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Africa Investigates

The African story, told the African way

"We were two black Africans doing a job that was normally done by white foreign correspondents."

Last updated: 17 Nov 2011 10:05
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By Stanley Kwenda

I have just finished doing something I never thought I could do. In the past, I have worked as a fixer for foreign journalists in Zimbabwe; used to running around at someone else's beck and call rather than being the 'action man'. For a long time, I wanted to be able to tell the story of my country and my continent on television but never had an opportunity to do so.

After struggling with this for many years, I have now finally had the chance to tell that story in front of the camera. This is unique to me, as like most African journalists, I have become used to our stories being told by foreigners, some with little or no knowledge of the local landscape or culture. 

Often they came with a pre-conceived story idea which they were then forced to change when they were on the ground. And although an experienced journalist in my own right (I have tried several times before to do a story for international broadcasters), they have often been happier to have the story told by their man, and for them to be in control. They fly in reporters, cameramen and producers from Western capitals and use me merely to set up meetings or arrange interviews, to be their driver or even just to act as a human GPS, telling them where to go.

But now, I have finished making my first television documentary for Al Jazeera and I cannot even express the excitement that I feel. I cannot wait to get my career in this business off the ground and to make another one. And Africa has a lot of untold stories. These are no ordinary stories; they are powerful tales about real people in real situations that can change the world and my continent for the better. That is why I shall always be grateful to Al Jazeera for showing confidence in African investigative journalists and giving people like me an opportunity.

Apart from being able to tell the story of my continent in my own words and encouraging democracy, I have learnt a great deal about broadcasting and gained skills which I can use in the future. I know it is a defining moment not just in my career but can also be an inspiration to others like me who never thought they could do it.

It all started in June when I was invited to visit to an Al Jazeera workshop in Accra, Ghana. At first, the journey seemed to be more of a holiday, an adventure in the African jungle, rather than a business trip. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. That week was to be a turning point in my life. In Accra, I met some of the best in the broadcasting industry. Although it took some time to find my feet, it was during this week that I was commissioned to do my first television project, a film called Zimbabwe's Child Exodus - about the difficulties and dangers tens of thousands of children face every year when trying to cross the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa.

Back in Zimbabwe, I was paired with Kenyan television producer/director Peter Murimi. When I drove to the airport to welcome him, I assumed I would meet a bossy man who would make me run around. But there he was: an African like me, quite eager to learn from me, despite the fact that I was a mere green horn who knew nothing in this business.

The following three weeks were to be the most defining moments of my career as a journalist. It was a joy to work with Peter because he understood exactly where I was coming from, since he had also travelled the same road. We faced many hurdles, but somehow we made things work, going through a dozen retakes to get a sequence exactly right or escaping from some of the dangerous situations we encountered.

Peter was patient with me and took me through the tiniest of details in this business, helping me to understand how and why things were done. And him being an African helped a great deal in developing the story that we were following, in understanding the deeper issues behind it. We were two black Africans doing a job that was normally done by white foreign correspondents. But there we were giving our own account in a way which we knew and understood was more genuine.

It happened because Al Jazeera took a gamble on me and threw me into the deep end. They believed in me and kept telling me: "The secret about this business is that there is no secret." And indeed I have learned there is no secret other than believing that you can do it and working hard to tell your own stories.

This series, Africa Investigates, has opened doors for me. Had it not been created, then my dream of being able to tell Africa's story on international television would have remained unfulfilled. But I am not alone. It is a platform to showcase African talents and there are many other fine journalists whose films will feature in the weeks ahead. The fact that Peter and I did this one together is clear testimony that as Africans we can give a global audience an inside perspective that foreign correspondents would never be able to give.

Africa's story has often been about crises, about war, poverty and hunger but Al Jazeera has established a means through which other stories about Africa can be showcased. Those stories may be about Africa's problems too, but in telling them ourselves it shows that we understand them and can work to find our own solutions.


Watch more Africa Investigates for reports by undercover African journalists who face intimidation, beatings and death threats.

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Al Jazeera
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