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Conversation with Zahara Tunda

Zahara Tunda, one of the award winners at the just concluded African Women in Media Conference lets us into her world as she talks about her background, professional journey and drive for data journalism in this interview.

Kindly tell us about yourself

My name is Zahara Tunda and I was born in 1994, in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. I am the only child from my mother’s side and I have a half-brother from my late father who died in 2012. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication from the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  I always like to be a leader or coordinator of different issues. I have displayed leadership since Kindergarten up to University.

You won awards for writing even as a secondary school student. Now you are a Data Journalist and Media Strategist, kindly share how your background led you to choose this path.

I used to love art since I was a child, my first award was in 2004 when I was in grade 4, were I won an award for short story competition. I remember it like it was yesterday when I was called to go to the headmistress office to take my gift. I have always like to work in the media and I have these crazy ideas that I want to try things that will bring my creativity.

In 2014 when I was in High School I participated in the Andika na Soma short stories competition and won. The story title was UYOGA, a Swahili name which means Mushroom, and it was a love story showing that love can bring happiness or sadness the same way Mushrooms can be food or poison.

When I finished my studies, I decided to take Mass Communication because for me it was my chance to be involved with the masses.

In 2017, the last year of my University, I got a Fellowship that involves young journalists in road safety issues, through this I got introduced to data journalism and I liked it. After the fellowship, I got a job in the Digital Media company which advocates for data journalism and that is how I found myself as an innovation and social affair writer leveraging data journalism and a trainer to other journalists.

Who gave you your first chance to flourish?

This credit goes to my mother because she allowed me to experience issues I was interested in. When I finished High school I got Division 1 with which I could be Lawyer or a teacher and she was like can you take law? And I told her I wanted to study Mass Communication because I think my future is related to communicating with masses and using my voice to bring change. At that time, the course was not a priority for a government loan but she said: “you can study what you want”. She paid for everything even though I did not get the loan. Fortunately, I was able to get a loan from the government in my second year.

I will always give my mom credit for everything. I also have to thank Vicensia Fuko, other judges and Tanzania Media Foundation for the fellowship because as the coordinator, she saw something in me. A big thank you to Nuzulack Dausen, my first boss for giving me the chance to work with their company Nukta Africa, and also Code for Africa for giving me the chance to be a trainer to young journalists who aspire to be data journalists.

How important is data to journalism?

Data journalism is important especially in this era of fake news; through data journalism, you can verify data, analysis data, question data until you get what you want. It is so important for a journalist to be credible and balanced but only if you know how to analyze it and balance the story accordingly to avoid any confusion.

In one sentence I can say data is the new oil so journalists should grab the opportunity to use it for their advantage.

You are a Code for Africa Academy Trainer and Coordinator for Wana data and Hack Hackers communities in Tanzania. Tell us how your roles with these organizations have helped you develop as a person and professionally while meeting SDGs.

Through this platform, I learnt a lot about how technology and innovation (in line with SDG 9) that can be related to journalism. In meetups like Hacks Hackers, I got the opportunity to see how technologists and journalists can work together. Also, in Wanadata, I got a chance to experience how women are still behind on grabbing opportunities that involve data journalism, and the aim is to bring equality in the media especially by using data journalism.

The role made me engage a lot of women in the media and technology sectors to close the gaps. Hence, the platform helps me as a data journalist to train others, inspire them to like data journalism and to take the lead as women.

You won an award for pitching your story during the AWIM conference. Can you share the story behind your story (why you pitched your topic) and what this means for your professional journey?

That’s a great question.

I pitched my idea because when you talk about Sustainability means doing the thing now that won’t affect the future. So when I heard about Free Trade Sustainability, as a person who loves technology, I felt its high time for people to engage in technology to facilitate free trade sustainability.

I have been exposed to technology and I see a lot of startups using technology to facilitate agriculture especially to sell or buy crops through websites, Apps or Social Media and delivery could be within and outside Tanzania.

I want to do a documentary that connects how technology is used in the agricultural sector and how the government plans to help these startups go far to improve free trade sustainability.

If you had your way, what policy would you push and what result do you hope to get out of it?

If I had my way, I would push for 50% of stories in media to involve women in positive issues so young people can look to them and aspire to be like them in every sector, I will also push for women experts to be well represented.

What were your expectations before AWIM19 and how have these expectations been met?

I was expecting a lot but not an award, I only wanted to experience women in media conference and learn how I can improve media or newsrooms in my country. My expectations have been met and I will apply again if I get a chance to do so. I know the day will come that I will stand in front of AWIM to say how grateful I am.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I see myself as a Media Strategist that will bring bigger changes to the media industry especially by using technology and being a champion for telling positive stories about women in the media.

Final words

“Be confident, find the voice within you that will guide you to the right path and lastly be happy”.

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C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.