USAID, which funds EJN's East African Wildlife Journalism Project along with the US Department of Interior, recognizes the power of the pen.
Internews trains journalists in effective environmental reporting. With the support of USAID and the US Department of Interior-International Assistance Program, Internews launched the East African Media Coverage of Conservation and Wildlife in 2019 and has trained over 250 journalists and issued 57 story grants. The goal of the program is to empower East African journalists to cover the environment more effectively.
In 2021, Internews awarded story grants to 14 journalists from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania to investigate wildlife and environmental crime. The grants allow the journalists to spend dedicated time on environmental reporting. Together, they produced over 35 stories across 14 media outlets.
Grantee Alex Tumuhimbise published an article entitled, "Illegal sand mining leaves human, aquatic lives at risk" in Uganda’s Saturday Monitor on March 13, 2021. The article highlighted the threats to Uganda’s wetlands and the high price of inaction for the over 100,000 people who live in the Kakumiro District where the mining was taking place.
Greater coverage of issues related to conservation and of what individuals and groups can do to stop environmental degradation and wildlife trafficking, can lead to action.
Following the story's publication, the district authorities drafted several resolutions to ban illegal sand mining activities. Onesmus Twinamasiko, a member of Parliament, was inspired by the story and raised the issue of illegal sand mining in Kakumiro District as a matter of national importance before Parliament, seeking the central government’s intervention.
“I thought leaders were going to turn a deaf ear,” says Mr. Tumuhimbise, “because illegal sand mining was a very systemic problem in the country.”
Momentum around illegal sand mining grew and on May 7, 2021, Uganda’s Minister for Environment Beatrice Anywar, responded to Twinamasiko’s concerns. Anywar shared in Parliament that the National Environment Management Authority had only issued two mining licenses and was not aware that other companies were mining sand illegally and also issued a report on illegal sand mining near Lake Victoria.
By June 2021, the impact of Alex’s story reached the headlines again when The Daily Monitor published a follow up on the impact of the story, titled, "How Monitor story saved swamps from illegal miners in Kakumiro" which detailed how the investigative story was discussed in Parliament and resulted in authorities banning sand mining in wetland areas.
Ultimately, the Government of Uganda announced a total ban on sand mining and rice growing in wetlands and other environmentally unfriendly activities in protected areas. The government declared a decade of environmental restoration and called upon all Ugandans to play a role in preventing the degradation of land.
The story demonstrates the importance of media coverage on environmental issues. While not all stories lead to government action, Mr. Tumuhimbise’s efforts resulted in action for Uganda’s wetlands and conservation of Uganda’s environmental future.
This project update was first published by USAID on May 18, 2022.
Banner image: Two young men extracting sand with shovels from a wetland in Kakumiro district-western Uganda. Credit: Alex Tumuhimbise, Daily Monitor.