By Michael V. Bolgent
The Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling will be presented to Zainab Bala, a broadcast reporter who revealed pernicious child abuse in Nigeria in 2021.
The winner was chosen by a respected panel of judges from a pool of 130 applicants.
The Almajiri, a compelling documentary created by Zainab Bala, a Nigerian broadcaster with Viewer Television and a host of #TheScoop With Zainab Bala show, focused on children in northern Nigeria who left their homes for Islamic education in the nation’s capital, where they were abandoned and humiliated by their religious teachers.
She showed gruesome footage of some children being chained and others being forced to beg for food.
The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) presents the prestigious award in collaboration with ONE and the Elliott family. It was founded in 2016 in memory of Michael Elliott, an accomplished editor and philanthropist whose life was a testament to the power of storytelling to experience and enhance human conditions.
The prize aims to support young African journalists who are working to enhance people’s voices and better their lives.
Another winner of Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling in 2021 is Bernadette Vivuya whose entry focused on children working in niobium, cassiterite, and coltan mines in Congo, which produce raw materials used in the production of capacitors for electronic devices. The story, which was published by Equal Times, showed how Congolese children facing crippling poverty were forced into such arduous labor, falling short of the global target of ending child labor.
The work of Egypt’s Samar Medhat, whose investigative piece, Egypt’s Corpseless Coffins, focused on fraudsters faking their own deaths to defraud insurance firms, was also praised by the judges.
Kenyan journalists Mercy Juma and Dorcas Wangira, as well as Nigerian journalists Abubakar Ibrahim and Kiki Mordi, have previously won the award.
“Mordi’s work demonstrates extreme courage, tenacity, investigative ability and the patience needed to tell such a complex story with undeniable evidence,” said Wangira, the 2019 Elliott Award winner and a member of this year’s jury. “It is Africa’s answer to #MeToo.”
The work of Egypt’s Mahmoud Elwakea, whose Made in Prison multimedia story focused on three generations of jihadists in Egyptian prisons, was also praised by the judges. The judges were blown away by his dedication to unraveling a multilayered narrative and his sparkling visual presentation.
“I am delighted that the generosity of donors, along with fresh support from The Economist, allows the program to benefit two winners for the first time this year, the award’s fifth season,” said Emma Oxford, Michael Elliott’s widow. “Mike would be thrilled by the range and quality of the finalist entries, as were the judges. I am most grateful to my fellow judges and to the staff of ICFJ for their thoughtful review of the entries, and I wish much success to the two talented winners: Zainab Bala and Bernadette Vivuya.”
“The award is a fitting tribute to Mike Elliott, and a brilliant reflection of the richness of storytelling talent in Africa,” said Daniel Franklin, executive and diplomatic editor of The Economist and a member of this year’s jury. “This initiative to support rising journalists goes from strength to strength, and The Economist is delighted to support its expansion.
Bala and Vivuya will earn a cash prize as well as access to a personalized digital platform aimed at helping them advance their careers. They will learn new skills from media mentors and share expertise with journalists from top newsrooms in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Economist will host one of the contest winners for a virtual internship at the company’s headquarters in London.
The international panel that chose Bala and Vivuya was headed by Lionel Barber, former editor of the Financial Times and author of The Powerful and the Damned. Among the judges were:
Joyce Barnathan, President, ICFJ
Matthew Bishop, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Brookings Institution
Kate Critchley, Executive Director, Communications and Content, ONE
Daniel Franklin, Executive and Diplomatic Editor, The Economist
Catherine Gicheru, ICFJ Knight Fellow, Kenya and director of The Africa Women Journalism Project Abubakar Ibrahim, Features Editor, Daily Trust and 2018 Elliott Award winner Mercy Juma, BBC Africa correspondent and 2017 Elliott Award winner Rik Kirkland, Senior Advisor, McKinsey and Company Emma Oxford, Author, At Least We Lived
Dorcas Wangira, Feature Writer, Citizen Television and 2019 Elliott Award winner