Collaboration Barriers: African researchers, journalists unite against climate change in Tanzania

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At the five-day meeting both the researchers and the journalists pledged to form a network to spread the gospel of the “need for sustainable partnership on climate issues for the sake of humanity.”

 September 4, 2023

Joel Meliyo is a researcher working on a climate-smart African rice project at the Tanzania Agricultural Institute (TARI).

Mr Meliyo’s project aims to address the two extreme climate change consequences of flooding and drought on rice production in Tanzania, Africa’s second biggest rice producer.

However, Mr Meliyo did not like to speak to journalists about his work. He said he used to view journalists as “detectives” who may end up “using the information they are provided to harm their sources.”

Similarly, Victor Barnes, a professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), whose research project is titled: “Climate-smart Cocoa Agroforestry Research in Ghana,” also fears being misquoted by journalists, and so he hadn’t been “very open to media engagements.”

Both James Mariaria from Kenyatta University in Kenya, who is working on Widespread Use of Geothermal Energy in Africa, and Sylvie Namwase, from Makerere University’s School of Law in Uganda, among others, said they had always nursed the fear of speaking to journalists about their works.

Their challenges stemmed from a poor understanding of media operations, possible misinterpretation, lack of trust, and language barriers.

Journalists’ fears

Meanwhile, journalists also said researchers are not only difficult to access but also difficult to comprehend because “they use complex terms to prove their competence and authority in their fields of study.”

Chemtai Kirui of the Kass Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya, said scientists always look down on journalists, claiming “mere reporters cannot comprehend their research work and so there is no basis for conversation.”

Others such as Sarah Mawerere of Ugandan Broadcasting Corporation in Kampala; Janet Ogundepo of The Punch Newspapers in Nigeria; Melody Chironda of allAfrica Global Media, Cape Town, South Africa, and Eric Egbeta of Media General Limited, Accra, Ghana, believe researchers deliberately speak “jargons” to prove authority on subjects.

Journalists also accuse researchers of demanding honorarium to appear on their shows or before being interviewed, claiming they (researchers) believe their intellectual property cannot be offered pro bono “because it costs so much to achieve scholarship.”

Hope rises

Between Monday, 28 August, and 1 September, in Arusha, Tanzania, these researchers including environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, and lecturers across various academic institutions in Africa engaged in mutually beneficial interactions with journalists from multiple newsrooms on the continent on ways to break the conversation and collaboration barriers towards tackling climate change consequences and make Africa the centre of conversations on the global issue.

Facilitated by Denmark-based Danida Fellowship Centre (DFC), and tagged: “Bridging the Gap-Science for the Public: Reporting from the African Frontline of the Global Climate Crisis,” the weeklong event held at the MS-Training Centre for Development Cooperation (MS-TCDC), a pan-African training centre located in Arusha, Northern Tanzania.

The meeting took place ahead of the inaugural Africa Climate Action Summit scheduled for Nairobi, Kenya, between 4 and 6 September.

The media participants moved from Arusha to participate in the summit in Kenya, as part of the first public engagements for the fellows.

Bridging the gaps

In their “Manifesto”- otherwise described as recommendations, both the journalists and researchers advised researchers in Africa not to publish only in science journals but they to focus on public understanding, avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks in their relationship with journalists, and that they should release preliminary findings of reports for journalists for proper understanding of the issues.

Also, journalists are urged to build integrity towards attracting the trust of the researchers, be open to checking quotes and scientific facts before publishing, and that journalists should stop collecting “transport fare” from sources before reporting their stories.

At the five-day meeting, the two groups pledged to form a network to spread the gospel of the “need for sustainable partnership for the sake of humanity.”

Why collaboration?

Welcoming participants to the centre, MS- TCDC’s Executive Director, Makena Nwobobia, said to lead conversations around climate change and mitigate its consequences on the continent “academics are crucial to the talks and jssxournalists are needed for climate stories for the African audience.”

Ms Nwobobia enjoined participants to see their selection as a call to duty to save the planet from further destruction and help humanity to survive.

She said the 56-year-old centre is committed to advancing intellectual collaborations for the benefit of humanity.

On her part, the Senior Communications Consultant at DFC, Vibeke Quaade, said the fellowship was aimed at bridging the existing gaps between researchers and journalists towards simplifying reports on climate change research output and other issues for larger audiences on the continent and beyond.

Ms Quaade, who expressed satisfaction over the “commitment, energy, excitement, and passion displayed by the participants,” said she was hopeful that the abundant resources available on the continent would be properly explored for the greatness of Africa.

Climate discourse

For the five-day meeting, the fellows were immersed in deep-dive courses on climate issues including negotiations and related processes, climate justice, approaches to science journalism, climate financing and adaptation issues, carbon markets, and constructive journalism techniques, among other pertinent topics.

Leading the conversation on climate justice, the Executive Director of a civil society coalition- Panafrican Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), Mithika Mwenda, spoke on the theme; “A Shared African Perspective and Voice for Climate Justice.”

According to Mr Mwenda, for contributing a mere 4 per cent to global pollution but being at the receiving end of the consequences, it was time for Africa to be at the centre of the conversations on climate change.

“Climate change has ceased to be an environmental issue alone, it affects all parts of humanity- economy, health, education, energy, social life, among others. It is, therefore, important to make it a matter of human rights and Africa must be at the centre of the conversation,” he said.

Also, Philip Kilonzo, the head of Policy, Advocacy, and Communication at PACJA, who spoke on; “Climate Negotiations and Related Processes: What is at Stake for Africa,” addressed the key significant issues concerning climate negotiations and why Africa should be a determining factor and not “mere onlookers” on climate discussions.

For journalism training, a science journalist and trainer from Denmark, Lise Brix; Cynara Fetch, the International Project Lead for The Constructive Institute, and the former Digital Editor at the Kenya-based The Standard Media Group, Carol Kimutai, took turns to discuss subjects such as “Tactics to Science Journalism,” “The Need for Constructive Journalism,” “Reason for Researcher/Journalist Collaboration,” among other topics.

Participants

The fellows- both researchers and journalists, who are drawn from across about 13 nations on the continents, are climate change enthusiasts and those already working on relevant issues on the subject

Though no researcher was invited from Nigeria, PREMIUM TIMES’ Development Editor, Mojeed Alabi, and The Punch Newspaper’s Climate Issue Correspondent, Janet Ogundepo, were on the team.

Mr Alabi was recommended by the Consulate Office of Denmark in Lagos based on his past works on issues of health, environment, and development.

Others are from South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana.

Africa Climate Summit

Themed: “Driving Green Growth and Climate Finance Solutions for Africa and the World,” the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS) 2023, kicks off on Monday, in Nairobi, Kenya, “with the crucial objective of delivering green growth and climate finance solutions, for Africa.”

Throughout the event, heads of state are expected to join forces to develop a united “stance on vital issues such as adaptation and resilience, renewable energy,

sustainable development, food and water security, and financing for climate action on the African continent,” the organisers said.

The discussions are expected to serve as vital preparations leading to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 28, scheduled for November in the United Arab Emirates.

Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, is expected on Tuesday to feature alongside other African leaders at a plenary session tagged; “Chatting a Vision: Investment Opportunities for Green Growth.”

The session, which is expected to be moderated by another Nigerian, United Nations Representative of the Secretary General /CEO of the Energy for All, Damilola Ogunbiyi, is expected to feature other panelists including the host President of Kenya, William Ruto; Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopian Prime Minister, and the President of Senegal, Macky Sall.

Nigeria’s former Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, a professor, is also expected on Monday to be part of a panel discussion on the topic: “Carbon Markets in the Global South.”

PREMIUM TIMES earlier on Sunday reported that both President Ruto and the President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwunmi Adesina, interacted with the African youths at the final day of the African Youth Climate Assembly which was held between 1 and 3 September.

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