He would like to simply call himself a broadcaster but his is a face and voice you will identify with environmental broadcasts. Andrew Mugyema became a public face for his fanatical presentation of environmental issues on Eco Talk, on NTV Uganda.
He no longer graces our screens but he has not gone quiet about the environment.
Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Media Steps, a company he started to keep his tabs on development communication issues. His work involves documenting issues for both public and private business.
Environment is still high on his agenda and he would like to make his contribution in trying to avert the adverse effects of climate change in Uganda where population pressure has ignited human activity of deforestation and clearing of swamps.
“The fact that agriculture contributes to more than 80 per cent of our survival in most of the households in Uganda, I discovered that it is dependent on environment, and the well-being of the environment directly impacts people in terms of their production and at a bigger level our economy also largely depends on agriculture,” he argues, explaining part of his inspiration to be an environmentalist. But one of the arguments for conservation was and still is that we are dependent on ‘Mother Nature’ to produce all that we depend on.
As a journalist, Mugyema discovered that most of his colleagues were interested in political reporting and when he opened pages in the newspapers or switched on the radio, the media was filled with broadcast of political views and news. “Society forgot that its survival is heavily dependent on environment as the first step of survival in terms of health, the food we eat, the air we breathe and the general survival for the current generation and others to come,” he argues.
Climate change and issues of environment were not given attention. So, Mugyema saw an opportunity to stand out of the crowd and contribute to that limited pool of knowledge and awareness.
In creating special attention about these issues, he broadened them and people were able to connect their situation and how important the environment can be especially in the face of climate change.
Mugyema’s is a journey that started in 2001. As an intern at Wavah Broadcasting Services (WBS), yet to graduate from Makerere University with a journalism honours degree, Mugyema was more interested in investigative journalism. “I was lucky to be nominated by my editor then, Herbert Were, for a World Bank training specifically targeting problems of African states, developing countries and the the factors perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty. The training revolved around issues to do with money laundering, corruption, bad governance and how you can investigate a story and unearth some of these evils for the general public,” he recalls.
His turning point came a year later, in 2002 when he travelled to England for a course in broadcast. He picked lessons in broadcast techniques, TV production, operating different cameras, and how to package different elements of TV like features and mini-documentaries.
It was a personal drive, supported by his family with recommendation from WBS. While in the UK, Mugyema was struck by the level of environmental preservation.
“There is a lot of industrialisation but government and developers are careful. A few kilometres from London itself are forests that have been protected with wild animals and this is an equivalent of the distance from Kampala to Kajjansi. There are specific measures to safeguard the environment which means there are wetlands, forests, tree planting activities in the city centres,” he explains.
So bringing this message very strongly on Ugandan television was timely.
He made sure he investigated and read beyond what people know. “Some of the first stories I did when I came back were about the seasonal floods in Bwaise. I went beyond reporting what was featured in the newspapers and on radio, which was about blaming government and drainage channels,” he recounts.
Starting Eco Talk
The environment enthusiast looked at how people’s property was destroyed. He investigated and found that it had to do with felling trees on the slopes that overlook Bwaise, encroachment on the wetlands that were supposed to filter and later purify waste water as it goes back to the lake.
“When I started doing all those stories the response was good and I started getting feedback from environment sources that were willing to even explain these issues further. That led to the birth of the weekly feature called Eco Talk on NTV. I was its pioneer presenter,” Mugyema explains about the birth of the television programme that earned him respect as a journalist on the environment beat.
Finally, he had an opportunity to come up with weekly themes that tackled environment which meant interfacing specialists to get their take on different issues. The results were good and soon the nomination for awards came. Mugyema’s focus was always on having a good story out.
“I would walk on the streets and people would stop me to say thank you which also happened even among peers in other media houses. And of course, I would get special mentions in conferences I was attending and most of the stories I was doing were references for people to understand the environment and climate changes,” he elaborates about some of the recognitions his efforts got him.
The big stories
One of the biggest stories he calls to mind is the one which involved big companies where each made accusations at another of contaminating Lake Victoria. “Much of the water was extremely green and I did my investigations and found out that it is as a result of chemicals from some of the companies specifically from Uganda Breweries Limited at Luzira. They were excreting directly and fish was dying,” he discloses. He was again doing more than the average journalist who would report about the lake turning green but not bothering to find out why it was turning so.