Unlike the two previous editions of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) event, this year’s awards were coupled with financial rewards by several supporting organisations for Nile Cooperation. Plaques and certificates were also handed out to the winners.
A record of 25 awards were issued, represent- ing the diverse and growing landscape of media platforms and seeking to promote collaborations among journalists and encourage more female voices and participation in the event.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the winners from attending the closing ceremony of the 6th Nile Basin Development Forum (NBDF) in Ethiopia in May 2021.
Egypt’s Rehab Abd Almohsen, who emerged the overall winner with three awards, was an exception and took part in the live event, watched by hundreds of participants of the NBDF – who mostly witnessed the closing ceremony online.
Fortunately, six more winners managed to collect their awards shortly after. This happened on June 11 in Entebbe at Uganda’s Water Resources Institute, a stone’s throw from the NBI Secretariat, during the closing ceremony of a week-long media training organised by the Nile Equatorial Lakes Sub-Regional Action Programme (NELSAP), one of the subsidiary arms of the regional body.
The Entebbe event’s chief guest, Joyce Nyeko, who is also the Director of Fisheries Resources in Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), spoke about the need for more professional and sustained reporting on the Nile Basin to boost cooperation but as well as fair sharing of the water of the Nile Basin.
She urged the media to shine a light on the opportunities and challenges facing the basin while at the same time observing the highest standards of professionalism in their reporting.
Jane Kyomuhendo Baitwa, the outgoing Head of Communication and Stakeholder Engagement at NBI, also advocated for more active reporting about the Nile Basin issues, noting that more accurate reporting, especially about achievements of Nile Cooperation, challenges and opportunities, will go a long way in reducing fears of loss of sovereignty.
She added that reckless statements and reports by the media, amplified by their broad reach, can prove costly, delaying or derailing negotiations, whose outcomes affect millions of people.
The urgency and importance of the task at hand are not lost on the media practitioners themselves. Uganda’s Ronald Musoke, who scooped the highest award in the print category of the 3rd edition of the NMA, highlighted the increasing relevance of a professional journalist who double-checks facts and is alert to sensitivities regarding sovereign concerns. He emphasised this role as an essential counterweight to rapidly spreading rumours and misinformation on social media platforms.
Fredrick Mugira, the co-founder of InfoNile, an online website that is dedicated to reporting on Nile issues and a member of the judging panel for the Nile Media Awards, argued that for journalists to report accurately about transboundary cooperation, they need to be trained regularly and equipped with updated information to make a compelling case for cooperation as opposed to competition for resources.
Journalists are running away from nationalistic sentiments.
He said journalists should shift their gaze from the banal event-based stories influenced by politicians to more creative spheres like solutions-based reporting.
“A trained and experienced journalist would, for example, investigate or analyse the decision-making process by politicians and technocrats that underpin challenges, such as water scarcity. That is better than simply reporting about the problem,” Mugira said, adding that training helps secure such skillsets.
He said the media still has some way to go but praised the rising standard of entries in the third edition of the Nile Media Awards. “There was high quality: We saw a lot of cross-border collaborations, showing that journalists are now concentrating on enterprise reporting and less on event-based stories. Journalists are running away from nationalistic sentiments by venturing out beyond their borders to do transboundary stories, instead of looking at the Nile as a strictly national resource.”
Mugira, however, remained concerned about lingering nationalistic tendencies that pervade media reporting in some countries. “Some journalists still live in fear of reporting the truth. There are countries in the Nile Basin that consider issues of the Nile as national security matters. When journalists report about these subjects, they are quizzed. So the journalists tend to report with fear and not from an objective perspective,” argued Mugira.
As well as signals of improving journalistic quality, there is also growing interest among partners, including the German Government, the European Union and media training institutions like the Netherlands-based IHE Delft. By offering financial support for the 2021 awards, they fan hopes that journalism will have a more significant impact in the Nile Basin in the months and years ahead.