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BIGSAS Journalist Award 2019 celebrates outstanding reporting on Africa in German speaking media


On 29 October 2019, the BIGSAS Journalist Award was presented for the fifth time. In the presence of a considerable number of guests, the festive ceremony honoured this year’s winners who engaged in outstanding journalism on the African continent.

Around 5.30 p.m. on 29 October 2019 a large crowd gathered in front of the biggest auditorium of the University of Bayreuth’s Building of Law Sciences. People were all smiles while greeting each other and waiting for the auditorium’s doors to open. It was a heterogeneous group brought together by the festive ceremony of the BIGSAS Journalist Award that was given out for the fifth time. In the past ten years, the Award aiming to recognize and reward excellent reporting on the African continent, has made a name for itself in the world of journalism. “Reporting on Africa I have known about this award for some time now”, Anja Bengelstorff, this year’s first prize winner, explained just before the award ceremony. And Katharina Wecker, this year’s runner-up, pointed out: “Ever since I found out about it, I was very excited about the idea of the prize and its goal to support differentiated reporting on Africa in German speaking media and could not wait to submit an article.”

And a successful application it was: Katharina Wecker’s article “Wie Susana als erste Basketballtrainerin ihr Land verändern will” (How Susana wants to change her country by being the first female basketball coach) that was published on the online platform ze.tt hit a nerve with the jury. In 2019, the deciding panel consisted of 14 BIGSAS alumni from eight countries and was chaired by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Helmut Ruppert, former president of the University of Bayreuth, as well as the BIGSAS Alumni Dr. Irina Turner and Dr. Oumarou Boukari. In an elaborate process each member of the jury was sent the entries consisting of a considerable number of print and online articles by various German speaking journalists before choosing which article would receive first and second place. However, this year the jury decided to not only award individual contributions. For the first time, a special issue of a magazine covering the diversity of the African continent in an extraordinary way was also chosen. “Creating a magazine on one continent can be tricky, especially when this continent is Africa. MUT – Magazin für Lösungen has achieved to approach clichés without reproducing them and to shine a true-to-life light on the African presence”, the jury explained their decision.

The editors-in-chief of the MUTmagazin’s special issue named “Afrika anders” (Africa differently), Uschi Entenmann and Tilman Wörtz, as well as the author Rike Uhlenkamp who contributed one article had come to Bayreuth to accept the award on behalf of the whole editorial staff. It is the concept of MUTmagazin to practice constructive journalism always using a monothematic approach. The impetus for choosing “Africa” as theme for one issue came from the large discrepancy between the public assessment of the continent and the actual data of certain indicators of development that were improving over time. “When I read that I knew I wanted to do a magazine on Africa”, Tilman Wörtz remembered. Uschi Entenmann added: “Making the magazine, it was immensely important not to report condescendingly but on eye-level with the people.”

While MUTmagazin covered a whole range of topics in their special “Africa” issue the other two award winners each concentrated on one single story or topic. In Katharina Wecker’s article on Susanna from South Sudan she explored the basketball coach Susan who lives in a region where traditional gender roles still prevail. “I wanted to report on the situation of young people in South Sudan, who have for the most part of their lives have only known war, migration camps or exile. That’s how I met Susana, who is the talk of the town”, the journalist, who works as a freelancer, recounted her article’s origin. The jury summarized its reason for awarding this article second place as follows: “This article is evidence that women can and must make it in a world dominated by men. Susana is an example of rebellion against norms, traditional gender roles and prejudice.”

And finally it was time to crown the winner of this year’s BIGSAS Journalist Award. Anja Bengelstorff had submitted the winning article. “Das langsame Aufbegehren” (The slow protest) deals with yet another important subject. The piece printed in the Swiss Die Wochenzeitung talks about young people who are fighting against their lack of perspective. The ever present high unemployment rates have not dragged them down but sparked their creativity. The article follows various people who actively engage in projects and making them highly valuable members of their respective communities. Anja Bengelstorff who lives in Kenya, sees this development first hand on a daily basis. “I know a large number of interesting committed and confident young people – so I wanted to know more about how they deal with the fact that a rapidly growing young population is confronted with a stagnant or even shrinking number of formal jobs”, the writer explained in her acceptance speech, “Which strategies do they develop in order to build a future under these circumstances?”. Anja Bengelstorff had hoped to strike a nerve with the jury: “My article picks up on a topic that goes beyond a single country. It describes a trend on the continent that is also a global problem. If I was in the jury, something like that would be important to me.” The plan panned out. In their laudation the jury stated: “In this article, the reader gets the impression that the path to self-employment is possible and can be successful in spite of political and societal obstacles. By showing these examples of initiative the article shines a hopeful light on Africa.”

When presented with the awards the laureates each gave moving accepting speeches. Throughout the evening, the BIGSAS Junior Fellows Johanna Sarre and Asaf Augusto entertained the audience while presenting each speaker. As guest of honour, BIGSAS invited the presenter, author, singer and actor Yared Dibaba. The entertainer with Ethiopian roots held his humorous keynote in “Low-German” – a language spoken in Northern Germany. The artist, composer and musician Matchume Zango provided musical entertainment with tunes from his mmother country Mozambique. (sg)

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