Fact-checking is at the heart of good governance and democracy-building

In West Africa, fact-checking continues to be of utmost importance to promoting accountability and ensuring access to quality information.

By Caroline Anipah

It is Dec. 4, 2020, three days to the eighth general elections in Ghana which, among other candidates, is to be contested by a sitting president and a former president — candidates of the two main political parties, the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress.

A video is published on social media (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) alleging the sitting president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who also happens to be a presidential candidate, was caught on camera accepting a bribe during his presidency in 2017. Earlier, in October 2020, social media users had claimed the former president, John Dramani Mahama, was captured on video distributing cash to supporters during a political campaign in a bid to garner support. DUBAWA ran contextual and forensic analyses that proved the narrative behind both videos to be false.

This was not an isolated case. Similar instances were registered by DUBAWA during the 2019 and 2021 elections in Nigeria and The Gambia respectively.

The spread of false information continues to be a major challenge in the West African subregion as in other regions of the world. Aside from major global issues, such as elections and the climate crisis, the information crisis enabled by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the recent Russian-Ukraine war represent the most challenging context for misinformation and disinformation that enable the spread of false information in the five West African countries (Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone) that DUBAWA works from today.

A major backdrop for these developments is the prevalence of poor governance resulting in insecurity, rebel insurgency, banditry, high unemployment and illiteracy. These factors have engendered a lack of trust in legacy media on account of a preponderance of poor journalism, covert government and media owners’ (largely politicians and their apparatchiks) interference; and the aftereffect of technological incongruity, especially through social media.

The vacuum created by lack of or inadequate and reliable information, particularly from government and public officials in spite of the existence of Right to Information laws, further contributes to the spread of misinformation.

Beyond ensuring electoral fairness, the past four years of DUBAWA’s existence has demonstrated that the imperative of fact-checking has never been so dearly felt.. Fact-checking is an accountability tool that challenges misinformation and disinformation, even in countries where elected officials could previously get away with public deception. The deletion of posts, retractions, issuances of apologies by government and public officials and awareness of fact-checking (where politicians dare fact-checkers to investigate their claims) lends credence to the difference fact-checking is making.

Fact-checking is the tool that filters fact from fiction for the huge segment of the population that either lacks the capacity to discern false information or cannot be bothered to interrogate claims they encounter online and offline. It is the tool that promotes media and information literacy in a subregion that is quite slowly encountering digital technology and is still catching up with the world on the front.

For DUBAWA, fact-checking is a relentless engagement with the accountability of public officials and the promotion of good governance; it is the very essence of journalism and its experience with the project of accuracy in reporting.

Fact-checking may not have the hypodermic needle effect that fact-checkers want, but it continues to be of utmost importance to promoting accountability and ensuring access to quality information.