An Opening Conversation on Media in Uganda

An Opening Conversation on Media in Uganda

On Thursday night, The Think Again! Uganda Immersion participants arrived. Helping a gaggle of American students get their bearings in Kampala over a weekend is always a fun task, but they were kept steadily entertained, running errands and taking a tour on Friday, visiting some projects and a museum on Saturday, and going white water rafting on the Class 5 rapids at Jinja today.

In writing the program for Friday, I was hoping to help the students get a sense of the world of Ugandan media, both in terms of the breadth and depth of the coverage, but also of the big challenges the industry faces. I decided to bring 13 Mass Communications students from Makerere together with the Americans to have an introductory conversation on Ugandan media.

As predicted, a major theme in the conversation was the lack of nuanced coverage of the conflict in northern Uganda. There are two national papers, both in English, both run in Kampala and controlled by advertising interested in the capital. Each kingdom and tribe has a paper in their own language, but few people from other parts of Uganda can speak ‘foreign’ local dialects. Therefore, few people understand the way of life and the challenges of people outside of the capital and their own kingdom. (There are certainly extraordinary exceptions to that, but that is for a later post).

This led to what the Ugandan Mass Communications students considered a larger challenge: the massive disconnect and mistrust between the 4 kingdoms that were brought together under the name ‘Uganda’ at the Berlin Conference in 1884. In the first conversation of this two week Immersion, the students hit on what was one of the major themes of the June Immersion: Uganda is in need of a massive project of national unity (the type that I wrote about developing in Mali). This project would not just attempt to heal the mistrust built by the 20 year conflict in the north, but also address the deeper and longer history of animosity between the kingdoms that began (or in some cases was continued) during the British mandate.

This national unity project requires boldness on the part of politicians, community and cultural leaders. Certainly, journalists play a role. Tomorrow the group will speak with three of the country’s leading journalists, and later in the day with its leading marketeers, and one of the things we’ll have an opportunity to delve into the role of journalists in the project of national unity.

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