Rwanda will this week host the General Assembly of the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB). The assembly will start with a forum for journalists, which will take place on March 12-13, and will draw communication ministers and chief executives from all over the continent. The New Times’ Julius Bizimungu caught up with Grégoire Ndjaka, the director general of AUB, who shared insights on what they intend to achieve out from the meeting and what work is being done to drive broadcasting industry in Africa.
Let us first of all talk about the upcoming events that the African Union of Broadcasting will hold in Rwanda…
We are organising here in Kigali the 11th General Assembly of the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB). I would like to say that this assembly will be divided into different activities.
The first one is a forum for journalists, chief executive officers of broadcasting agencies, as well as communication ministers, academics and other politicians. This is the first time ministers are joining us.
Participants will be discussing one particular subject; which is the transition from analog to digital in Africa. This process has been difficult for many African countries, and this is because of the many challenges and problems faced by different African countries.
We thought it was important to have a dialogue focusing on this.
What problems and challenges do you seek to address?
One of the problems of digitalisation is content. A lot of politicians thought that talking about digitalisation was only about buying equipment and generally setting up the infrastructure.
But the truth is, when you sit at home watching television, you don’t watch a television set, but what is coming from television. This means content is very important, and so we ought to talk about this to come up with ways through which we can deal with content creation problems.
Another big problem is immigration. Many young people today feel it is only in Europe that they can earn a living. At the end of the day, many of them are dying at seas trying to cross to where they think all is well.
As journalists, broadcasters, we have to ask ourselves the role that we can and we are playing to stop this disturbing process. We want to take stock of the industry’s responsibilities.
Another burning issue we want to talk about is football rates in Africa. Currently, when you want to broadcast a football match live, it is always expensive and the amount keeps increasing every year.
Last year during AFCON [Africa Cup of Nations], we had only 13 countries in Africa that broadcasted it. More than 35 countries did not, and this is an African competition.
We have to ask ourselves what needs to be done to address this?
Why did you choose Rwanda to host this assembly?
We have held previous assemblies in different countries like Dakar [Senegal] and Abuja [Nigeria]. Today, we are coming to Rwanda and next time we are going to Cameroon.
Hosting it here was a coincidence, but it is a very good coincidence because we will be in the country, for the first time, of the President of the African Union.
It is important because we believe President Paul Kagame will carry our message to the entire continent, and make advocacy about the work we are doing. It is also good that we can get advice from one of the wise men of our continent.
I want to equally highlight that we wanted to bring other countries in a country which has managed to succeed to fully transition from analog to digital. We are very happy to be here. If all countries can learn from what has been done here [in Rwanda], we can all make it.
I must say it is a privilege to hold these discussions here.
Talking about digital migration, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for countries?
I still argue that the biggest challenge of all is the cost of the migration. We have seen even countries in Africa that had started transitioning from analog to digital, but they decide to quit in the process. Namibia is one example.
This is because of the economic constraints that countries in Africa are facing. The cost of equipment is high and Africa doesn’t really manufacture equipment. For example, a country like Cameroon needs CFA 27 billion (approx. Rwf43bn) to do migration. They used to ask themselves; can’t we do so many things for our people with this money?
There is another problem of lack of intellectual capacities. You need know-how to bring such projects from the beginning to the end. In some countries, one of the reasons they are not achieving migration is because of corruption.
But we want to support our members and we are pushing to achieve this process, because, clearly, the digital migration is going to benefit all of us.
Now that we know the limitations, what is it that the union is doing to facilitate countries?
There is quite a lot we are doing. We are not just giving a platform for our members to discuss issues they are facing, but we are also providing technical capacity building for members, including journalists, producers, engineers and technicians.
We are also biding for the acquisition of rights to major sporting events, as well as correcting subscription-related dysfunctions. In a nutshell, we are the voice of our members.
Even though countries like Rwanda have managed to transition to digital, there are many people who cannot access news today, especially in rural areas. Do you think you are doing enough in this aspect?
Frankly speaking, we must know that we have a lot of problems on our continent. We admit that many people across Africa still cannot access radio or television, especially in rural areas.
But there are areas where there is no light [electricity]; there are villages where transmitters cannot reach, and many other problems.
I think as a continent we should think the best way of enhancing communication on the continent, and this should be done through policies designed by countries. We should also have love for our people.
Foreign broadcasters are more powerful than African broadcasters. How do you think the African story will be told?
It is critical to understand that no one will tell the African story as it is if not Africans themselves. We have to face our problems. We are not doing it, and this is why immigration continues to kill more people than some diseases.
There are young people dying whose stories are not told, whose problems are not addressed. Nobody will do this except our broadcasters.
I was in Japan 15 years ago, but you could not watch any African news on a local television station. But today it has changed, and African stories are broadcasted in Japan.
We can only continue to empower them [broadcasters] to be in a position of doing it.
Some argue that this might be an era when broadcasters are struggling. What are your thoughts on broadcasting business in the age of internet?
Internet is something which came to remain, and there is no way we can stop the development of internet. When internet is adopted, it improves the way of life of people.
I believe internet can actually be rolled out to rural areas where people can easily catch up to things that they might have missed.
People will continue listening to radio and watching television but internet will change the way broadcasting business is done. It is up to the operators to be wise in a way they want to do it.