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Mongabay discusses the launch of Africa news bureau with director David Akana

An African elephant calf in kruger National Park, South Africa.

An African elephant calf in kruger National Park, South Africa. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

  • Mongabay has launched Mongabay Africa, a new bureau led by program director David Akana, a veteran Cameroonian journalist.
  • Akana’s interest in environmental journalism was sparked when he joined a radio project in 2002 highlighting environmental challenges in the Congo Basin, leading to specialized training and a career centered on the environment.
  • Akana’s vision for Mongabay Africa is to position it as a leading source of African conservation news, prioritizing high-quality journalism, visual storytelling and multilingual content distribution.
  • Akana emphasizes the global significance of African environmental issues, stating that Africa’s response to climate change, biodiversity loss and governance issues directly impacts the world, making Mongabay Africa’s news relevant to a global audience.

As part of an effort to expand African environmental and conservation news coverage, Mongabay welcomed David Akana as the program director of our recently launched news bureau, Mongabay Africa.

David began his career in journalism in his homeland of Cameroon as a writer for The Post Newspaper, before transitioning to broadcasting. He then worked for Radio Reine, Radio Environment, and the Cameroon Radio Television Corporation, while freelancing for Reuters and RFI.

Over the past 10 years, David has been driving innovative environmental journalism initiatives and reporting projects in the Congo Basin as a journalist, media trainer and communications expert. He played a significant role as the managing editor of InfoCongo, the Congo Basin’s first geojournalism platform, and currently serves as a member of the U.N. Ocean Decade’s Strategic Communications Group; an advisory committee member for the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund; and an editorial committee member for Our Planet on Earth.

As program director, David will oversee and manage Mongabay Africa‘s operations in a high-impact leadership role. He shares his thoughts here on the vision and opportunities ahead for the nascent bureau.

Akana meeting former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo
Akana meeting former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London in March 2005. Image courtesy of the Communications Public Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mongabay: What sparked your interest in environmental issues?

David Akana: Interestingly, my career started as a sports reporter, and the environment wasn’t even on my radar. However, everything changed in 2002 when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Central Africa bureau, based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, launched a radio project to highlight the environmental challenges of the Congo Basin. I was hired to be the first English editor, and that’s when my passion for ecological issues began. I received specialized training at the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya, which further propelled my passion for environmental issues. Since then, my work in journalism has centered on the environment.

Mongabay: Why did you become a journalist?

David Akana: My path to journalism was a fortunate series of events. Back in high school, I aimed to become a bilingual teacher or translator. I had been an avid radio listener since elementary school but never considered journalism a potential profession. However, in 1994, Cameroon underwent significant higher education reforms. The University of Buea, the only Anglophone university in Cameroon, introduced a journalism and mass communications program. After graduating in 1996, I applied and was accepted, launching my journey in journalism. It was such an interesting experience that by my second year, I was already offering my services to The Post Newspaper, the only English weekly publication in Cameroon, free of charge.

Mongabay: Why did you decide to take the helm of Mongabay Africa?

David Akana: I was impressed by Mongabay’s track record in recent years, particularly in terms of its editorial content, outreach efforts, and funding. They have consistently published nearly 5,000 stories per year, significantly increased their annual budget to almost $10 million, and built a network of around 90 full-time staff members and hundreds of contributors. Their reach extends to areas of the world where few journalists can report. Their impact within the conservation community is expanding, and their new strategic plan includes diversifying their coverage topics, expanding their geographic reach, pursuing impactful stories, and growing their network of contributors in Africa.

This presents a compelling challenge to be a part of. Over the past decade, I have focused on similar issues within the Congo Basin, albeit on a smaller scale. By joining Mongabay, I have the opportunity not only to help shape the future of one of the most important conservation-focused news platforms but also to expand their coverage to address critical challenges facing Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity, and I am eager to contribute to the growth of Mongabay.

Akana speaking to the media at the Network for the Prevention of Food Security in West Africa event in Cotonou, Benin
Akana speaking to media at an event about food security in West Africa in Cotonou, Benin, in October 2017. Image courtesy of CORAF.

Mongabay: What key issues do you expect to explore via Mongabay Africa?

David Akana: Currently, I am collaborating closely with my peers to assess our current situation, identify areas of success, pinpoint areas for improvement, and brainstorm ways to enhance our overall performance. Regardless of the topic at hand — be it fishing, oceans, desertification, deforestation, illegal logging, mining, or human rights violations — we must prioritize the individuals impacted by these issues. It’s not only about the narratives themselves. We must thoughtfully consider how we present them and where we disseminate them to best reach our intended audience. This could entail modifying our approach to our work and outreach endeavors. Ultimately, visuals, data and other forms of graphical representation are essential components that should be emphasized in our publications.

Mongabay: Do you have a favorite spot in nature?

David Akana: Africa boasts a rich variety of truly breathtaking ecosystems. The continent is home to exceptional coastal regions, diverse forests, and stunning Sahelian landscapes. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many places in Africa and have been awed by the forest landscapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the beautiful beaches of Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, and the natural parks of Kenya and Tanzania.

However, Nairobi National Park holds a special place in my heart. Observing wild animals like lions, buffalos, zebras and giraffes up close was an unforgettable experience. I would love to return to this remarkable location.

Mongabay: What gives you hope?

David Akana: I find hope in the resilience of the people of Africa. During my travels in the past two decades across Africa, I had the opportunity to meet with individuals from various fields and local communities. I observed that these individuals are hardworking and determined. Rather than seeking handouts, they desire an environment that enables them to flourish and provide for their families. Witnessing their perseverance gives me hope.

It is easy to define Africa by the negative news stories that dominate the media. However, Africa is much more than these stories. Many countries are experiencing innovation and unlocking the continent’s potential despite not receiving recognition in the public sphere.

David Akana meeting Queen Elizabeth II
David Akana meeting Queen Elizabeth II at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London on Commonwealth Day on March 14, 2005. Image courtesy of the Communications Public Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Mongabay: How do you see your role in shaping the environmental journalism landscape in Africa?

David Akana: It’s essential to not overpromise. What is key is to set realistic goals and strive to exceed them. African environmental journalism has already made significant strides. When you look at the model of Mongabay, it is about fundraising to carry out reporting of critical conservation issues. We have the potential to make an even more significant impact with independent reporting that addresses gaps in the current coverage, such as incorporating Indigenous perspectives and highlighting key issues in critical ecosystems, with the ability to empower Mongabay’s strategic constituencies. Capacity building is a top priority for Mongabay, meaning that investing in human capital development can enhance our ability to tell impactful environmental stories in Africa in the long term. We shall strive to put in place a strategy around quality editorial work, strategic audience engagement, resource mobilization, impact, and human capital development to the extent we can.

Mongabay: What is your vision for Mongabay Africa under your leadership?

David Akana: Our vision is to position Mongabay as a leading, respected and impactful source of African conservation news. We are committed to providing outstanding journalism and captivating stories. We acknowledge that exceptional journalism can significantly impact resource mobilization and outreach, which is why we will prioritize our editorial work. Additionally, we will focus on visual storytelling and distribution channels that align with African news consumption patterns.

Mongabay: What strategies do you consider to promote multilingual content, especially in French?

David Akana: When you look at the ecosystem of distributing news today on social media, it becomes clear that we must step up our game in this area. To reach our audiences effectively, we must go where they are. Recent studies provide valuable insights into digital news distribution and internet usage in Africa, which should inform our distribution decisions. For instance, we should take advantage of WhatsApp, which has emerged as a major communication source in Africa, and leverage these platforms to boost Mongabay’s growth in the region. Additionally, we should make it a regular practice to position our reporters in prominent media outlets to discuss the findings of their investigations. By doing so consistently, we can significantly increase the potential impact of our work.

Akana leading a training on data journalism for several young environmental reporters
Akana leading a training on data journalism for several young environmental reporters in Lubumbashi in the Haut Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Afterwards, they took a field trip to the Tshangalele Ornithological Center on the outskirts of Lubumbashi to watch birds. Image courtesy of Didier Makal.

Mongabay: What are the biggest challenges facing environmental journalism in Africa today? And how do you envision Mongabay Africa helping to address these challenges?

David Akana: There is a macro environment comprising undemocratic governments and dictatorships antithetical to freedom of the press, transparency and accountability. These are beyond the control of any individual news outlet. However, Mongabay can address challenges related to the quality of reporting and limited human resources. With the support of Mongabay’s robust infrastructure, the quality of environmental reports can be significantly enhanced, leading to the professional development of reporters. Environmental reporting is a genre that can greatly benefit from incorporating data and visuals. In Africa, we have already begun to integrate data into conservation reporting, and with Mongabay’s assistance, we can further improve these efforts.

Mongabay: What opportunities do you see for Mongabay in Africa that haven’t been tapped into yet?

David Akana: Conservation solutions are often overlooked in environmental discussions. However, research and science continuously develop innovative solutions to tackle environmental challenges. It’s crucial to highlight these solutions and utilize data journalism to improve Africa’s environmental narrative.

Furthermore, local communities and Indigenous people’s voices are often left out of environmental conversations. To make our reporting more impactful, we must ensure it’s human-centric and emphasizes the connection between conservation and humans. Lastly, we must clearly communicate the connection between climate, food systems and biodiversity in Africa. Additionally, we must not forget the importance of the marine ecosystem that millions of Africans rely on.

Mongabay: Mongabay has a global audience. Why should people, regardless of where they live, read news from Mongabay Africa?

David Akana: The way in which Africans address the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and food systems will have a significant impact on the future of not only Africa but also Europe, North America, Asia, Latin America and Australia. With an estimated population of 1.2 billion people, Africa is experiencing growth that is both a blessing and a curse. The resulting pressure on biodiversity is a global concern that affects us all. Additionally, reports of corruption among African multinationals are alarming, as such behavior deprives Africa of valuable resources. The international community must remain engaged with these issues, as poor governance can lead to conflict and migration to developed countries. These issues are directly linked to the livelihoods of people around the world.

Mongabay: What are some of your passions outside of journalism?

David Akana: When I’m not working, I love spending time with my family, listening to music, and dancing to the cool rhythms of Congolese rhumba. I’m also a big fan of soccer (Chelsea FC in London) and enjoy watching it every weekend. In addition, I like to stay active by running and jogging, typically covering at least 15 miles every week.

Banner image: An African elephant calf in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Image by Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay.

Mongabay launches Africa news bureau

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