A two-day regional conference focused on strengthening union leadership within the media industry in Eastern Africa opened in Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday with a clarion call to journalists in the region to overcome their apathy toward advocating for their worker rights. The conference was organized by the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) with support from the Solidarity Center.
Speaking at the opening session, the French Ambassador to Kenya and Somalia, Etienne de Poncins, lauded the important role EAJA and journalists in the region play in advancing the cause of freedom of the press and worker rights.
De Poncins called for enhanced protection of journalists by state and non-state actors in the region and better working conditions by their employers. In addition, he encouraged journalists union leaders to intensify their efforts to improve journalists’ working conditions through better union organizing.
De Poncins has thrown the weight of the French government behind supporting the struggle led by EAJA for security, press freedom, and journalists’ rights. “You have the full support of my government and I am here to confirm it,” he said.
The conference brought together leaders and representatives of journalists unions from nine Eastern Africa countries: Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda.
“For numerous Eastern Africa journalists, poverty pay, job insecurity, poor working and living conditions, disregard of health and safety, summary dismissals, physical assaults, abuse, and even murder are risks they face while performing the profession of journalism,” said Omar Faruk Osman, EAJA secretary general.
“It is impossible to win the struggle for press freedom and freedom of expression without securing decent working conditions for journalists,” added Osman. “We are committed to fight fire with fire on both press freedom and worker rights of journalists in chorus.”
Hanad Mohamud, Solidarity Center East Africa program director, told conference participants that journalists play an important role as catalysts of democracy amid many challenges.
“This important role of journalists is often restricted through legislation and other challenges including poor remuneration. Journalists unions must begin to play a more active role in addressing violations of their members’ worker rights,” he said.
The conference was also addressed by veteran trade unionist Andrew Kailembo, former general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions –Africa (ICFTU-AFRO), who recalled the important role journalists played in the liberation struggles against the yoke of colonialism in Africa, citing the cases of South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya among others.
Kailembo said the challenges facing the journalists union could only be meaningfully confronted by relying on “the core values and principles of trade unionism, namely, worker unity and solidarity, strong independent trade unions, social justice, democracy, and good governance.”
Osman said the conference was part of an ongoing initiative to democratize and strengthen journalists unions in the region in order to enable them to advocate effectively for the rights of journalists.
The conference, which ends on Friday, is focusing on trade union leadership, trade union governance and democracy, gender representation and streamlining trade union membership, improving internal discipline and operation, and developing a code of ethics for EAJA’s affiliate unions.