Kampala — A leafy compound on John Babiiha Avenue in Kololo, Kampala, has become home to a number of German organisations in Uganda, including known ones like KfW under their trademark 'German Cooperation' and newer ones like DW Akademie.
Although it is just one office on the second floor of the building, Miriam Ohlsen, the Country Representative of DW Akademie says it is gearing up for lots of work in Uganda.
DW Akademie has big goals, including training journalists to improve their work. The organization plans to work with Ugandan media organisations to improve access to information and help young people actively participate in democratic and developmental processes.
"When we look at the media industry we look at the important factors that matter politically, socially, economically because it's embedded into a system," Ohlsen tells The Independent.
"We have a much broader approach, where we think there should be a civil society who need to have media literacy skills in order to demand for certain information and quality, and the legal and regulatory side and education for the training of the journalists," she says.
DW Akademie is teaming up with the Centre for Media Literacy and Community Development (CEMCOD) which advocates for freedom of speech and effective citizen participation, Hub for Investigative Media (an outfit that trains investigative journalists), and Uganda Radio Network (URN) a news agency and journalist training centre, and Media Challenge Initiative (MCI).
It also has universities on board; including the Uganda Christian University, Islamic University in Uganda, and UMCAT School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Although DW has been running media related projects in Uganda since 2014, this is the first time it is opening an office in Kampala. Funded by the German Ministry for Cooperation and Development, it comes at a time of increasing clampdown on media freedom by a combined force of the Police and the Uganda Communication Commission. Recently, incidents include UCC's banning of live coverage of parliamentary sessions to hide a brawl between MPs over the controversial age-limit aimed to make President Yoweri Museveni stay in power longer. The UCC claims live coverage would incite violence among the public.
Youth in media
DW plans to engage the youth more in media and community participation because it believes the youth demographic is critical.
"80% of the Ugandan population is below 30, and we thought there were gaps in terms of what the media provides for them," says Ohlsen, "We felt they did not have where to share their concerns and also their participation seems low."
According to her, when DW did a survey in 2015 of around 600 youth based in Mbale, Lira and Kampala, it found that most youth were interested in mostly entertainment, followed by topics like health and agriculture but responses to do with politics were few and far between. The youth were asked questions like what kind of media do you have access to? What kind of media do you use? What information do you look for? What information do you want the media to give you?
Armed with the findings of the survey, DW decided to focus on radio since it is the medium that reaches most youth, is easily interactive, and enables as many people as possible to express themselves. With URN and CEMCOD, DW has established a network of 250 citizen and community reporters who with their mobile phones are able to report for upcountry radios on toll free lines. URN and CEMCOD implement the concepts they work on with DW.
DW also says university media students back home in Germany get more practice than their Ugandan counterparts and want to change that. Ohlsen says DW's hope is that the community participation will equip Ugandan media students with more training before they actively join the profession.
"We have done trainings on digital safety and security, when journalists become victims of political pressure," Ohlsen says. She mentions apps like the Panic button created by Amnesty International where different texts go out for physical safety.
DW on Oct. 20 held a workshop in Nakulabye, near Makerere University in Kampala for people it calls mentors. These are practicising journalists working for radio stations and work with and groom the community reporters.
Prossy Kawala, Director of Media Initiatives at CEMOCD told The Independent that through its partnership with DW, CEMCOD trains community reporters on journalism basics.
At the Nakulabye workshop, the mentors discussed the concept of community reporting, the role of mentors, and the challenges they face.
"These mentors are the professionals and some of the young people we are working with as community reporters are semi-illiterate who have not even done any journalism courses but we are involving them to do what mainstream media is doing," Kawala explains.
She says CEMCOD emphasizes service delivery in the training and the young reporters are encouraged to find solutions for the problems in their own communities. Kawala says CEMCOD also partners with different radio stations to hold community interface meetings.
Olsen also described such a session that she participated in recently in Bugembe in Jinja, eastern Uganda.
"There was the mayor, the police and prisons representatives, and some from the ministry of education," she said, "all these decision makers sitting there, discussing the findings of the community reporters."
One of the mentors described how government officials, mainly Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) like to issue orders banning discussions on radio of contentious political issues, including the Land Amendment Bill.
He says the situation is complicated since most radio owners tend to be politicians who push their agendas through the media they own. Other challenges they cite faced by the rookie reporters include lack of access to information to information regarding sexuality and reproductive health and ignorance of their rights as journalists to, for example, access public offices for information or make general inquiries.
On the same day, DW also held a training of students at the nearby UMCAT School of Journalism in Mengo. Two second year students at the school; Charity Nayebare and Joan Mukoda could not hide their excitement about a radio training they have recently completed.
"They taught us live anchoring and how to do features and VOX pops," one of them explained.
Inside one of the classrooms at UMCAT, another training partnered with DW Akademie is ongoing for television anchors. They were also trained on how to use radio software, conduct interviews, and how to address studio guests. For the radio sessions, DW flies in a longtime radio producer who works with DW TV in Germany to come in in once a while to conduct the trainings alongside a Ugandan colleague.
DW Akademie is training journalist at a time when the general situation of media freedom in the country remains dire. In 2017, Uganda dropped 10 places from 102 to 112 out of 180 countries, according to the World Press Freedom Index released in May. Attacks on journalists that shot up before and after the 2016 presidential election were the main cause. The election period saw increased threats to close down media outlets, Internet cuts, and verbal and physical attacks on reporters, especially those covering the opposition politicians.
"Acts of intimidation and violence against journalists are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda," said Reporters Without Borders (RWB) which publishes the survey.
It added that "many journalists who do not toe the government line have been suspended, stripped of their equipment, or badly beaten by ruling party members or security agents."
Edward Sekyewa of Hub for Investigative Media, one of the partners of DW Akademie, says the organisations helps journalists navigate the existing legislation as they do their work but added that how journalists ultimately do their work is upon them.