AFRICAN journalists investigating corruption and movement of small arms, but who are blocked by repressive official secrets acts across the continent, will now have their job simplified, writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
A new project dubbed Ujima,will use the Freedom of Information Act in developed countries to tap classified material in African countries especially on disbursement of donor funds, major grants and other information including purchase of weapons.
The project, spearheaded by Ron Nixon, a New York Times reporter, attempts to bring transparency to the workings and spending of African governments, multinational nongovernmental organisations and businesses in African countries.
"These documents are available in the U.S. and U.K. but are difficult to get for many African journalists; few African countries have freedom of information laws," Nixon said.
The information will be stored in a database that will then be availed to journalists.
Organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been involved in financing, but the actual implementation and expenditure has been hard to monitor because documents are not available.
In some cases, the information is public but tends to be scattered among governments in the U.S. and Europe as well as international organisations like the Global Fund.
"The databases provide valuable information and insights to journalists in Africa," said Elia Serra, an online journalist. "At first I thought the project was about the usual investigative stuff, but the technology bit gives it new dimension."
The Ujima Project was founded to support the training of Rwandan journalists but has grown to serve Burundi, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It will be presented at this week's Power Reporting 2009 conference taking place in Johannesburg.
"We will be posting documents on grants, contracts and weapon purchases between African governments, NGOs and American corporations, which will allow journalists to follow up and ask the right questions," Nixon said.
The project is currently uploading documents for more than 1,200 projects supported by the U.K. Department for Foreign and International Development in Africa.
The project is also expecting to grow to include Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa.