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Kigali Today report on PM Ngirente at regional meeting lacked context

The top East African Community leadership converged in Tanzania last Thursday to assess the effects of climate change and share experiences on mitigation measures for food security.

Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente represented President Paul Kagame at the EAC High-Level Forum on Climate Change and Food Security in Arusha on November 23, 2023. The leaders agreed to increase investment in climate smart agriculture and renewable energy to address the impact of climate change and improve access to and availability of food for their citizens.

KT Press, a news site published by Kigali Today, reported that PM Ngirente suggested to the forum that for the region “to feed its 283 million” population, three things required to be done: “Having enough food means availability of the food, affordability and access.”

The PM was reported to have called for strategic collaborations, knowledge and experience sharing among EAC member states to address climate-related disasters.

KT Press reported that PM Ngirente shared with the forum a raft of incentives Rwanda government had used to attract investors in agriculture, including:

  1. building “viable infrastructure ([including] feeder roads)”;

  2. providing 10 per cent funds to agriculture “as required by Malabo Convention on Agriculture Financing”, with loan interest rates lower than two digits;

  3. building post-harvest facilities to reduce the current 40 per cent loss;

  4. putting out a 40 per cent agriculture insurance scheme to cover losses on crops and livestock;

  5. subsidised small-scale irrigation, and locally producing improved quality seeds to tame high cost of imports; duty-free import on all agricultural inputs; and tax exemption on all agricultural equipment;

  6. a 50 per cent reduction in corporate income tax, seven-year tax relief for export-related investments and mobilising funds in smart agriculture and green growth fund – ‘Ireme’ (worth $300m).

With these details – although they were silent on the results of the incentives – KT Press did justice to the PM who came across as one fit for the international assignment his boss sent him. Also, the facts and figures he provided revealed the support from bureaucrats adept at research for national pitching at forums outside Kigali.

However, the publication left some aspects in journalistic grey. They should have been addressed to lend completeness to the vital story.

For example, reporter Daniel Sabiiti gave the population within the EAC states as 283 million and attributed the figure to PM Ngirente without invoking another – if not more credible – source. From where else could a reader confirm that statistic? He also didn’t say the total membership of the trading bloc, on a day the Summit of Heads of State invoked Article 3 of the Treaty for the Establishment of the EAC and admitted Somalia as the eighth member.

Rwanda’s financing to agriculture, the story said, had reached 10 per cent “as required by Malabo Convention.” This percentage is of what? And, no; it’s not Malabo Convention, it’s the Malabo Declaration. Why?

Remember, from June 26-27, 2014, the heads of state and government of the African Union, having met at the 23rd Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, passed several resolutions. They adopted the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods. “We commit to enhance investment finance, both public and private, to agriculture; and to this end we resolve – a) to uphold our earlier commitment to allocate at least 10% of public expenditure to agriculture, and to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness,” says the Declaration. This necessary historical context was missed in the KT Press story.

The writer also failed the test of attribution. There were three successive self-contained paragraphs enumerating the Rwanda government’s incentives to the agricultural sector that could have been more authoritative and sanctioned had he quoted PM Ngirente. And because of the omission, the paragraphs – and the figures in them – read as if they were the writer’s personal views.

Some of the initiatives mentioned by the PM were technical and needed to be explained. They weren’t. For example, listen to the intro: “The Prime Minister of Rwanda Dr Édouard Ngirente has asked the East African Community (EAC) to shift to smart agriculture to alleviate food insecurity in the region.” Yet, throughout the story, there was no effort to tell readers exactly what ‘smart agriculture’ entailed.

The story suffered from title overload, a mistake easily avoided when a writer simplifies the purpose of an event: “The forum held in Arusha, Tanzania, as a side event ahead of the 23rd Ordinary EAC Head of State Ordinary Summit and was attended by the EAC Heads of State, the EAC 1st deputy Prime Minister of Uganda, former PM of Ethiopia and ministers of environment and the diplomatic corps among other regional dignitaries.” The writer didn’t mention all the heads of state present. Neither did he name the “former PM of Ethiopia.” This paragraph was long and winding, making comprehension difficult.

Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye attended and addressed the forum, yet there was no mention of him in the KT Press story. Why was that angle important? He’s the chairperson of the EAC Summit of Heads of State, the apex in the organogram of the EAC.

Lesson learnt? Coverage of high-level foreign events demands that reporters ‘bring stories home’ by providing relevant information, and exhibiting a solid understanding of international relations.

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