Think twice before moving journalism school from Kigali

Sunday April 22 2018

It remains in national interest for the School

It remains in national interest for the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) to remain in Kigali. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NATION 

By CHRISTOPHER KAYUMBA
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In a surprising move, the University of Rwanda is planning to relocate the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) from Kigali to Huye.

The school was relocated to Kigali in 2011 following a Cabinet decision and after agreeing that the move was “in national interest” as the Cabinet paper that introduced the request stated.

While the decision hasn’t conclusively been taken, it’s my view that it remains in national interest for the school to remain in Kigali as the reasons that justified its relocation are still valid today.

But before illustrating why it would be retrogressive to take the school back to Huye, suffice it to note that the relocation doesn’t only affect journalism but the entire College of Law, Economics and Governance.

And the decision is based on recommendations from the taskforce set up by prime minister last year to study the university’s rationalisation undertaken in 2017 leading to complaints from some of the affected.

While the reasons for relocating the college are plausible, including the need to contribute to the development of Huye as a Secondary City and optimally utilise university facilities there, keeping the school of journalism in Kigali is comparatively more beneficial to the nation.

My overall view then is that while the rest of the college should move, the school shouldn’t. And here is why:

First, while the recommendation to move was triggered by recent institutional restructuring, there seems to be limited institutional memory to understand that the school’s relocation in 2011 followed a deliberative process that included all stakeholders.

Specifically, the demand to relocate the school began after President Paul Kagame met journalists at a two-day closed door discussion at Village Urugwiro in mid-October 2007.

After the meeting, the president promised “to ensure the process to open a media training centre in Kigali as one of the efforts to build capacity in the media.”

Following the meeting, Prof Laurent Nkusi, then Information Minister at the time and later, his successor, Hon Louise Mushikiwabo engaged the university leading to the creation of the Great Lakes Media Center under the school and subsequent school relocation.

Second, the Cabinet Paper that led to the relocation, which at that time was presented by the then minister for Education stated, in part, that “the SJC needs to be near the place where most practicing journalists are located” in order to address the “visible low writing skills on the part of practicing journalists, limited understanding of the basic principles of journalism and ethics as well as low intellectual capacity”

Further, the Cabinet was told that “there is an overwhelming demand from policymakers and media practitioners to move the SJC to Kigali to help train practicing journalists and improve their writing and reporting skills.”

Finally, the paper noted that “moving the SJC to Kigali would both facilitate the NUR’s policy of generating its own funds while facilitating the policy of cost-sharing by enabling students to get part time jobs in Kigali where most of the media houses are located”

Seven years later, there is evidence to show that the decision has a direct impact on media development.

For instance, while in 2008 the school had about 150 students with less than 0.1 per cent of them working as journalists, today, there are about 380 students and more than 50 per cent of them working as journalists and editors.

Moving the school back to Huye will not only mean loss of jobs for students, but probable decrease in the number of privately sponsored students as many might be unwilling to relocate.

Third, the move might undermine education policy. If the policy is for education to impact the industry, why relocate the school when it’s already doing so?

Fourth, in discussing the move, its clear journalism education and practice is less understood as some policymakers posit that the reasons given to justify keeping the school in Kigali can also be given by anyone in any field, say law or economics!

Journalism is probably the only one where one can be allowed to practice before graduation.

For instance, while there is no undergraduate law student that can be allowed to be an attorney or a judge, most of our journalism students are already practising journalists! This is because journalism is an art; a practice not theory.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com