On who better to test the concept of Smart Villages than journalists living and working in East Africa? We put this reasoning into practice in our first media workshop, held over two intensive days in mid-November in Kigali. The results were fascinating and the enthusiasm for our belief that access to energy can and will transform lives in even the remotest off-grid communities. Invited journalists travelled from both our host country Rwanda, and neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
“Its about information, which is our business” – Joachim Buwembo
The workshop opened with a briefing by project co-leader John Holmes on the gulf between the scale of projected grid extension and the requirement for energy in the developing world. This stark gap presents a problem if the UN’s aim of energy for all by 2030 is to be met. Guest speakers included Denyse Umubyeyi of Practical Action, who reported on the East African energy provision landscape. She was followed by leading local experts Dan Klinck of DC Hydropower, speaking on micro hydro projects and solar farms and Francine Munyaneza from Munyax Eco on home solar enterprises. Both sets of projects demonstrated the technical feasibility of providing off-grid solutions and the potential barriers. Unsurprisingly, access to finance was repeatedly reported to be a major concern.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the workshop followed a exercise in which the journalists were asked to imagine a smart village and its potential benefits. A majority of the attendees had been born in remote villages and recalled the detrimental effects of poor energy access. These ranged from the trivial problems of maintaining a manicure whilst hauling coal, to the impact on education. Many recalled the sense of injustice they competed for college places against students in towns who could study into the evening with the benefit of electric lighting.
In the newspaper, there is room for every reporter to write about energy – Samson Kamalamo (Changamoto Newspaper)
The journalists, in particular Kigali Today’s Simon Kamuzinzi, listed not only expected benefits in terms of health, entrepreneurship and sanitation, but also new ones such as security and support for improved government-citizen interaction. Following practical exercises on energy journalism from veteran reporters Sharon Schmickle, Julia Vitullo-Martin and Joachim Buwembo, the workshop concluded with the a tangible sense of enthusiasm. The reporters returned to their home countries with the stated goals of writing more about the need for off-grid solutions and the intention seek out villages on their journey ready to become smart.