The Niles’ Henry Lutaaya spoke with him about his award, for which he scooped a USD 1,500 cash prize, a plaque and certificate. Ronald gives his insights on the media’s role in fostering Nile Basin cooperation.
The Niles: Your story titled ‘River Nile Politics’ was about the shuttle diplomacy manoeuvres conducted by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in East and Central Africa in 2017. Why did you work on that particular story?
Ronald Musoke: I picked this story to create understanding and give our readers perspective on President el-Sisi’s real motivation for the tour. Although el-Sisi’s handlers said the objective of his visits was “consolidating Egypt’s political and economic relations” with the targeted countries, I particularly found the choice of some Nile Basin countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda) instructive, especially in as far as changing Egypt’s approach to Nile Cooperation from the combative stance earlier adopted by his successor, the late President Hosni Mubarak, to a more conciliatory stance his government adopted. This is why I ended up writing this story.
TN: Do you think this story and your other stories have an impact?
RM: To be honest, it isn’t straightforward to gauge the impact of specific stories I produce. Generally speaking, while some journalists’ work is directly cited or picked on by a government department or officials to make a decision or effect specific changes in the way things work, other stories are not as directly impactful.
Work journalists do every day eventually creates an impact.
But there are instances where I think some of my stories have created an impact.
I remember when a commissioner in the Ministry of Water and Environment called me asking for a story I had written on water use in business entities (especially industries). She wanted to attach the story on the Ministry’s project proposal they were working on to present to their donors. I still think many more of my stories influence policy debate both within and outside Uganda.
I tend to follow up most of my published work, and it is always gratifying to find some of the stories referenced by researchers in international research papers. That, for me, is one way of noticing the impact of the stories I produce.
TN: Journalism is often a daring job. What is your motivation?
RM: Yes, it is a daring job and, for environmental journalists, it is dangerous every other day. But, we have to continue writing about natural resources issues because, in our part of the world (sub-Saharan Africa), millions of people directly depend on these resources. The way they are managed can create a big difference in people’s lives.
For instance, take an ‘investor’ who is given a considerable portion of a riverbank or lake-shore to build a resort hotel that blocks thousands of people from accessing the water, thus infringing on the rights of those people. Should journalists take an interest in this project?
Obviously, we need to know what, for instance, this investor is giving the community in exchange for their rights to this river.
Sometimes, the stories we report are ignored, but, for me, we must keep writing about these issues for the precise reason I have shared above. I think the work journalists do every day eventually creates an impact. This sometimes may not be instant, but, at least, when we go on record, we know that this record will one day be used for redress. So I, therefore, know that the work I do daily is not in vain.
TN: In a nutshell, what’s your take on current Nile Basin Affairs and Nile Cooperation?
RM: The Nile is obviously an essential resource for each of the 11 countries in its basin. This explains the eternal tension among the Nile Basin countries. We already know about the stop-start negotiations between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Sometimes the rhetoric can be threatening, but it is also good that the cooperative framework that exists among the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) member states presents an excellent opportunity for the governments and the people in these countries to avoid unnecessary friction.
For me, I am confident that common sense will always prevail, and the hundreds of millions of people in the Nile Basin will live in harmony over the coming years. There are no winners if we choose to use violence or even war to resolve outstanding issues of the River Nile. This is why I think the media’s role in fostering peace within the Nile Basin will remain critical over the coming years.
TN: What do you think needs to be done to ensure more and better Nile Cooperation?
RM: I would like to think that the avenues for fostering cooperation within the Nile Basin already exist, and they are pretty robust. The Nile Basin Initiative is probably one of the best programmes, and long may it continue.
At an intergovernmental level, I would like to see our leaders discuss some of the pressing issues in the Nile Basin with both mutual respect and honesty. Our leaders need to understand that so much has changed over the last five decades in each of these Nile Basin countries. With rapidly growing populations across the basin, complicated by climate change, most member states are eager to secure their water resources, vital to sustaining the expanding population.
But for cooperation to succeed, we as journalists have to remind our audiences of the basic principle of giving and taking. We need to advocate for compromise as a precondition for cooperation. I also believe that our political leaders need to remain level-headed throughout the negotiation process. I think the River Nile is more useful if we share it equitably.
TN: How can the media and the journalists help foster better Nile Cooperation?
RM: The media has always played a critical role in cooperation among the Nile Basin countries. But the media has an even more critical role to play going forward. We live in a world that has rapidly changed in so many respects.
The advent of social media coupled with the post-truth era (where misinformation, disinformation and ‘alternative facts’ are rampant) makes mainstream journalism critical in a combustible region like the Nile Basin.
It is, therefore, necessary for the mainstream media to report on issues about the Nile from an informed position. We shouldn’t be quick to publish information that we are unsure about because it might be challenging to put out the flames. It is okay to be nationalistic but let us avoid being overly nationalistic. Let us call out the politicians who like putting out inflammatory statements. We need to fact-check their statements a little more than usual.
We also need to celebrate even the small successes of cooperation within the Nile Basin. These help in building trust among the people of the Nile. I am hopeful that the media will remain vital in fostering Nile Cooperation over