A New Approach to Transnational Investigative Journalism: an African Perspective


On the occasion of its tenth anniversary, the German association of investigative journalism Network Recherche, organized a panel discussion on the importance of transnational investigations in investigative journalism. The event was held in Hamburg on July 1 and 2.

Three specialists in this field shared their experiences with a very mixed audience: Blaz Zgaga from Slovenia, Anna Marie Cumiskey, from UK and Eric Mwamba, chairman of FAIR, the Forum of African Investigative Reporters, the only African delegate. Western audience appreciated very much Eric Mwamba’s presentation as a new perspective on transnational investigative journalism. Using his articles “Killing soccer in Africa” and “Social bandits”, Eric Mwamba talked about how FAIR involved many qualified journalists in the choice of the subjects, the procedures to choose the team, criteria, methods, collaboration of media and how local crime has ramifications on the international level.

Below is part of his presentation.

Soccer corruption in Africa and worldwide was entering the spotlight in 2009, when it was clear that the World Cup was to be held in South Africa. Some FAIR members were already investigating, or had raised plans for more thorough investigations, into claims that the World Cup event would bring only good to Africa. The famous FIFA investigator and exposer of corruption, Andrew Jennings, had started talking with Nigeria’s top investigative journalist in the sports field, Olukayode Thomas. A FAIR team investigation was also conceptualized early in 2009.

Then, in november 2009, journalist David Ayuk was attacked in Cameroon. You may know that Cameroon is the home of FIFA deputy president and CAF president Issa Hayatou. David Ayuk was beaten up by a band of thugs soon after he had started investigating where Issa Hayatou got his wealth. He was so severely traumatized that he never wrote another story. Since he became a farmer. Thankfully, his editor, Chief Bisong Etahoben, who directs the only investigative weekly in Cameroon; Olukayode Thomas from Nigeria; Anas Aremeyaw Anas from Ghana, Dumisani Ndlela from Zimbabwe, Ken Opala in Kenya and others, came together under the FAIR umbrella to carry the story forward. This was now a FAIR transnational team investigation. And it was even more than that: it was an Arizona project.

The name ‘’Arizona project’’ comes from a similar initiative that was taken for the first time in Arizona, in the US in 1976. When reporter Don Bolles was killed by criminals he was investigating, the American investigative journalists association IRE -IRE is FAIR’s big sister- called out its journalists to come to Arizona to finish the story. They did. Thirty-eight reporters, working for twenty media houses, then published the story that the criminals who killed Don Bolles had tried to keep quiet. FAIR thought that, after the attack on David Ayuk, we should attempt something like that. Even though the circumstances were different, the same message should be given by colleagues of a journalist who was attacked. That message is: “You can silence a journalist, but you cannot kill the story.”

Our story covered soccer corruption and crime, and international complicity by FIFA, in eight African countries. We were able to show that FIFA is not on the side of soccer development in the third world, but on the side of the corrupt plunderers of our countries.

Our story was published in all eight African countries that were covered, in widely read media, it has been quoted by radio and TV and was carried in four western countries -the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Spain. In Cameroon and Ivory Coast, the consequences were immense. A tsunami of publicity led to what is now a formal enquiry. Soccer discontent in Ivory Coast, galvanized by the exposure we created, played a part in the recent removal of president Laurent Gbagbo.

So in our way, we can say that we conducted a fairly successful Arizona project. We were even congratulated by sister organisations in other parts of the world for keeping the idea of the Arizona project alive. We don’t hope that another reporter gets attacked for doing an investigation, of course. But IF it happens, we hope that we, and other colleagues, will be ready again to finish the story. Because the silencers must not win. Besides the fact that this transnational investigation was an Arizona project, I must also still say something about what a transnational investigation as such means to us. We have done four ‘TI’s, as we call them and only the soccer TI was an Arizona project. So, ‘Arizona’ or not, the true meaning of a well-executed TI is the international impact that it has.

A story about a corrupt person in your own country is only a story about an individual, and even a story about a corrupt government is only really material to the people who are governed by that government. But if you look at corruption, exploitation or crime with a transnational focus, you start to see patterns. A company that bribes leaders in one country does the same in another. A failing state in once country has parallels with a failing state in another.

You start to see that there are causes, and consequences, that have material meaning for all of us. For example, our ‘Social bandits’ TI showed that people in some African areas start to depend more on ‘Robin Hood’ type gangs than on their governments. This raises questions that we are all interested in, for example about development aid. A new project that we have in the pipeline wants to research the rich Africans -a kind of Forbes list for Africa.

Again we hope that it will raise many questions that it will break through stereotypes and of course we hope that it will again have an international impact. We hope it will be interesting to YOU. We hope that we can on the basis of transnational investigations, start talking to each other about things that we are all curious about. And maybe, just maybe, then we can start to talk about doing more and more investigations, also together. Together, as we say, dig deeper, aim higher and find more truth.


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