The East Africa’s media landscape is distinctly fascinating as shown by the three independent country reports -accessible via our EAST Library.  The studies were guided by the DW Academy Media Viability Indicators (MVIs) which consider five key aspects: politics, economy, technology, community, and content.

Here are five thought-provoking findings you might not have known about East Africa’s media ecosystem.

I).The Covid pandemic punctured Ad boom

Kenya was East Africa’s most prominent media ad spender, East Africa’s biggest economy shelled out $1 billion in commercials as of December 2019. However, revenue from advertising has recently been hit hard by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In Tanzania, ad revenues have been declining for a long time,  but the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Analysts blame stiff competition from new entrants into the media space who have taken advantage of digital platforms for declining ad revenue.

Uganda’s $0.05 daily tax on social media users may have increased government revenue but has harmed the previous access and consumption of media sites Ugandans enjoyed before the tax, and thereby limited the digital ad revenues for media outlets.

Journalists interview Kenyan lawmaker Mohamed Ali, a former investigative journalist who now owns a radio station in Mombasa, Kenya.

II). Politics constantly attempting to influence media 

Another critical finding from the study is that companies that buy ad campaigns in Kenya have strong links to the political elite. As a result, some of them occasionally seek to manipulate media content. The government subtly attempts to influence the media too.

“Why would the government be re-introducing new pieces of legislation that have been declared unconstitutional by the courts of the land as going against freedom of expression and other democratic gains?” Dr. Erneo Nyamboga, a media scholar and lecturer at Moi University, asked. He gives an example of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Amendment Bill 2021, seeking to amend the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act (2018).

In neighbouring Tanzania, potential advertisers have to walk a tightrope, and many avoid media that are critical of the government for fear of reprisals.

Uganda’s current legal framework does not support media growth, and some laws even seek to suppress and control the press. In addition, frequent internet shutdowns by the government during elections and the switching off of radio stations – Ugandans rely heavily on radio for news and information – significantly undermines freedom of expression.

III). Technology- budding space for East Africa’s digital news content

With the proliferation of social media and increasing internet access, the digital space is a boom and a curse for East Africa’s media industry.

Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, is one of the most expensive cities to purchase internet bundles. Nevertheless, access to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) has seen a steady increase, particularly in Tanzania mainland.

At least 40% of Ugandan journalists used cyber cafes and shared computers to access the web five years ago. But the country is now experiencing exponential growth in accessing and using ICT. More than 18 million Ugandans are now connected to the internet, the majority of them via smartphones. However, like in Tanzania, internet connectivity is still high for many Ugandans.

On the contrary, more than 85% of Kenyans were connected to the internet in 2020, the highest internet penetration in Africa, according to a ranking by Internet World Stats (IWS). Tanzania had 39% and Uganda 37 %, respectively. In addition, approximately 2.8 million people in Kenya get their news digitally every day.

 IV). Content- Need to improve quality to attain media viability

Tanzania boasts the most print publications in East Africa. However, since the establishment of the Fifth Republic, authorities have enacted new legislation and enforced existing laws that stifle independent reporting and restrict the work of media, non-governmental organisations, and political opposition groups.

The Kenyan media landscape  is considered one of Africa’s most developed. But while Kenyan reporters are highly qualified, there is a considerable gap in journalists specializing in covering thematic issues such as the environment, law, foreign policy, science, and other relevant topics.

In Uganda, most broadcast media organisations prefer to hire professionals who are not necessarily journalists but focus on entertainment that attracts a large audience. Those who engage trained journalists go for diploma holders instead of degree holders since the latter demand more pay.

V). Community changing news consumption habits.  

More and more Tanzanians are turning to social media platforms to connect, interact, debate, and share stories from mainstream media. The trend is so popular that the government decided to intervene with regulations to monitor the space. Citizen journalism is thus becoming an essential aspect of Tanzanian media by helping address issues that mainstream media would have otherwise neglected. However, comparatively low media literacy rates may limit true audience engagement and participation in the medium term.

The ideal way to reach Ugandans with news is via radio. Although social media is gaining popularity, an estimated 87% of citizens own a radio.

Radio Mixer – Innovations and Technological advancements is key to media 

“This is a vital finding in the face of perceptions that technology has greatly changed the media landscape with most Ugandans relying on social media,” Emilly Maractho, researcher and media lecturer at Uganda Christian University, said. “This heavily played out during the 2021 elections in Uganda with disappointing results for those who relied on social media to read the pulse of the election.”

By contrast, traditional news media in Kenya is in fact under pressure from social media newsmakers. Bloggers, influencers, and content makers are quick to break stories that mainstream media otherwise ignored but, after picking traction online, become stories of the day.

Conclusion:   The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa. To find out more you should read the full report here: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania.

About the Author

Author ProfileChris Mwakideu
Chrispin Mwakideu works as an editor, moderator and planner at the Africa desk of the international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

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