The Africa-China Journalists Forum & Photo Exhibition, the Africa-China Reporting Project’s annual gathering of journalists discussing their Africa-China investigations, took place at Wits University on 1 November 2018. This year’s event was a unique occasion with the inclusion of the Africa-China Photo Exhibition, that was moderated by photographer and architect Justin Hui and featuring the photos of Photo Exhibition winner Liu Yuyang and runner-up John Omondi, along with the images of 12 other photographers. The Forum also featured seven investigative journalists discussing their ongoing Africa-China investigations; authors Mukuka Chipanta (A Casualty of Power, 2016) and Kimon de Greef (Poacher. Confessions from the Abalone Underworld, 2018); filmmaker Christiane Badgley (Guangzhou Dream Factory); China House Founder & Manager Huang Hongxiang; and Project Research Associate Yu-Shan Wu on the Project’s major lessons and experiences over the last decade.
Wits Vice-Principal Professor Tawana Kupe opened the Forum and welcomed all attendees. Professor Kupe highlighted the importance of the Africa-China Reporting Project ("the Project") in its support to journalism that is critical important for democracy, economic development and social progress.
Without journalists you will not get the kind of reporting that provides information that empowers citizens and others, including governments, to be able to pursue democratic agendas, economic agendas and social agendas that improve the life of everybody.
Professor Kupe emphasized the particular importance of investigative journalism in fleshing out important issues, and that the Africa-China Journalists Forum should ensure that in all forms of journalism, investigative journalism is not neglected.
Investigative journalism is a painstaking business of looking beyond the appearance and the daily events, of doing serious research, of connecting things that appear not to be connected, and thereby paint the real picture.
Professor Kupe further spoke about the importance of journalists facilitating and advancing global connectivity in a complex world for positive globalisation. Global connectivity is one of the main objectives of Wits University, he concluded, and was crucial for the advancement of the continent, especially in its engagement with China, a rising global, political and economic power.
Advisor to the Project and Coordinator of the Mid-Career Honours Programme at Wits Journalism, Dr Bob Wekesa, reported on the Project's Francophone Africa-China Journalists Training Workshop (Seminaire de formation des journalistes francophones sur le partenariat Afrique-Chine) held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, on 3-4 October 2018. The Project collaborated with the Network for Education Journalists and Communicators based in Cotonou (RJCE-Benin) and the National Union of Journalists of the Ivory Coast (l'Union de nationale des journalistes de Côte d'Ivoire) on the Workshop, that provided practical skills development for journalists from Francophone Africa.
Dr Wekesa explained that the motivation to expand the Project's reach into Francophone Africa was to bridge the language barriers that exist in exchanges and engagements among Africans and other continents such as China and the rest of the world. Since the Project has deployed a huge footprint in Anglophone countries, it was necessary to reach out to the Francophone countries in their engagement with China.
The Workshop was a great success with the participation of 13 journalists from Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Togo. One of the objectives of the Workshop was to encourage Francophone African journalists to apply for reporting grants from the Project and to be able to conduct and publish their findings to inform the public on the dynamics of Francophone Africa and China.
The full report for the Francophone Africa & China Workshop is available here.
In 2018 Project Research Associate Yu-Shan Wu conducted data analysis for an overview of the Project's administration of reporting grants, skills training workshops and other activities at the tenth year of the Project's existence to review the Project's role and evolution to date and future trends.
Yu-Shan's presentation discussed the role and objectives of the Project as a facilitator and capacity builder for journalists in Africa, China and other parts of the world. The Project now has a growing network of over 2,000 journalists and continues to organise collaborations among these journalists and between organisations in Africa, China and elsewhere.
From the review of reporting grants disbursed by the Project from 2012 to 2018, Yu-Shan concluded that the Project awarded 142 grants out of 379 reporting grant proposals received. These consisted of general reporting grants where journalists proposed the topics and countries where they would be conducting fieldwork; and themed grants focusing on specific genres stipulated by the Project, of which the Project awarded 31 grants of 225 proposals received. On average the Project provided 24 reporting grants per year. Yu-Shan emphasized that the Project contributed to reporting of Africa-China relations from within Africa, as opposed to reporting of the continent from the West and other parts of the world. Approximately 80% of the published reports that came from the Project's funding were published in African media. Yu-Shan's overview further assessed the specific countries from where journalists submitted proposals and the extent to which they were supported.
See the video below for Yu-Shan's full presentation.
The first panel of investigative journalists featured Pascalinah Kabi (Lesotho) and Mongezi Phatizwe Zulu (Swaziland). The panel explored their investigations Has the government of Lesotho been captured by a Chinese national? and Swaziland's secret deals with China.
Lesotho Times investigative journalist Pascalinah Kabi outlined that in 2014 the Lesotho Revenue Authority investigated a supermarket owned by a Chinese national in Lesotho, known as John, who was at the time of the investigation being naturalized as a Citizen of Lesotho. John was investigated for tax evasion and found guilty, whereupon his business was liquidated.
Four years later, however, in August 2017, the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane, appointed John as his Head of Special Projects and Prime Minister's Special Envoy and Trade Adviser on China-Asia Trade Networks. Pascalinah presented details on the events that followed the highly contested appointment of John and posed the question whether the government of Lesotho has been captured.
For the published report see Lesotho Prime Minister Thabane disowns controversial trade advisor of Chinese origin.
Swazi journalist Mongezi Phatizwe Zulu's presentation outlined that Swaziland did not have diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC), but with the Republic of China/Taiwan. However Mongezi disclosed from his investigations that Swaziland was undertaking secret deals with Mainland China regardless of its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. His investigations uncovered the secret deals occurring from government, business and citizens, and the dilemma for Swaziland for not having any official diplomatic relations with the PRC, a leading global power and close partner of Africa.
Ugandan journalist Christopher Kiwawulo could not make it to the Forum due to visa complications, but his investigation was subsequently published: How the Ugandan mafia is stealing from Chinese investors.
The second panel featured investigative journalists Malvern Mkudu (Zimbabwe), Christian Locka (Cameroon) and Solomon Tembang Mforgham (Cameroon). The journalists investigated the topics Illicit financial outflows and money laundering: Zimbabwe's externalization list; How corrupt local elites help mining companies illegally exploit gold in Cameroon; and How illegal mining destroys livelihoods, fuels conflict in Cameroon.
Zimbabwean journalist Malvern Mkudu presented his investigation on illicit financial flows and money laundering within the context of the externalization list that was released by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December 2017. According to media reports the externalization list contained over a thousand companies and individuals and also featured Chinese nationals and companies. Malvern presented his investigation on the alleged involvement of Chinese nationals and companies in the externalization of finances from Zimbabwe, how the externalization list was set up and divided, the implications for the listed companies, and analysis of the legislative framework of Zimbabwe.
Cameroonian journalist Christian Locka presented his investigation on how corrupt local elites help foreign mining companies illegally exploit gold in Cameroon. He detailed the consequences of the exploitation as they pose a threat to the livelihoods of Cameroonians, the powers of intervention by the legal officers influenced by corruption and the individuals involved in the corruption. Christian's report was published in French in Le Messager in January 2019.
Journalist and columnist at The Guardian Post, Cameroon, Solomon Tembang Mforgham investigated How illegal mining destroys livelihoods and fuels conflicts in Cameroon, particularly in the eastern region of Cameroon. Solomon explained how semi-mechanised mining began in Cameroon, and how Chinese nationals were taking advantage of the ambiguity in the mining laws of Cameroon. He further detailed how the increased mining activity due to corruption was leading to conflicts between Cameroon and Chinese nationals. He uncovered how the conflict resulted in the deaths of many individuals and impacted the livelihoods of many others.
The third session explored Africa-China narratives and engagements through film and documentary work, fiction, and wildlife activism with authors Mukuka Chipanta (A Casualty of Power, 2016) and Kimon de Greef (Poacher. Confessions from the Abalone Underworld, 2018); filmmaker Christiane Badgley (Guangzhou Dream Factory); and China House Founder & Manager Huang Hongxiang.
In his presentation; Viewing Africa China relations through the lens of fiction, Zambian author Mukuka Chipanta (A Casualty of Power, 2016) related how he came to write his novel by recollecting his background of growing up in a Copperbelt mining town of Zambia. Mukuka narrated a series of events where clashes between Zambian mine workers and Chinese managers were frequently reported in the media, occurrences that inspired him to write his fictional account on Zambia-China relations.
I believe that fiction is not just a great story for enjoyment, I believe fiction can be much more. Fiction can go to places where straight journalism may not be able to touch.
Mukuka was also featured on the China Africa Project Podcast with Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden where he reflected further on his novel, Zambia-China relations, the power of African fictional writing and prospects for the future.
The socio-ecological crisis of abalone poaching has a long history in South Africa, although there are still a large number of networks and communities around the world, particularly in Asia, who are not knowledgeable of abalone poaching and the wider crisis surrounding it but still merely see abalone as sign of luxury. Kimon de Greef, author and wildlife journalist, gave a presentation, A casualty of status: China and South African abalone, based on his new book Poacher: Confessions from the Abalone Underworld (2018). Kimon explored the highly threatened status of abalone, and how illegal abalone poaching has increased over the years, destroying the commercial abalone fishing industry and threatening abalone extinction.
Kimon outlined that illegal abalone import estimates in Hong Kong have exceeded 3,300 tons a year, "which is not a few suitcases but numbers of shipping containers filled with the product".
We basically don't have a commercial abalone fishery anymore, for every kilogram that gets harvested legally, about 30 kilograms are poached, if not more.
The book was co-written with an ex-poacher under the pseudonym Shuhood Abader, who was imprisoned over ten years ago where he began writing his story of abalone poaching while in solitary confinement.
Founder and manager of China House, Huang Hongxiang spoke on The role of China House in engaging Chinese in Africa to combat illegal wildlife trade. Hongxiang began his advocacy in 2011 as a journalist investigating and reporting on labour, mining and environmental conflicts, where he learnt that there was a great communication gap between Chinese nationals, Africans and the rest of the world.
We find a lot of misunderstandings regarding the Chinese community, for example many people speculate that all Chinese eat dogs, and buy ivory.
In addition to the communication gap, Hongxiang found that there was a misunderstanding among Chinese people in Africa regarding African communities and the rules and structures that govern them. The founding of China House in 2014 was intended to address this issue, to conduct research and engage Chinese communities with Africans, and to address the concerns of environmental sustainability in Africa. China House has so far engaged communities in about 20 countries in Latin America and Africa.
Filmmaker Christiane Badgley spoke about her exploration of globalization in China and Africa through the stories of Africans living in the Chinese city of Guangzhou as expressed in her film Guangzhou Dream Factory. The film follows the lives of Africans migrating to China to make a better life for themselves. The most common push factor for many migrants to China was identified as the unsupportive environments for businesses and employment opportunities in Africa. The film explores these economies, along with the complications encountered by Africans living in China, the lack of visa reciprocity between Africa and China, the competition between Chinese and African businesses, growing Chinese-led industrialization in Africa, and other issues.
The Project organised a screening of Guangzhou Dream Factory on 2 November 2018 at Wits University's eMakhaya Theatre.
WATCH: Africa-China Journalists Forum Part 1
WATCH: Africa-China Journalists Forum Part 2
The Photo Exhibition featured 20 images taken by 14 photographers from Africa and China. Justin Hui, Hong Kong-based photographer and architect, moderated a discussion of all the images in the exhibition, and also featured contributions from participating photographers Claire van den Heever, Dr Romain Dittgen and Gerald Chungu, and Luyanda Ndaba.
For the full report of the Photo Exhibition see Africa- China Photo Exhibition 2018 or watch the video below.
Photos by Gabriel Shamu and Onke Ngcuka
Videos by Ndalo Ka Tenza Media
Audio by Wits Central Audio Visual Services (CAVS)