Investigative journalism as a lever for accountability in West Africa

Investigative journalism can play a critical role in the fight against corruption, by exposing corrupt practices and thereby promoting accountability. Indeed, article 13 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption calls for appropriate measures to respect, promote and protect "the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption". In this context, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) aims to strengthen investigative journalism in West Africa since 2014 through training and support for the establishment of a professional centre for investigative journalists.

Recently set up by journalists from across West Africa, the Cell Norbert Zongo for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) is headquartered at the Norbert Zongo National Press Centre in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and aims to promote investigative journalism in the areas of corruption, bad governance, organized crime and human rights violations in the region.

With a view to strengthening the capacity of investigative journalists, UNODC, in collaboration with CENOZO, organized a training workshop on "International investigative journalism in the Sahel region", which took place in Ouagadougou from 18 to 20 April 2017. The workshop brought together 60 investigative journalists from the Sahel region and West Africa. International experts also took part in the proceedings, including representatives of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Group photo of the participants to the workshop
Group photo of the participants to the workshop

As this activity relates to a project funded by the United States Department of State, the US Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Mr. Andrew Young was present. During the opening ceremony, he highlighted the strategic role that media and civil society organizations play in promoting transparency and accountability, critical conditions to the region's development. The Burkinabè Minister of Communication, Mr. Remis Dandjinou, echoed these remarks stressing the watchdog role of the media as essential for the advancement of democratic values.

The purpose of this training was to familiarize participants with CENOZO's strategic plan 2017-2019, while strengthening their investigative skills and providing them with practical tools to collaborate with each other internationally on investigations related to corruption, organized crime and violent extremism. Through theoretical and practical sessions, participants could improve their knowledge and understanding of financial investigations, how to fill data gaps, available platforms for cooperation on cross-border investigations, and communication and digital data security. Moreover, the training provided for an opportunity to brainstorm on the linkages between corruption, drug trafficking, and violent extremism, as well as possible investigations that CENOZO members could jointly undertake.

The closing ceremony of this workshop was marked by the intervention of the Burkinabè Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Alpha Barry, who encouraged journalists to keep up with their fundamental work, and collaborate with each other to ensure transparency and accountability in the region.

This workshop was organized within the framework of UNODC Sahel Programme, (2013-2018) and was held thanks to the financial support of the United States of America.