The International Journalists' Network recently spoke with Rahel Kassahun, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Africa Unbound, an online magazine and forum that encourages its audience to play an active role in Africa's development. Launched three months ago, Africa Unbound "explore[s] ways of bringing forth prosperity, wellbeing, peace, and liberation" in Africa, according to the site.
A native Ethiopian now based in Washington D.C., Dr. Kassahun has been working as a consultant for the World Bank since 2002. She has worked with numerous development and government agencies in east and central Africa for the past six years.
IJNet: What is the vision behind Africa Unbound? How does this publication differentiate itself from other publications about Africa and for Africans?
RK: The vision behind Africa Unbound is for each of us to recognize our individual responsibility for our personal development; and by extension, to assume the important role of contributors to our communities. When we incorporate civic responsibility into our daily lives and add value beyond the development of our family nucleus, reaching into community, nation, and world, we shift into our ultimate personal power - we make ourselves useful in ways beyond our imagination.
Africa Unbound aims to engender a paradigm shift in the way we think about and practice development. The prevailing view is that development is the responsibility of governments and international institutions, such as the World Bank and United Nations. While this is true, it is also important to recognize our individual responsibility and role in the development process. We need to focus on the contributions we can make - large and small - that can add to efforts to alleviate poverty and engender growth. Ultimately, we as caring individuals will be playing the role of partners to governments and formal institutions - development for the people, by the people.
IJNet: Is Africa Unbound a development effort, or journalism?
RK: It is both. Using journalism, we are in the process of raising awareness that the development of Africa that we are seeking starts with each one of us and our active participation is critical to our advancement, both individually as well as collectively. The outcome we anticipate through this blended approach is for people to identify ways to add value to nation-building either at the grassroots or macro level. Individual engagement in social change can be self-identified within the scope of one's abilities. Africa Unbound is telling everyone who finds us that they matter, and that they can offer something valuable to their communities.
IJNet: Your tagline is "Unleashing the potential through individual minds." Can you explain this?
RK: As human beings, we have unlimited potential for growth and development. We start realizing this potential as we explore and learn more about ourselves. The process of expanding our awareness - as we unlearn and do away with limiting thought patterns engendered by fear and greed - is a critical element in the effort to unleash our potential for growth. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, to unleash power that effects change which drives confidence and interest in bringing about more change, unleashing even greater power for greater results.
IJNet: Briefly, what was the process to get this publication off the ground? Where did your funding come from? Who was/is your team? How did you get your Web skills up to par?
RK: I started by drafting a concept paper which I shared with a number of people in a variety of disciplines, in various African countries and in the United States. I then held consultation meetings that ultimately confirmed to me that there was a critical need for a publication/forum like Africa Unbound. The formation of the team happened in a very organic way. Some friends who have been supportive of the idea from the beginning naturally found their places in the team and Africa Unbound continues to attract the right people to itself. (Access a profile of the current team here.) The start-up funds for the program came from my savings, and we are currently looking for prospective sources of funds, underwriters, and angel investors. As for my web skills, I am learning by doing with the help of a great programmer.
IJNet: Is your content mainly user-driven? Or do you have a core group of contributors?
RK: Currently, we have a resident columnist, Ms. Adjoa Acquaah-Harrison, whose penetrating understanding of my vision for Africa Unbound is a great asset. We are building a network of regular contributors as we go forward. Some articles have been contributed by writers whose works speak to the Africa Unbound vision while other contributors are writers who have somehow learned about our work and are interested in publishing with us.
IJNet: You accept submissions by users. Do you have any tips to offer African journalists who would like to submit works to Africa Unbound?
RK: There are established guidelines on the ‘Contact Us' page with the criteria for article submission and the format that fits our mission at Africa Unbound. We encourage journalists as well as non-journalists to submit their work for publication and we are available to answer questions. Our email addresses are listed on the ‘Contact Us' page.
IJNet: What advice would you give to someone interested in publishing a magazine online?
RK: The variety of online magazines on the internet today is very impressive. Readers have many options and limited time which challenges the objective or mission of the magazine to be unique in content and relevance, with a view toward attracting a certain audience in order to be sustainable. I feel that anyone interested in publishing an online magazine would not have arrived at the decision lightly and they would have done the necessary research before they launch their initiative. I believe that each of us is inspired in a unique way so there is room for all of us.
IJNet: Is publishing online a barrier to the many African readers who do not have online access?
RK: Yes it is. At the moment, internet access is still very limited and cost-prohibitive in Africa, but the progress made in the last few years is very encouraging. Most countries are investing in the required infrastructure. Well over half of the countries on the continent now have some kind of broadband offer delivered through DSL, wireless or satellite. This type of progress should not only expand access significantly but also lower the cost of using the internet for Africans.
IJNet: Does Africa Unbound represent a new face of journalism/"new media"?
RK: Possibly. We do not have a model that we are trying to emulate. Our objective is to continue to provide an intelligent and respectful medium for communicating with our audience in ways that are conducive to our collective growth. If we, in the process of working to realize our vision, can contribute to the evolution of journalism, it will be a welcomed byproduct of our efforts. Our main interest is to be a catalyst for social change in Africa, encouraging individuals to take hands-on action to improve life for everyone.
For more information, go to www.AfricaUnbound.com. Currently, the site is accessible without the need to log in, but users are encouraged to join - and help cultivate - the community by filling out a short registration form, available here.