African Journalists: Too Many Missed Opportunities

National Association of African Journalists founder seeks to revitalize group

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission lawyer Chikumbirike is met by journalists as he leaves the High Court in the capital Harare

By Eyobong Ita

Washington, D.C., August 7, 2004 – I’m watching in delight as they arrived from all over the country: New York, Detroit, Houston, Chicago and many other cities. Professional colleagues have just answered my call to converge in the capital of the free world. So many familiar faces, so many pleasantries accompanied by hugs and fist pumps.

The Arts Gallery at Howard University’s Blackburn Center is filled up. The women look gorgeous, the men look good …well, many much older and grayer since the last time I saw them. Every segment of the media is represented – print, broadcast and online. (Sorry, social media was not the in-thing then.) Our host, Howard University Department of Journalism, is represented by Department Chair Phillip Dixon, himself a veteran journalist par excellence and former managing editor at Philadelphia Inquirer. Shaka Ssali, host of Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa, is representing the head of VOA’s Africa Division; Larry Kaggwa, my journalism professor at Howard University is here too. Going by self-introduction by each attendee, it is obvious that there are more colleagues from Nigeria, but Mali, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and others – including Jamaica in the Caribbean – are also represented.

We talked about our challenges, potentials and most important, the way forward in the face of prejudice that has kept many good African journalists from having journalism careers in America’s mainstream media. At the end of the day, the National Association of African Journalists (NAAJ) was born. We all left that inauguration feeling good about ourselves. Finally, African journalists in the Diaspora got it right.

Fast-forward to August 7, 2014. Today marks 10 years since NAAJ was founded. No, no, hold your applause, please. There is no champagne on ice, no fist pumps of any kind and definitely no 10th Anniversary celebration. Rather than call for a celebration, I’m calling for a revival. Well, after the successes of our first five years, the group slumped into inactivity. Many blame my abrupt and long absence from the U.S. – and related family crisis – for NAAJ’s deep slumber.

I take full responsibility and hereby apologize to all of you who felt let down – or left out – by not knowing what exactly happened to me. Actually, a lot happened, but that’s the subject for another day. For now I want to take you back to 10 years ago and remind you why we gathered in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration, and the follow-up sessions in New York, Chicago and Virginia. Not forgetting our numerous teleconference workshops on existing and emerging professional tools, including multimedia, as well as our 2007 workshop on Africa – a collaboration with the National Association of Black Journalists at their convention in Las Vegas.

Quote GraphicNAAJ was (and still is) necessary to give African-trained journalists a good opportunity to overcome prejudice and excel in the United States; to collaborate with their American-trained colleagues and collectively pursue professional advancement; to give fair, accurate and balanced coverage of Africa and Africa-related issues without the negative slant that often dominates mainstream American media; to serve as a resource on African issues and to be as relevant as other minority media organizations, such as NABJ and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Unfortunately, the progress of the initial five years has been overshadowed by the inactivity of the last five. The group has missed many opportunities to be relevant, including providing coverage of several questionable elections in Africa that we could have played (and can still play) a neutral, respectable role, compared to the often not-so-neutral local media. Not to mention African Leaders Summit that took place in the nation’s capital this week. How many African journalists in the U.S. covered that summit? How many U.S.-based African media were accredited to cover it? Do African presidents or their foreign ministers have us in mind when they visit the United States? Does the Congressional Committee on Africa or other Africa-related groups involve us in their planning or execution of anything Africa? If we don’t step up to be relevant, why would anybody take us seriously?

We need to get back to the basics. We need to rise beyond personal issues and get our professional acts together; we need to take a moment and reflect on what went wrong and how they can be fixed; we need to revive NAAJ and do our very best to make African journalists relevant. Individually, we cannot do much; collectively, we can accomplish a whole lot.

Please join us in a conference call at 5 p.m. Sunday, August 10, to explore NAAJ’s revival and other related issues. The call-in number is 626-677-3000. The access code is 910691.

Welcome back!


Eyobong ItaEyobong Ita is the founder of the National Association of African Journalists. He also is the editor & publisher of The Drum Christian Drum newspapers in Nigeria.