FORMER South African President Thambo Mbeki will lead a galaxy of global personalities to Kenya next month and will preside over a Pan African Media Conference that will seek a path for traditional media in the face of rising citizen journalism, writes Dennis itumbi for journalism.co.za.


But already bloggers and journalistSS' unions across the continent are protesting that they have been left out of the panels in the conference.

"It is common knowledge that when the Gambian Journalists  were arrested and locked up it was the bloggers who brought global attention on their plight; in the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2008, it was the bloggers who combined and brought back sense, we cannot ignore that social media is the way to go…" Kevin Karaya, who owns a breaking news website in Kenya, said in an interview.

"We are about to roll out a very serious initiative, that will begin agitating that we have at least three people with credible blogs or websites to represent us on the panels. We will not continue sitting on the sidelines - we have to be heard."

Mohammed Selmi, who blogs on policy issues from Mogadishu, expressed similar disappointment: "The media agenda on the continent remains a leather seat affair, it's time they understood that citizens are taking charge of how they are informed."

According to its official programme, the Nairobi conference will see sitting presidents, scholars, media practitioners and a host of editors discuss topics that include, "media beyond political leadership, how has Africa been shaped by its image in both the local and international media, governance, democracy and alternative perspectives and reporting change and crisis in Africa."

"You cannot pretend to sit and shape the future of journalism for the next decade without unions that represent journalists at the front table," Jacque Ooko, the President of the Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK) said in an interview.

"We will sponsor journalists to the forum to pass that message," said Ooko.

A Rwandan journalist who requested not to be named for fear of reprisals questioned the wisdom of inviting Kagame as a keynote speaker at a time when media freedom was an issue in Rwanda.

The journalist, who will attend the Nairobi forum, said on condition of anonymity, "We will take the debate to Nairobi, we will ask political leaders to allow the media to be and we will also introduce fresh debates in the programmes."

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Dr. Mohamed "Mo" Ibrahim, Trevor Ncube, publisher of the Mail & Guardian and media entrepreneur, David Dadge, IPI Director, Austria, former Ghanian President John Kuffour, and Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai,  are among the confirmed participants.

Others include, Dr. Mohamed "Mo" Ibrahim, the enterprenuer who has been sponsoring an annual  cash prize for the best African leader, Ali Mufuruki, the current leader of the Tanzania CEOs’ Round table, Professor Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), and Prof. Guy Berger of Rhodes University.