An innovative investigative training programme for Rwandan journalists has resulted in the publication of 15 impactful stories which have prompted widespread changes in the country.
One report into overcrowding in prisons accelerated judicial reform whilst an investigation into the safety of meat led to a public inquiry. A further investigation exposed how a multi-million pound irrigation scheme in Rwanda risks failure after money went missing.
These stories not only contribute to a more informed public but also serve as a testament to the effectiveness of empowering journalists with the necessary skills and resources. Here are some of the success stories in more detail.
Fulgence Niyonagize, a freelance journalist at Pax Press, delved into the issue of overcrowding in Rwandan prisons which ranks the second highest in the world after the United States.
Fulgence's investigation revealed that a major contributing factor is the practice of detention without trial. The report also shed light on the broader societal impact by exposing the economic repercussions faced by the families of those incarcerated.
In response to the exposé, the judiciary pledged to expedite crucial judicial reforms aimed at addressing the overcrowding crisis. One significant proposal involves providing alternative sentences to imprisonment, especially in cases where the offender poses no serious risk to the public and is amenable to rehabilitative or therapeutic interventions.
I developed a profound understanding of the pivotal role that investigative stories play in identifying solutions in society
It's a testament to the impact of quality journalism training that the Rwandan government opened a public inquiry into the safety of meat for public consumption after an investigation by Emmanuel Dushimimana Ngabo, a journalist at Isangano Community Radio in Rwanda.
"I developed a profound understanding of the pivotal role that investigative stories play in identifying solutions for our society," says Emmanuel who credits Thomson Foundation for providing him with advanced skills in investigative reporting.
After the publication of his groundbreaking story into claims that farmers were using HIV medication (ARVs) to fatten animals, the Rwandan parliament launched a public inquiry on October 17, 2023.
Ministers including the ministers of trade and local government were summoned to address the pressing issues raised in Emmanuel’s report with parliament actively seeking solutions to ensure the safety of publicly available meat.
The training opened up many opportunities for me to enhance my skills
“I have gained more knowledge in investigative storytelling”, says Nadine Umuhoza, a journalist at Bridge Rwanda Magazine. Her story showed how a multi-million irrigation scheme in Rwanda risked failure after millions of francs meant for the maintenance of irrigation equipment went missing, jeopardising the livelihoods of numerous farmers.
“This training opened up many opportunities for me to enhance my skills because I was also selected to attend a training on investigating financial environmental crimes in Naivasha, Kenya,” she adds. “I am grateful to Legal Aid Forum, Thomson Foundation, and the US Embassy in Rwanda for their support, which has motivated me to focus my work on investigative stories projects.”
The year-long programme run by Thomson Foundation and our local partner The Legal Aid Forum was supported by the US Embassy in Rwanda. It equipped journalists with robust investigative journalism skills and a comprehensive understanding of the profession, enabling them to produce public interest, reliable, impartial, and wide-reaching content.
“The objective of the training was to ensure this cohort of Rwandan journalists began to familiarise themselves with the basic principles of investigative journalism,” says John-Allan Namu, a renowned Kenya-based investigative journalist who was the lead trainer.
“The training was not highly technical, rather, it focused on ensuring that journalists have a more complete understanding of their profession and its evolving role in the public space,” he adds.
To encourage collaboration among journalists, the programme provided story production grants, creating opportunities to address the most pressing issues facing Rwanda.
Crucially, the programme also extended free legal support to journalists working in the country, ensuring they receive assistance in the event of legal challenges or prosecution relating to their work. It’s hoped this commitment will contribute to fostering an environment where journalists can fearlessly pursue investigative journalism.
The selection of Fulgence Niyonagize, Emmanuel Dushimimana Ngabo, and Yvonne Mutatsineza to attend this year’s Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Sweden is a testament to their outstanding work and the success of the programme in identifying and nurturing talent.
The programme also showcases the potential for transformative change when media professionals are equipped with the right skills and knowledge to tackle complex issues. The impact of these investigative stories is expected to resonate not only locally, but also on a broader scale, contributing to the global conversation on responsible journalism.