* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Reflections on a training course in Johannesburg
If the Thomson Reuters Foundation advanced finance and governance course were a trending topic on Twitter, the key words would be ‘Tax Havens’, ‘Tax Avoidance’, ‘Multinationals’ and the majestic continent of Africa.
The countries represented in Johannesburg in the last week of June were an interesting array from across Sub-Saharan Africa. - Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and my own country, South Africa.
During the most of the course, the flow of conversation always reverted to the state of democracy on the continent, More importantly, it became a game of ‘show me what your president has done for me lately?’
A room full of journalists will always entail an array of powerful opinions. These were all addressed in the lessons, group exercises and site visits. Participants learnt about current exposés featuring large multinationals like Starbucks, Apple and Google. Learning about the incidents these companies were involved in proved valuable in making us understand the intricacies and nuances of tax aversion and unethical corporate behavior that depletes the African continent.
How to investigate stories was the order of the day. The exercise that taught us to understand how to engage with sophisticated sources who may be reluctant to offer information was highly interesting and useful. The second site visit - to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange - saw class activity lessons being tested pragmatically, as all of the journalists pushed to garner the magic quote!
Learning about the Pretoria-based African Tax Administration Forum revealed some of the continent’s most important concerns, including finding a process to tax the informal sector which makes a large part of most African economies. Another big concern raised by the visit was finding an adequate model for tax in Africa that would avert and curb unethical corporate behavior.
Visiting the Thomson Reuters bureau in Sandton, Johannesburg, was like déjà vu for me personally, as I met another digital journalist doing exactly what I do at the Financial Mail. It was interesting sharing stories and newsroom experiences, especially discussing the future of digital technology on the continent.
The Gautrain experience between Johannesburg and Pretoria was the first time on a train for Dinfin Mulupi from Kenya. whilst arriving in South Africa proved an ordeal for Ugandan journalist Dorothy Nakaweesi when her luggage failed to turn up with her.
As the course drew to a close, most of the 10 participants had developed nicknames, and distinctive personalities had emerged. If there had been a Social Media King award it would have gone to Zambian journalist Paul Monde Shalala. He became the administrator of our group Facebook page where his main job description included uploading photographs and nostalgia for the rest of the participants during the course.
All in all, it was a rewarding experience of sharing, engagement and learning. Last words were: “‘I will follow you on Twitter or like your Facebook page, if you like mine.”’
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