Behind the Headlines with Hannane Ferdjani of Africanews
Algerian-Nigerien journalist Hannane Ferdjani grew up in Burkina Faso, but has studied and worked in France, China, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. A former producer at France 24 and freelance journalist, Hannane wakes up with Pointe-Noire, Congo as the anchor of Africanews’ The Morning Call. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke to the rising star about Francophone Africa’s rapidly developing media landscape and the nitty gritty behind African headlines.
How does the Francophone news space differ from Anglophone media?
I’ve been based on the continent for about 9 months, but even when I lived abroad, I would come back to Africa quite often. In my experience, I have noticed that the Anglophone parts of Africa tend to have a more diverse media landscape. What I’ve observed in countries like South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana is that there are often a lot of ways for journalists to convey their stories from television to newspapers to digital spaces like blogs.
Generally speaking, you don’t find that as much in Francophone Africa; however, it does change from country-to-country, of course, depending on their openness to journalism and governance, which plays a large role in whether or not journalists have the ability to practice their craft. For instance, Côte d’Ivoire, which is becoming an investment hub in Sub-Saharan Africa, the liberalization of media is still missing which makes the national channel the primary channel that people watch. There aren’t many other outlets or other TV stations that can compete. Despite Côte d’Ivoire’s advances, there isn’t as much diversity in the Ivorian case, which shows how much Francophone Africa has to catch up to other parts of Africa in order for people to have a real voice or opinion.
Have you encountered any challenges regarding press freedom? Do you ever feel the pressure to alter the tone of your stories?
When I was in Paris, I worked with FRANCE24 where I primarily helped the newsroom’s Africa Desk, but I was also sent to do a report on Boko Haram on the Niger-Nigeria border. I never felt that the way that I told the story was being censored; however, I have found, especially working in international media, that the editorial line was often not one that I wanted to be a part of. That ignited my desire to come back to Africa and work in the field—that’s why I decided to leave Paris and move back to West Africa. Initially, I did quite a bit of freelancing for different media outfits, but the difficulty of freelancing is that the stories that you want to write about are often not the stories people want to publish or broadcast the most. That’s when the editorial line can play a role in shaping prevailing narratives—the stories we want to hear are not always the ones being told. It’s shifting, but not as fast as I, or many of my fellow African journalists, might like.
What types of stories are you most drawn to?
I’ve mainly worked on subjects covering politics and security matters because of my background in political science, but I’ve come to the point where I’ve realized I’m not as interested in those topics as I used to be. When I decided to move back to the continent, like many “returnees,” I became more attracted to success stories, entrepreneurship, and culture—urban, millennial trends rather traditions and customs. I’m interested in the people changing the African landscape in this day and age.
I’m interested in hearing your perspective on the returnee phenomenon in Francophone Africa. There has been a lot of buzz about the phenomenon in Ghana and Nigeria, but what do you think of it in the places you’ve lived and worked in—Burkina Faso, Niger, and Congo.
That’s where the difference between Francophone and Anglophone Africa becomes quite noticeable. My mother is from Niger and my father is from Algeria, and one thing that has always been a shame is the dichotomy between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, which aren’t well-integrated because the North often considers itself more part of the Arab world. I’ve always tried to bridge that gap because I believe it’s in the interest of both regions. In less stark ways, I think the same holds true for Francophone and Anglophone Africa.
Even in the Francophone world, in countries like Burkina Faso or Niger, where I’m from, people do return home when they find opportunities. But the difference between Nigeria and Kenya and places like Congo or Niger is that it’s still very small set. Among the returnees, there are very few who come back and are ambassadors or representatives of this new generation. In Francophone Africa, those who come back tend to be in the business, rather than the media, world, which effects the media landscape in a way. You won’t find as many young journalists in countries like Niger or Burkina Faso. That’s where I think i’ve found the most differences. I went to Lagos recently where I connected with people that I had followed on social media. Those people came from diverse backgrounds, but all had an interest in developing the media space in Africa. That community is much smaller in Francophone Africa. The one exception, perhaps, is Cote d’Ivoire, where there are many activists and bloggers although the traditional media space (television, radio, newspapers) are slightly smaller.
What phenomenon on the continent do you think deserves greater attention than its receiving—whether that be in the African media space vs. international media?
Now I work for Africanews, which launched a month and a half ago. The editorial line of channel is discuss anything Africa. The newsroom is truly pan-African because we’re aiming for a pan-African perspective, which is not always easy to do. We have people from Kenya, Ghana, Benin, Niger, Cameroon, etc.— not from all over, but definitely representative of all Africa’s regions. One of the challenges we face is how to come together. As Africans, we have a tendency to group ourselves as “Africans,” but we simultaneously like to highlight our differences to Westerners. We’re not a borderless region. We have distinct cultures and histories, so how do we reconcile identity and distinctiveness with our common points, which are something to be proud of and advocate for? We’re still figuring out how to tell that story and make sense of the narrative. On our show, we aim to have a pan-African perspective on every topic, and try to make it compelling for every African. If we’re talking about something in Burkina Faso, we still want to make it resonate for someone in Kenya. We want our audience to understand that integration—political, economic, and social—will help us move forward. What some like Diane Audrey Ngako of Visiter l’Afrique is doing to make us look inside the continent instead of directing our gaze outward because we tend to all refer to ourselves in regional blocs or as individual countries instead of developing more continental connections. As a North and West African, I feel the need to bridge all those regions.
What do you think makes a successful journalist?
In my opinion, from my young career, is that drive and resilience are the most important factors. Before I started in this field, I was told that it was going to be way too hard and I wasn’t going to make it. I’m still developing and growing in my field, but if I could talk to that person six years ago, who was very worried about not being able to make it, I would tell her that she was right to be persistent and make an effort. You have to jump on every experience and opportunity that comes your way, and take what you can from it even if you feel it’s not the exact same vein as your final objective. It’s important to know that the end goal is one thing, but you have to build the path as you go along. For African journalists, especially working on the continent, it’s not the easiest place to make it, so you have to make the most of what you have and build your portfolio.
I’d also add passion. The people i know in this field don’t go into journalism to be famous—they go into it because they believe in it, especially in Africa, where it’s probably easier to work at a bank or start a business. To have the passion to pursue the stories that matter to you will keep you going. Even when I have setbacks, I tell myself to remember that I’m doing this because I’m telling the stories that I think should be heard.
In terms of resilience, I’m curious about your impressions about working as a woman in African media, especially in conflict zones.
I’ve worked for two newsrooms in Paris, and for a few months here in Congo, and I wouldn’t say that I’ve found it harder to work in Congo as a woman than working in Paris. The difference, or hardship, that I went through in Paris centered on trying to make my way as a young African woman and trying people to make people understand the importance of African issues. I remember once pitching a story about the Chibok girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram and no one seemed to care, which was hard for me. Even though there are other problems that come with working in Congo, the journalists in our newsroom are in sync and in tune, because we share that common African experience and we want to tell our stories. Even though we all have specific interests, there is a general consensus on what’s important.
As a woman being in Congo and working with fellow Africans, and being in a newsroom where women have senior positions and are at the forefront of the channel, we do still have to confront dealing with different cultures that come from more patriarchal traditions. I think people would assume that working with male African journalists would be difficult due to stereotypes out there, but it hasn’t been hard at all so far. Overall, I haven’t confronted any more sexism in Congo than I have in France.