Hours away from the start of the 17th annual Highway Africa conference, director Chris Kabwato shows no sign of stress. He sits, beaming, his hands lightly resting on the clean, white desk. The telephone buzzes as caterers try to get hold of the man in charge, yet Kabwato chats as if he has all the time in the world. According to Kabwato, these two days are smooth-sailing because of months of preparation.
Starting from October 2012 monthly meetings became weekly meetings which became daily meetings which became hourly meetings—and then this, the biggest gathering of African journalists in the world. The search for guest speakers and rooting for sponsors has paid off as multiple addresses, debates, discussions, workshops, book launches and exhibitions are scheduled, making these two days jam-packed.
“It’s like a movie you have made,” Kabwato says, “It is waiting for an audience. You don’t know if it is going to make it or bomb out. I always have these butterflies in my tummy.”
Despite his nervousness, Kabwato enjoys coordinating the conference; and this will be his tenth conference as Director of Highway Africa.
“This is a fantastic job. There can be this time in your life when there is a perfect match between who you are and your job,” said Kabwato. “I think it adds value to journalism. It brings the world to this little town. It raises the prestige for Rhodes University, which is the smallest university in South Africa. We are, literally right there on the cutting edge of journalism. I find that very fulfilling,” says Kabwato. Before Highway Africa, he was Head of Education and Public Affairs at the British Council in Harare. He has also been a journalist and written for publications like Mail & Guardian.
The conference highlights many issues, including media accountability and the influence of information communication technologies (ICTs) on journalism as a craft.
“The arrival of social media has changed the way media is done,” says, Kabwato, adding that breaking news is trending on Twitter long before we hear it on the radio or see it in the newspaper. Yet, with the many platforms that new media brings Kabwato worries that journalists have become less accurate and less accountable.
“I think there is always a fine line with media ethics,” said Kabwato. His own experience as a journalist saw him disguising himself in Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) regalia to report on a celebration by the ruling party.
These next two days deal with these issues and more.
“We run a good show here,” says Kabwato as he calmly turns his attention to the next telephone call from a frantic organiser.