Climate change: Africa is on the frontlines, and now also on the front pages

By Ndi Eugene Ndi, back from Machakos, Kenya

For a long time, stories about climate change were not given priority in African newsrooms, and not much was said about it in the news, says Mohammed Adow, Founder and Executive Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based energy and climate Think Tank.

Even when articles on climate change appeared in newspapers, Adow argues that they were tucked away in hidden sections.

“Climate reporting in African newsrooms [had] continued to be on the backburner as other stories take prominence in news publications,’’ says Adow.

Albeit the fact that the continent is the most affected, he says Africa climate change voices are not escalated in the media and the continent remains the least engaged and informed about the seriousness of the climate crisis despite significant firsthand experiences of its devastating impacts.

Adow was addressing over 40 journalists from across Africa at a two-day climate change training in Machakos, Kenya, on Monday August 28.

The Africa Climate Summit is lead story in Daily Nation newspaper of Monday September 4

But as the continent continues to bear the brunt of climate change, things have however changed, says Bernard Mwinzi, Managing Editor at Nation Media Group, the largest private media house in East and Central Africa with offices in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

“Journalists are now getting it right and becoming amplifiers with behavioral change communication,” says Mwinzi.

A seasoned science journalist, Mwinzi says that there is currently a growing genuine interest in telling the African climate stories which are now finding prominence in media publications.

Speaking on the good, the bad and the ugly of climate change reporting, Mwinzi said for behavioral change reporting to be impactful, journalists must ‘kill’ scientific concepts by simplifying and avoiding the use of buzzwords and not allow the scientists tell the story.

He urged the Africa climate change storytellers to break the chain of doom and gloom in reporting which focuses only on catastrophes and tell the beautiful stories of opportunities in between by involving various stakeholders.

“It is also important to tell the story from the ground and to involve the communities impacted by it as this also allows you to avoid buzzwords. Where they feature, you are better able to explain these buzzwords,” he said.

Victor Bwire, Programs Manager at the Media Council of Kenya, agrees that it is important to amplify peoples’ voices in climate change reporting as “it is easier for people to read stories about people they know, about events they are familiar with and experiences they have gone through.”

Bwire, who is one of the pioneers of climate reporting in the East African country, adds that amplifying peoples’ voices in reports also would get audiences more engaged.

From higher temperatures, drought, to changing rainfall patterns, among others, the effects of climate change are similar on the continent and journalists need to look at issues beyond their countries.

“Look at Africa as one ecological zone for climate change is not a respecter of boundaries. Talk to your colleagues in different countries about subjects you are working on and how it is happening in their countries,” Mwinzi advised.

However, he cautioned that though climate change is a treasure for a lot of people, the space has been infiltrated by questionable characters and questionable research findings.

“Ask yourself questions before considering research results and the type of people who come to you for interviews,” Mwinzi said.

The two-day training that spanned August 28 -29 was hosted by Power Shift Africa in collaboration with the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) and partners.

It sought to elevate African voices in the global climate discourse and was organized in prelude to the inaugural Africa Climate Summit to take place in the country from September 4-6.

At least 15 African presidents are expected at the summit which Kenya is co-hosing with the African Union under the theme: “Driving green growth and climate finance solutions for Africa and the world.”

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