Many historians will tell you truth is the first casualty in times of political upheaval or war. With the turmoil in Libya and Zimbabwe, and then the conflicts in Ivory Coast and Somalia, they have been proved right.
A politically vulnerable President Robert Mugabe and his administration have unleashed the harshest news media crackdown in their notoriously repressive tenure in Zimbabwe. Elsewhere, particularly in places like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Togo, armed groups attacked journalists as a special target group. Truth is a casualty in these and other places.
I think one of the solutions is the development of citizen journalism. Along with foreign radio stations and television, citizen journalism has encouraged and supported the overhaul of oppressive leaders in the Middle East and a few African countries. It helped relay information from volatile rural areas in Zimbabwe, where pro-government militants cracked down on the news media and opposition in its last election.
Volunteer journalists will not be conspicuous, and they remain one of the progressive groups on the African continent, distributing information through blog, camera phones, video and other media. Surfing through the net, it is likely citizen journalists are leaking out news about the oppressive tendencies happening in their countries. Though statistics are not definite, thousands of them abound, and they are the unnamed heroes and heroines of the ongoing African story.
Can there not be a coalition of citizen journalists for the African region? Of course, tech savvy volunteers may not have the journalistic skills to make good strategic choices all the time, but I believe that trained and well organised citizen journalism group could shape continental dialogue and increase the demand for change. What if there is a private organisation or group ready to create such a brand?
Critics may be sceptical about the idea of African citizen journalists collaborating together. Can citizen journalists learn the difference between contributing a personal opinion and generating information? Can they develop story ideas and learn to report on hot topics and not blocked toilets in their schools? Would it not be too difficult to find an organisation or private group that has the financial muscle to support the initiative? Many will say no to these questions.
They are justified considering other challenges remain. For instance, critics may say Africa lacks power for citizen journalists to distribute information about the continent on a regular and organised basis. Then there is also the issue of differences in terms of tradition, political system and culture.
But many citizen journalists in Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other countries suffer from power outages and lack of journalistic training, not to mention financial challenges. Despite this, they helped to shape public discourse.
There is a new world out there for the making. An African citizen journalism coalition represents a new means of gaining global audience as well as ability to skirt local control.