The importance of African modes of storytelling in journalism

One hundred slides do not prevent the tortoise from entering the pond.

(Burkinabè Proverb)

Based on the example of information diffusion in the Moore society, it is clear that African societies have a long history of what today is called ‘journalism’. If modern journalism in African countries does not consider their own historical experiences, this is partly due to colonisation and to the assertion of a one-way world system. The evolution of African ways of knowing and doing have been interrupted, even punished, giving place to externally driven systems, including African information strategies that could not evolve freely and contemporarily.

On the other hand, the fact that journalism in African countries does not tap into their own peoples’ experiences and heritage is also a lack of will. Ndung’u Ndegwa regrets that, like most African cultures, storytelling has died a gradual and natural death (British Broadcasting Corporation 2004). After many years of independence, should African countries not rethink their paths?

The dire situation of African language media today

In discussing the relevance of African storytelling in contemporary journalism, the aim is not to negate the conventional or universal form of storytelling in journalism. Rather, the purpose is to argue for adopting peoples’ own narrative techniques as a way to make African language journalism more attractive. In fact, it is difficult for journalistic production in African languages, especially newspapers, to emerge, and many of them have disappeared. Salawu (2006a, 2006b) explains that only a few newspapers in African languages in South Africa have survived, and in Ghana, none of them exist anymore.

In Burkina Faso, according to the Publisher’s Association in National Languages (AEPJLN), there are still seventeen newspapers that publish in Burkinabè languages.6 But their situation is dire. During a recent meeting, the AEPJLN explained that the newspapers experience difficulties publishing regularly (LeFaso Net 2018). While the costs of production and transport and the payment of employees is a challenge for profitability', the operators, who were interviewed for this article, point out that the real challenge is that people do not have enough interest to buy these newspapers and are not interested in their online offers. None of these seventeen newspapers tells stories based on the model of storytelling of their local language. In the opinion of Sibidi Dianou, Editor-in-Chief of Tin Tua,1 this is the main reason why they are not experiencing good results. He argues that the lack of interest in newspapers in Burkinabè languages is largely due to the products. ‘There is nothing new or different from the newspapers in the French language’, he says, criticising that the reading of an African language article feels strange if it is written in French rhetorical style.

However, every culture has its own way of storytelling, the methods and modes of which are informed by cultural particularities. The telling of stories in narrative structures that do not align with the cultures of the stories’ intended audience is subversively disruptive. In such cases, one prefers reading the newspaper in French right away, as some readers of newspapers in Burkinabè languages confess.8 Indeed, the Western mode of storytelling, which is simply transferred into African languages, does not match the ‘African ears and feelings’;

the local cultural spirit is not there, and the resulting journalistic output feels artificial to them.

Sibidi Dianou confirms that readers have these kinds of expectations when reading a newspaper in their own language, hence, the necessity to adapt the storytelling to the predisposition of its audience. In doing so, the readers, listeners and viewers would realize that the narrative is not amiss, but a creative one that is inspired from their culture and history'. This could instigate people, even if just for the emotional attachment to their culture, to get interested in the product. It is just like the pleasure that someone gets from reading a well-written book.

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