Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Communicating the ECOWAS Message (1), and why we need Pan-African News Agency (PANAPRESS) Offices all over Africa!

The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
Communicating the ECOWAS Message (1), and why we need Pan-African News Agency (PANAPRESS) Offices all over Africa!
By E.K.Bensah Jr

In September, I wrote a piece entitled “Troubles in the West AfricanPipeline; trouble in West African cooperation.” It was a characteristically-critical piece on why we were not getting more communication from the ECOWAS agencies (ERERA; WAPP) and the private sector –supported ECOWAS collaboration of the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) on the gas pipeline. Suffice-to-say, there are few people who now do not know the state of play of the gas pipeline, and that it will be restored by December. This is probably because the WAGP has done a comparatively-better job in communicating to the wider public. So much so that Communications Coordinator of the West Africa Gas Pipeline company Nuna Senaya would contact me to write: “The WAPCo Website is and not WAGPA, the West African Gas Pipeline Authority is the regulatory body for the West African Gas Pipeline Company (WAPCo) and the two organisations do not share the same website.”

That said, last week, two stories conspired to remind me of the necessity of ECOWAS needing to effectively communicate its message of integration to the wider ECOWAS community of citizens.

The first was the Fifth Trade Forum of the West Africa Monetary Zone that took place right here in Accra; and the second related to a conference that would start 15 October about “Human Rights Democracy and Good Governance: Role of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.” I don’t know about you, but I would have thought that two ECOWAS-related conferences like these ought to have been better-publicised. It is already a good start that the organisers are copying Ghana News Agency, from where many Ghanaian media outlets pick general stories from Ghana. As to whether it is standard practice for the communication outlets of the West Africa Monetary Institute and the ECOWAS Court to send releases only to GNA, though, is moot.

In order to expedite West African integration, the Heads of State and Government of Anglophone-speaking countries of The Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Liberia; Nigeria; and Sierra Leone signed in Accra on 20 April, 2000 a Declaration on the creation of a second monetary zone after the CFA-franc zone. The Second Monetary Zone would be formally launched and named the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) at the Bamako Mini-Summit of Heads of State and Government of member countries in December 2001.

WAMI is based in Ghana right at Tetteh-Quarshie and must know that we have more media outlets than the GNA. I would not know whether they copied other media outlets, but the reports seem to have all culled excerpts of GNA’s report. The news was reported on TV3 and ETV. I know because I saw it on those two stations. That is also encouraging—but certainly insufficient. Normally a conference like this would have attracted more coverage than what it did. I cannot think it was only because it was a small meeting. We can forgive the ECOWAS Court/UNDP communications outfit for not publicising this conference on 15 October more than they have done, but we certainly cannot excuse WAMI. 

Where is the Pan-African News Agency?
This concern can only give vent to questions about where on Earth our Pan-African News Agency is. I forgot: Africa no longer has one; what we do have in PANAPRESS. Twenty-five years ago -- on 3 October, 1997—PANA was dissolved and replaced with a limited liability company called PANAPRESS. In June 1998, it would take a major step by privatising PANA in announcing the sale of 64,742 shares, representing 75 percent of capital reserved to investors from then-OAU member states. With the assistance of UNESCO; African private investors; and some African member states, PANAPRESS, based in Dakar, has been offering news hot off the press that concerns Africa for the longest time. It has not all been free, however. Much of the fresh news is paid-for content.

Back in early October, communication officers of the African Union and its institutions met in Addis to deliberate over “Communicating about Africa.” Reports reveal that this kind of communication is now a “major strategic activity as Africa seeks to rebrand itself.” The naysayers are likely to say it’s ten years too late, and they may not be far off the mark. Still, better late than never!

The meeting of communication managers and officers from the organs, offices, programmes of the AU and RECs met under the direction and supervision of the Director of the Information and Communication (DIC), Mrs.Habiba Mejri Cheikh who coordinated the whole process. Participants were expected to work from a draft document produced by an expert consultant.

The idea was for the AU Communication strategy document to focus on both internal and external communication. Seeking to review the current situation of communication within the AU, it would seek to monitor and evaluate the progress made – as well as the challenges faced.  Interestingly, they have identified that social media/New Media is an important part of the communication as it speeds up communication. For the blogging community of citizens, this is great news. It means that we are likely to see more of the AU on Facebook; Twitter; and Google Plus!

The Way forward
In African integration circles, the way forward is never that straightforward. It would be encouraging to read that given this unprecedented meeting, the AU has seen the proverbial light and will act quickly and efficiently. Given how heavily-influenced it is by donor money, we are likely to see a lot of tergiversation.

That said, let us dream for a minute: we know of the Dakar-based PANAPRESS. How about calling for a PANAPRESS office in ALL AU member states? Given how financially— and politically-independent they have been for decades, this surely ought to be possible. Imagine Ghanaians being able to obtain the latest information about the AU from a PANAPRESS office in Accra, and knowing they can get timely, reliable, and efficient reporting of Africa from PANAPRESS on, say, Facebook or Google Plus?

Perhaps, there might be a discount for students and members of civil society? Ambassadors and policy-makers of course have to pay premium rates to ensure that even when the plenipotentiaries and their coterie of diplomats sleep at meetings, the reporters will be making enough money to expose their inattention. But this will not stop here. At the PANAPRESS Office in Accra, we will find a desk for all the eight regional economic communities, with at most three reporters with expertise in covering and writing about the RECs.

Yes, we can dream. TIA. This is Africa, which means that the expectation of this radical kind of change will not happen anytime soon. But I forget: hope springs eternal on the continent, so, maybe, we can just hope communicating the African Union and ECOWAS message will be more meaningful and more impactful sooner than later!

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on  / Mobile: 0268.687.653.


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