By Paul Shalala
Attending a Thomson Reuters Foundation training course was one of those things I had always wished to do in the past four years I have been practicing journalism in Zambia.
In a space of 2 years, i had applied at least four times to attend the trainings but to no avail. To make matters worse, my colleagues from the same media institution were being successful in having their applications accepted and the more I lost out the more I got more determination to try again.
I sent my last application for a Reuters training in Economic and Financial Reporting in May 2012 and it turned out to be success which became an eye opener for me to international standards of business journalism. The training was to be held in Uganda, a country that describes itself as the ‘pearl of Africa.’
When the big day Sunday 24 June, 2012 came, the day I was supposed to leave Lusaka the city of my birth, my mind was bombarded with imaginations of how the training will be, how the Ugandan capital Kampala looks like and what kind of people I will interact with at the training.
With wild imaginations of Uganda, a country portrayed by the media as the former base for rebel LRA’s Joseph Kony and a former home for the late dictator Idi Amin, I was excited to see the beauty of the resort city of Entebbe from the air as we were landing at its airport which is located a few meters away from the world famous Lake Victoria.
Driving from the airport in Entebbe to Kampala brought me fond memories of the usual traffic I had seen in the Kenyan capital though the scale of the traffic congestion was half that of Nairobi. I was fascinated with the size of Kampala and the good infrastructure it has which was completely contrally to my own imaginations. I had in mind a small and poorly organized city but to my surprise, I found Kampala to be a live city which never goes to sleep as business goes on day and night.
The following day, our five day training which attracted 14 business reporters from six African countries got under way. To be precise, the course ran from 25-29 June 2012 at the African Center for Media Excellence in Kampala, Uganda.
David White, a TRF trainer with more than four decades experience in the media, conducted the intense training which aroused a lot of interest, debates and smiles among participants. In some sessions, David brought up thought provoking situations to help the trainees think wider and understand the business concepts. David was joined by Teddy Nannozi, a Ugandan journalist who co-facilitated the course.
Of all the topics under discussion, reporting on stock markets seemed the most interesting to the African journalists as it kept them busy asking questions on the process and activities related to stocks trading in markets.
To me, the most interesting part of the training was on Wednesday when we were split into four groups making up ‘news agencies’ and we were bombarded with press statements, press briefings and news updates which we were supposed to be report simultaneously in real time.
This exercise, which lasted an hour, kept all participants under pressure from the ‘news editors’ who kept demanding for news stories every five minutes. In this way, participants were kept on their toes as they moved from one ‘news event’ to the other, asking questions, taking notes from speeches given by ‘sources’ and later writing the stories.
On Tuesday, the group visited the World Bank offices in Kampala where it met the country manager Moustapha Ndiaye who gave a 30 minutes presentation on the economic situation in Uganda as well as an assessment of the situation in East Africa. Journalists being usual inquisitive human beings, asked Mousstapha a lot of questions which he answered without hesitation.
On Thursday, Nairobi-based Dr Dereje Alemayehu gave a presentation on capital flight. Dr Alemayehu, who is chairman of the Tax Justice Network Africa, revealed how billions of dollars are being lost in Africa due to the existence of tax havens in the world. And participants were surprised to learn that most tax havens are islands belonging to developed countries which champion transparency around the world but allow their territories to syphon such large amounts of money from developing countries.
Our stay in Kampala would not have been complete without ‘sampling’ the city. A bus full of participants toured the city and spent most of their time at the Vision Media Group where they saw how some of the leading newspapers, radio stations, magazines and TV stations in Uganda are run. To me who comes from a country (Zambia) where the law does not allow a citizen or a company to own various media institutions by one owner, I was surprised to see a vibrant multimedia company which owned a spectrum of media all housed in one place. This visit showed me how liberal, plural and free the Ugandan media is to operate.
During the five day training, participants expressed happiness at the capacity building they had received through the Thomson Reuters Foundation. To some of us, this was the first time we were getting specialized journalism training in business reporting, despite having been reporting on business for more than four years.
The end of every training programme is always exciting because participants receive certification and in Kampala, 14 African journalists were excited to be certified by Reuters, a world class media institution whose credentials are worth being attached to. This certification also meant that the participants automatically became alumni of the Thomson Reuters Foundation which keeps in touch with its former trainees and keeps track of their progress in their career.
Thereafter, David took the participants to a hotel located a stone throw away from the iconic Lake Victoria for dinner. The event was meant to be a farewell one and participants took advantage of the dinner to watch the lake and take memorable pictures. The most exciting part of the dinner was a mini ‘parliament’ which participants formed. Each participant, including trainers, represented their respective countries as a members of parliament and Julius Sakala from Zambia acted as the Speaker and he had tough time moderating proceedings of the ‘legislature’ which at some point became uncontrollable as MPs’ debates became heated.
On Saturday 30 June, 2012 as I flew out of Entebbe airport, leaving behind the hospitable Ugandan people, I reminded myself of two things which I would forever miss in the land of the Buganda. Firstly, bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) were a complete new phenomenon to me as we don’t have them in Zambia. Their numerous numbers, speed on the roads and the drivers’ skills in meandering through the usual heavy traffic made my stay in Uganda the most memorable. I happily left Kampala having boarded a bodaboda for only a hundred meters as I was too scared to go on a long distance due to over speeding by the drivers.
Secondly, matooke (cooked bananas) was another new experience to me. If you ever visit Uganda and don’t taste matooke, then you would have not tasted the best of ‘the pearl of Africa.’ For any visitor to Kampala, matooke is readily available in markets, shops and even in five star hotels. As the saying goes, ‘when you go to Rome, do what the Romans do,’ I made sure I ate matooke on a daily basis. Really, my experience in Uganda was one of fascination and capacity building.
I will miss Kampala, I will miss my colleagues from across the continent but I will ensure I up my game in business reporting.
That’s my Ugandan experience, the 'Pearl of Africa.'