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Indigenous media remains a force for development and democracy in Africa

By Larry Ogundeji

The lack of research into indigenous language media has been decried by Prof Abiodun Salawu, the Director of the Indigenous Language Media in Africa (ILMA) research entity at North-West University.

A renowned expert in indigenous language media research, Prof Salawu delivered the keynote address at a colloquium in Sandton, Johannesburg, organised by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) and the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).

Held under the theme “The Role of Indigenous Language Media in Building Engaged Informed Communities”, the colloquium brought together various African language media experts to discuss the way forward for indigenous language media sustainability.

Prof Salawu urged major stakeholders to engage in formulating policies that will strengthen African language media. 

His presentation titled: Indigenous Language Media Participation and Democracy in Africa, said colonially inherited official national languages are killing indigenous African languages because they are the languages of education, power and economic freedom. He added that the youth are losing the cultural and social benefits of a deep understanding of their indigenous languages through this trend.

He reminded the audience that indigenous language media continues to speak life into native languages and urged them to embrace indigenous languages in the print, digital, electronic, social media and other sectors.

The African language press, he said, was always associated with Christian missionary activities because the missionaries felt that the best way to diffuse the beliefs and tenets of their religion was to communicate with the locals in their indigenous languages.  Prof Salawu said the yardstick for the use of indigenous language in evangelism by the missionaries was the same idea that made local language press a veritable tool for democratic mobilization. He added that media were increasingly replacing political parties in stimulating and organising the participation of the masses in the political system.

He categorised the involvement of African language media on the continent into nationalist struggle and post-independence politics by analysing its use in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa. He also identified the pitfalls of local language media in ethnic politics.

In conclusion, Prof Salawu asserted that despite the challenges experienced by indigenous language media, it remained a potent vehicle for mobilising people for developmental goals and called for synergy with the local media. He stressed the need for indigenous language media practitioners to integrate online and social media into their practice in this era of the fourth industrial revolution.

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