Last Sunday we traveled to Hoima, where we participated in a training on conflict-sensitive reporting and natural resources in Hoima, the “Oil City” in Uganda. Because there is a lot of oil in this region, many oil-related conflicts occur including marginalization or displacement of communities, disputes over oil royalties, and more. The participants were all journalists, editors, media activists, or other related professionals. Our lead facilitator, Dr. George Lugalambi, was a journalism professor at Makerere University in Kampala, and he was also a Fulbright scholar, so he really had a lot of knowledge and experience to impart. Because we usually discuss conflict from an access to justice perspective, it was interesting to hear about conflict from a media-oriented group. On the first day of the training, we discussed oil and gas resources, the nature of and potential for conflict, and the role of the media in either fueling or mitigating conflicts. Many of our discussions became heated, because the participants had strong opinions on these topics.
In the evening we spent some time in the health club at our hotel, which offers a sauna, a steam room, and massage. It turns out that steam rooms are very popular here, and some people go to them every week to bathe, relax, and hang out with other regulars. Inside the steam room, men and women mingle in a few connected rooms, and I made friends quickly. Some women even helped me wash my skin, feeling free to touch my arms, neck, and shoulders in the intimate setting of the steam room.
On the second day of the training, the participants wrote up a mock storyline based on an actual study about natural resource management in the Albertine Graben region of Uganda, and they presented their work to the group. This exercise is meant to give them practice in crafting a story that will report the facts in an accurate and compelling manner without fueling conflict unnecessarily. It is also hoped that some of the participants will refine their work from this project in the upcoming week or so, and actually report on it. Once again, the SAFE Program put on a thought-provoking and practical training.