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Cameroon, I.Coast reporters win Africa fact-check awards

December 8, 2016

Journalists from Cameroon and Ivory Coast on Thursday won Africa’s top fact-checking awards for investigating government claims that turned out to be false.

Manfei Anderson Diedri, of the website, scooped the francophone award for an eight-month investigation into a land dispute in central Ivory Coast.

Diedri uncovered that while Abidjan claimed it had ownership of 11,000 hectares of land granted to a Belgian company for industrial rubber plantations — which villagers claimed was their property — there was no proof of this.

Arison Tamfu, of the Cameroon Journal, was named winner of the award for English-language media for an investigation into a promise by President Paul Biya to gift laptops to “each student of a public or private university in Cameroon”.

His report showed the laptops were in fact netbooks, would not reach all students, did not cost what was being declared and were not a gift but the result of a loan from China’s EXIM Bank, to be repaid by taxpayers.

The awards were handed out by Africa Check, which was set up in South Africa in 2012 by the AFP Foundation in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“In a year when fact-checking has been in the news around the world, the standard of entries has been higher than ever; our winners showing why it is so important that journalists do not just report what public figures say, but question their claims and expose those that are not true,” said Africa Check’s Executive Director Peter Cunliffe-Jones.

The way the media reports on politicians’ comments — often directly reported without scrutiny — was thrust into the spotlight during a bitter US presidential campaign in which victor Donald Trump often made tenuous claims or played with the truth.

While Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as their word of the year, the importance of fact-checking has further been highlighted by the explosion of fake news sites and links that go viral on social media.

Other articles in the running for the prize included a probe into who really bought a new plane for King Mswati III of Swaziland, which the absolute monarch claimed was a gift from anonymous donors.

It turned out the $22.45-million (20 million euro) aircraft had been partly bought by a company wholly owned by the king.

Africa Check regularly takes aim at public utterances and statistics given by politicians on the continent, such as rape and murder figures, while checking on the veracity of viral stories or even whether oft-cited quotes by Nelson Mandela came from the man himself.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.