All roads led to the University of Ghana in Accra in the first week of November 2018. Academics from across the continent and beyond in the communication, media and journalism disciplines gathered at the country’s oldest campus to forge greater cooperation and research capacity.
For the first time a range of key players were brought together: National Coordinating secretary, African Council for Communication Education (ACCE), Nigeria: President, East Africa Communication Association (EACA); Present and past President of the South African Communication Association (SACOMM); Immediate Past President of the International Communication Association (ICA) and the ICAfrica Communication President.
They agreed to work to develop existing linkages into an Africa-wide association that could support both seasoned academics and emerging scholars. They also explored the possibility of working alongside the multi-media South African media website, The Journalist, and transform it into a continental platform.
The conference described as the Africa Regional Conference of the International Communication Association – was held in Accra, Ghana from 7-9 November. Seasoned journalist and Dean of the School of Information and Communication Studies, Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, welcomed over 200 participants to her campus. In her opening message, she said the Local Organising Committee received a tremendous response to the call for papers under the theme African Digital Cultures: Emerging Research, Practices and Innovations. These papers were constituted into almost 60 sessions spread over the two main days. “We also have 29 papers from students and early scholars who will receive one-to-one guidance on their research from senior academics during the mentoring session,” she said.
The gathering was the brain child of Professor Agnes Lucy Lando, of Daystar University in Kenya but also serves as Africa representative on International Communication Association (ICA) Executive Board and its African chapter, ICAfrica. The first International Communication Association (ICA) Africa regional Conference was held in Nairobi in October 2016. At this conference which brought together African and Western scholars, Professor Lando explained that she had become painfully aware during her first ICA Annual Conference in Washington; Seattle in 2014, that African participation was inadequate. “I looked around and saw so few of my colleagues from the continent,” she said. This spurred her to invite ICA to the Continent; and to organise this conference focusing mainly on the continent and African scholars from the diaspora.
When the 2016 conference took place, the East, South and West Africa communication bodies boasted of no continental association that could bring them together. “Past failed attempts to build a continental communication body in Africa might have left bitter tastes in the mouths of many,” observes Professor Lando. “Africa has a choice to be transfixed to the past and its aftermaths, or honestly take the future on and collaborate,” she said. “While National, regional and international communication Associations are vibrant in the West, there is limited dialogue across the Atlantic divide.”
After the 2016 conference, ICA returned to support Professor Lando and her team in conducting a three-day academic training workshop at Uganda Martyrs University in Entebbe, themed Growing Communication Research and Scholarship in Africa through Training and Mentorship.
For both Professor Lando and Professor Rodny-Gumede, the time has come for this sector to be organised continentally so that it can be part of the global discussion on how to internationalise media and communication studies.
Some of the major international organisations such as the International Communication Association (ICA) and International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) have grappled with such questions without a major contribution from Africa.
Lando and Rodny-Gumede intend strengthening the work that media and communication associations such as the East African Communication Association (EACA) and SACOMM do. This will help to lay the basis for the next Africa-wide gathering expected to take place in 2020.
Professor Ylva Rodny-Gumede, President of the South African Communication Association. (SACOMM) observed that “one of the first decisions to be implemented will be the setting up of a list-serve of all conference participants and extending this to include other academics and emerging scholars in this field. This will begin to lay the basis for an African Continental Communication Academic Association”.
The Accra gathering also introduced participants to opportunities available to them to participate in national, regional, continental and international conferences. A special focus provided practical advice on how participants could fully benefit from these conferences to enhance their research capacities, increasing their public profile as scholars, and contributing to the support of scholarship in Africa.
Ultimately, ICAfrica’s intention is to have the communication bodies and associations in Africa collaborate internally with each other as well as with external bodies, said Professor Lando. “Through ICAfrica, we have a platform for our media and communication associations on the Continent to continue the discussion of establishing points of mutual collaborations and benefits,” she said. “Part of the work will be in identifying a range of partners that we can cooperate with,” she said.
The African media and communication associations also host their own conferences and during the 2018 SACOMM conference for example, held in South Africa, gathered 200 scholars from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Swaziland, Namibia, Malawi, Australia, Sweden, England, the United States, including activists and civil society representatives as well as media houses and journalists. “Bringing scholars, civil society and the media professions together is a way to form broader networks that can rally around, and contribute research to, a wide array of communication challenges and disruptions that face contemporary society, “said Professor Rodny-Gumede.
The next SACOMM conference will be held in September 2019 at the University of Cape Town where these discussions will be continued and preparation made for an Africa-wide meeting in 2020.
For more information, contact Prof Ylva Rodny-Gumede, the East African Communication Association, the African Council for Communication Education’s Dr. Danjuma Gambo or ICAfrica’s Sr. Prof. Agnes Lando.