Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging/Politics and Persuasion: Media Coverage of Zimbabwe's 2000 Election/The Press and Political Culture in Ghana

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging/Politics and Persuasion: Media Coverage of Zimbabwe's 2000 Election/The Press and Political Culture in Ghana

Article excerpt


Francis Nyamnjoh. Africa's Media: Democracy and the Politics of Belonging. London: Zed Books, 2005. 308 pp. References. Index. $29.95. Paper.

Ragnar Waldahl. Politics and Persuasion: Media Coverage of Zimbabwe's 2000 Election Harare: Weaver Press, 2004. Distributed by African Books Collective Ltd., Unit 13 Kings Meadow, Ferry Hinksey Rd., Oxford, 0X2 ODP, UK. 148 pp. Bibliography. $24.95. Paper.

Jennifer Hasty. The Press and Political Culture in Ghana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005. xvi + 189 pp. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $22.95. Paper.

LIKE MOST MEDIA STUDIES of Africa, these focus on a country within each author's field of specialization or expertise: they are case studies of the media in Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Ghana, respectively. Only rarely do authors take on the whole continent, or even a whole region, and when they do, it is usually as editors of a collection of essays by country specialists (as in Beverly Hawks's Africa's Media Image, Praeger, 1992) or a collection of conference papers (as in Media and Democracy in Africa, Nordic Institute, 2002).

Francis Nyamnjoh's book, however, is an attempt to do both, since onethird of it (the first one hundred pages) deals with the media and democracy throughout the continent and the remaining two-thirds with the media and democracy in Cameroon. As such, it really amounts to two books, each of which could stand on its own, although there is no indication of this in a title that is very misleading because it does not even mention Cameroon, the subject of most of the book. Perhaps the publishers, understandably with an eye to sales, thought that there would be more of a market for a book on Africa's media, since Cameroon is a country not often covered either in the media or in media studies of Africa (except, of course, for the author's thirteen publications on the subject listed in the references).

But these reservations are not intended to detract from the high quality of this study, which also deals with the new information technologies, ethnicity and belonging, media ownership and control, and media ethics, professionalism, and training in Africa. As the author explains, his book "examines the media in action in the 1990s, seeking to understand how the media have contributed to the continent's efforts at democratisation in a context of growing obsession with belonging" (1). With such competing and conflicting understandings of democracy, he says, the outcome has been "the propagation of liberal democratic rhetoric in principle while at the same time promoting the struggles for recognition and representation of the various cultural, ethnic or sectarian groups with which they identify." Thus, "the politics of belonging" is central to understanding democracy in Africa and the role of the media in promoting it (3).

In considering "the press and its predicaments" in Africa, the author shows that continuity between past and present has been an important factor in accounting for the failure to achieve freedom of expression and access to the media. If the colonial press was either at the service of the settler communities (as in East, Central, and southern Africa) or victim of repressive laws, the postcolonial press was similarly either "the mouthpiece of the government or subjected to draconian laws and administrative censorship" (43). In this regard, the Francophone colonies were worse off than their Anglophone counterparts (where some anticolonial newspapers were tolerated) because they were subjected to a policy specifically designed to discourage the development of a critical local press. Even greater control was exercised over broadcasting, which was owned and operated as a government monopoly throughout the colonial period, a legacy inherited by the postcolonial governments. With the "second wave of democratization," beginning in the 1990s, most African governments opened up the airwaves to private enterprise and removed many of the restrictions on the press. …

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