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Geodata journalism. Mapping stories on water issues in the Nile Basin.

Co-Production of Knowledge Set To Unlock Mistrust between Journalists and Scientists in Nile Basin

Wednesday September 20th, 2017

By Fredrick Mugira

Journalists and water scientists in the Nile basin are rooting for innovative strategies to bridge the gap between them. This, they say, would help to promote transboundary cooperation in the Nile riparian countries, a home to 437 million people.

They were speaking in Cairo, Egypt during a workshop on communicating water science for transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin by Open Water Diplomacy Lab, a project of IHE Delft Institute for Water Education.

“It would end misunderstandings and misconceptions,” argues Wondwosen Michago Seide, a doctoral student at Lund University Centre for sustainability studies in Sweden, while commenting on the need to bridge the gap between media, policymakers and scientists in the Nile basin.

Increased population and effects of climate change, among other factors, are leading to soaring demand for River Nile’s water and new pacts on how it should be shared among the countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. This sometimes leads to interstate conflicts.

But, citing daily media reports about Nile basin issues, Wondwosen argues that the Nile wars and conflicts, “are usually in the newspaper landscape than on the ground.”

And participants during the workshop reasoned that “co-training” of scientists and journalists could help prevent such disputes and also bring stories of the Nile in headlines because it enables the duo to speak “the same language.”

“We need to understand what journalists want,” says Professor Frank Kansiime, of Makerere University in Uganda, further stressing that in turn, “journalists need to understand what researchers want to communicate.”

This, Prof. Kansiime notes, can be achieved when the duo hold meetings and trainings together.

In North Africa and other “Arab countries,” where according to Bothina Osama, the SciDev.Net’s regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, “there is no degree in science communication except a masters degree in Algeria,” co-production of knowledge between journalists and scientists would be a perfect opportunity for journalists to learn from scientists.

Recognising the strategic importance of skilling journalists in science communication, Dr. Ana Elisa Cascão, the programme manager at the Transboundary Water Management team of Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) says most of the Nile basin journalists SIWI trained in the recent past have been able to produce, “more informed, complete, balanced, more in-depth, analytical and critical articles,” some of which focused on the $4.7bn Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd).”

“With such skills,” argues Dr. Muna Mohammed Musnadm, a researcher at the UNESCO Chair in Water Resources (UNESCO-CWR) of Sudan, it would be easier for the scientists to, “trust journalists and work with them on stories,” which has been lacking according to Wanjohi Kabukuru, a Kenyan Journalist and Ayah R. Aman, an Egyptian journalist.

Fortunately, Dr. Emmanule Fantini, the senior researcher at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, says there is no need for worrying because this is exactly what Open Water Diplomacy Lab project, which he heads, is intended to do.

Open Water Diplomacy is conceived as a laboratory where water journalists, scientists and diplomats engage in a process of common learning and co-production of knowledge on and for water diplomacy.

“And hopefully, not just training journalists and training scientists in two different rooms but at a certain point to bring them together, to facilitate co-production of knowledge.”

And as these journalists – most of them lacking financial support from their media houses to investigate comprehensive Nile river management stories – acquire skills from scientists, the love for their job and performance is likely to increase. This is based on the May 2017 study into the mental resilience of journalists by Dr. Tara Swart, which urges that, “people who do a job which they feel has noble goals are more likely to do it for less money, and are more likely to have increased productivity.”

Communicating water science for transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin workshop was organized by Nile Basin Capacity Building Network within the framework of two initiatives funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs Global Partnership for Water and Development: Open Water Diplomacy. Media, Science and Water Cooperation in the Nile basin, a project implemented by IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Nile Basin Capacity Building Network, African Water Journalists, SciDev.net, and University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg. The other initiative is the Memorandum of Understanding between IHE Delft and SIWI on water diplomacy, which identified media training in the Eastern Nile as one of the activities to be jointly implemented.

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