Am very pleased to be part of this great initiative for which I heartily thank the African Union Southern African Regional Office (SARO). For there is no bigger scourge in our countries than corruption – the source of the biggest evils plaguing Africa. In most African countries today, all the institutions are there: anti-corruption watchdogs to catch corrupt individuals, anti-money laundering institutions to hit them where it hurts, that is in their pockets, equal opportunities commission to punish nepotism.
You mention the crime, and there is an institution with a high-sounding name trying to combat it. So, everything is working fine thank you. Why, then, are all these money guzzlers that are costing the taxpayer obscene amounts of money not able to make a dent in the widespread corruption? If the institutions are there and doing the work they are paid to do, why is it that power is getting away with murder, literally?
In many countries in Africa, the institutions set up to make sure the checks and balances are in place have been perverted through dubious nominations of family members and cronies whose main task becomes to make sure those who are in power and their protégés in the private sector are never guilty of any act of corruption.
Impunity, lack of accountability, opacity, power… all help corruption thrive. But also, the fear of power, fear for oneself, fear for one’s family, fear for one’s livelihood, fear simply of things back- firing or leading nowhere. Fighting corruption through good and ethical investigative journalism is never an easy task, never has been. Let’s first concede that. Stories requiring investigation into corruption are arguably the most time-consuming, risky, dangerous and not immediately rewarding stories a journalist can work on.
Human tragedy, sex scandals, petty crimes, etc. make quick stories. When, on the other hand, we need to unveil corruption cases, there is no quick reward. We need time, which we don’t have. An investigation can take weeks, if not months, sometimes years. The editor is pressing for quick stories for today, the next hour, the next five minutes. So, time is one of the main issues that stand in the way of investigative journalism.
When a journalist embarks on an investigation, we are not even sure it will lead to something. We may spend days, weeks investigating, talking to sources, researching and in the end, the editor decides there is no story he is prepared to publish. It’s disquieting but that’s part of the job. We carry on because we know that one day, we’re going to get that story that will bring down that corrupt powerful guy. It’s a question of time and effort.
Credibility of sources
Which information is reliable? We know that most sources are not disinterested. We are not gullible. They contact us because they have something to get from the information they are giving us becoming public. At times, we are dealing with crooks to catch crooks who have turned against each other. Sometimes, they change their mind and our work becomes even more difficult.
Repressive laws against journalists Some of the defamation laws in our countries belong in a prehistoric era. Some even involve prison sentences.
Intimidation and harassment
Any journalist who has ever brought to light the sins of the powerful knows the price s/he has had to pay. Intimidation, harassment, boycott, law cases that are meant to waste time and discourage further work… Each country has its own spices but the recipe is the same. These are risks we unfortunately have to live with but which should in no way prevent us from doing our duty towards society.
No freedom of information
In many countries in Africa, there is still no free access to information. The authorities sign various deals, refuse to answer questions, to talk to the press, to make some documents public etc. Even in the few countries in Africa where there is a Freedom of Information Act, the story is the same. The political nominee at the head of the institution deciding which information it is legitimate to release and which is a state secret makes sure the information the journalist is after is never accessible, or not entirely or not in time (...)»