African News Agency Seeks to Fill South African Press Void

Investors from African countries, including Benin and South Africa, are starting a pan-continental news agency, targeting the clients and staff of a 77-year-old Johannesburg-based organization that will close in March.

The African News Agency, which will begin operations on March 1 with an initial investment of $20 million, hopes to hire reporters from the South African Press Association, or Sapa, and serve its market, Beninese national Ladislas Agbesi, the chairman of the agency and founder of Lash Consulting, said by phone from Cape Town on Wednesday. Sapa, which has about 40 news staff, is closing on March 31 after some newspaper groups stopped taking its news feed.

African News Agency, which will be based in Cape Town and plans to use new technology, will seek to expand across sub-Saharan and North Africa, Agbesi said. It will initially open offices in Ghana, Kenya and Ivory Coast, and plans to expand into Nigeria, the continent’s biggest economy, at a later stage, he said.

“We are going to be very competitive in terms of technology,” Agbesi said. “It’s going to be kind of a mind-blow.”

The company may struggle to compete with international news agencies with the initial amount of money allocated, said Anton Harber, a journalism professor at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, in a phone interview.

“The idea of an African news agency” is positive, Harber said. “There is a need for Africans to tell their own stories.”

Three Shareholders

Agbesi said there are two other major shareholders in the group. One is Sekunjalo Investments Holdings, which owns the Independent Media group of South African newspapers, while Agbesi declined to identify the other.

Sekunjalo took over Independent in 2013. Independent has been criticized by media groups, including the South African National Editors Forum, for removing the editor of the Cape Times, and the publication of an apology after the group ran an editorial critical of President Jacob Zuma this year.

Alide Dasnois lost her job as Cape Times editor after the newspaper led its front page with a story critical of Sekunjalo on a day when most newspapers focused on the death of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela.

African News Agency will be run on a “business model,” Agbesi said. The way it is run “will have nothing to do with politics,” he said.

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