A good news man in Africa

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In Britain, journalism's reputation is at an all-time low. Elsewhere, it is easier to see its potential as a force for good. Simon Kelner reports from Tanzania on a project that has visibly improved the quality of local life

Tanzania

Cut through a wattle forest, the dirt track to Lupembe does not afford the visitor from Europe an easy ride. From the nearest main road, it's a three-hour, bone-jarring journey – "an African massage," my companion said – to the heart of Tanzania's tea-growing country, through countryside that is more reminiscent of northern Europe than of Africa. It was the tail-end of the rainy season, and the verdant, rolling hills spoke of Derbyshire or the Dordogne.

We were now 13 hours by road from the bustle, humidity and ubiquitous Premier League football shirts of the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. But despite the remoteness and the poor living standards in the village we visited – limited access to running water and dwellings built from mud – there were very clear manifestations of a community connected to the wider world.

Everyone, it seemed, had a mobile phone and the only visible commercial activity here was based around mobile communication.

There was a shop where you could pay to have your battery recharged and at least two other establishments advertised themselves as part of the M-Pesa network, the mobile money transfer service which millions of Tanzanians prefer to traditional banking. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that the people of Lupembe and those like them – Tanzania has a population of 45 million and the vast majority live in rural communities – have anything other than a rudimentary grasp of what's going on beyond their immediate surroundings. In one of the least urbanised countries on Earth, the concept of regional media does not really exist: there are very few local newspapers and most local radio stations are music-based.

The inhabitants of Lupembe, however, are lucky. The newspaper Kwanza Jamii – the translation from Swahili means "Community First" – was established as part of a charitable organisation in 2010, and it has taken its vocation very seriously. Based in Njombe, the nearest big town, the newspaper has a mandate to serve the interests of its readers in a sizeable and remote catchment area – the paper circulates anywhere within 60 miles of its main office – and, for Lupembe, this has had very tangible benefits.

The individual tea growers of the area had long felt exploited by the major corporations and had been manoeuvred into a disadvantageous position through restrictive contracts and anti-competitive practices.

The newspaper took up their case with a series of campaigning articles and gradually things began to change.

In his office – a basic shack whose only decoration on the walls was a licence to serve drink – the village leader told me: "It was the first time we felt that people were on our side. We never thought we had any rights, but the stories in the paper gave us the courage to fight." As a result of Kwanza Jamii highlighting this issue and the new demands of the growers, the buyers agreed to a price rise of 20 TZS (1p, or 10 per cent) for a kilo of leaves. As a result, more money has come into the local economy and villagers are now taking it upon themselves to build more water pipes and a new dispensary.

"This has only happened because of the paper," said the village chief.

Njombe is a bustling town with a population of around 100,000 and one major road, either side of which all the area's commerce seems to take place.

There is still a colonial influence here, where the British established the first company farming wattle trees, used in the production of creosote. The jaded countenance of the nearby Kibena Country Club can't disguise the colonial glory days – most evident in the honours boards around the bar proclaiming, for instance, who was the squash champion in 1960. The town has become home to Ben Taylor, an urbane, softly-spoken Mancunian who first came to Tanzania in 1999 as a volunteer directly after leaving university. He was meant to stay for six months, but it turned into six years. After completing his Masters, he returned to the country to work for WaterAid and it was during this time that he properly fell in love – with the country, and specifically with a Tanzanian woman, now his wife – and that he also became dismayed with the way civic life was organised.

"I began to see a lot of NGO anti-poverty initiatives in a different light," he explained. "So much thought was put into coming up with new ideas and so much money was being directed into implementing them and yet a huge amount of this effort and expense was wasted because of petty corruption on a local level and a lack of accountability." This insight was epitomised by an NGO project in a nearby village which would provide iron sheets for roofing to women who had been widowed through HIV/Aids. The village leader was asked to draw up a list of deserving cases. "What could have been a very worthwhile project," says Taylor, "became an exercise in sexual corruption, the village leader only including on the list the names of women who would have sex with him."

A disenchanted Taylor resolved to find a way to fight this type of abuse of the system. "I realised that if those in authority felt they were being scrutinised," he said, "it would be much harder for them to abuse their position."

Taylor quickly arrived at the solution to the problem: a newspaper. He has no background in journalism, but is a firm believer in a newspaper's role in holding authority to account, in scrutinising the activities of local politicians and in engaging a community in the democratic process.

He left WaterAid in 2009 to set up a charitable organisation called Daraja (the Swahili word for "bridge"). A year later, he hatched Kwanza Jamii, with the help of the DfiD-funded Tanzania Media Fund. The paper, which publishes once a fortnight, quickly earned the favour of its readers (paid-for circulation is around 3,000, but readership is many times more given the propensity in Tanzania for people to "rent" newspapers by the hour) and the respect of those in authority. Within a year, Taylor had launched a second edition of the paper, based in the more prosperous market town of Iringa, some three hours towards Dar es Salaam.

By shining a light on poor practices at clinics, or the misuse of funds directed to schools, or the improper sale of community-owned, the Kwanza Jamii papers have fulfilled their ambition to spur the authorities into action, and to improve the living conditions of the community.

At the same time, local politicians have felt the heat of scrutiny. Even the District Commissioner of Iringa, an imposing former army officer and not the sort of man with whom you'd pick an argument, was grudgingly respectful of the paper's role.

While he felt that newspapers' main purpose should be educational rather than investigative, he admitted that the focus on social issues helped him to "know what people had in mind". Independent journalism is still in its infancy here – freedom of the press in Tanzania is a relatively recent concept, going back only to the mid-1990s, when the country emerged from the hegemony of a one-party state – and newspapers do not attract the brightest and the best. Someone said to me: "If you do badly at college, you become a teacher. And if you do really badly, you become a journalist."

I was in Tanzania as a representative of The Journalism Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation established by Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of The Independent, to demonstrate that free journalism is a fundamental plank of democracy and can have a direct and positive effect on people's lives.

Ben Taylor's project proves this beyond argument. We are now working with Taylor and Kwanza Jamii to raise funds in an effort to extend the reach of his papers, to bring community-first journalism to more people in the poorest areas of rural Tanzania, to educate, engage and empower them and, ultimately, to help change lives.

See www.thejournalismfoundation.com for more details on how you can help make a difference. Simon Kelner is chief executive of the Journalism Foundation

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
Ministry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Richard Dawkins is known for his outspoken views
people
Life and Style
L’Auberge du pont de Collonges (AFP)
food + drinkFury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Arts and Entertainment
Bourne's New Adventures dance company worked with 27 young Londoners to devise a curtain-raiser staged before New Adventures' performance of Edward Scissorhands
theatreStar choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links