award ceremony, the German Ambassador to Tanzania and the EAC, Mr Egon Kochanke, launched the EAC Media Scholarship Fund which will be co-financed by German development cooperation through KfW Development Bank. The fund shall enable talented students from EAC Partner States to enroll at the Aga Khan University School of Media and Communications (AKU-GSMC) in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr Wolfgang Solzbacher, Director of KfW Dar es Salaam office, further outlined plans to grant 14 million Euros in financial support to the AKU-GSMC.

As part of the newly launched Scholarship Fund, the EAC will nominate five ‘EAC Scholars’ – one from each Partner State – to enrol in Master’s programmes or one of the School’s Professional Development Short Courses.

The EAC Media Scholarship Fund aims to both increase diversity among the AKU-GSMC’s student body and to strengthen the media sector in East Africa, because “only an educated and informed population can actively participate in decision-making processes in society”, as the German Ambassador stated during the gala dinner. In this vein, the funding and training of media professionals – journalists in particular – who will scrutinize political processes and inform the general public, is a promising approach to boost the media’s role in deepening democracy in the region.