Espoir Iradukunda is a Burundian data-driven investigative journalist passionate about science reporting based on health, the environment and solutions. He is the co-founder and managing editor at Inside Burundi, an online publication that combines data journalism with investigative and environmental journalism.
1. How long have you been a journalist and why did you choose journalism?
My journey as a journalist started back in 2017 when I interned at IWACU Press Group, the only independent media house in Burundi. But at the time, I was assigned to the communications department. The choice to intern in IWACU coupled with my childhood desire to become a society’s spokesperson. However, I did not get a chance to intern as a journalist, rather I witnessed in a short period [and] I was granted [the opportunity to see] what journalism is as I could interact with journalists, and sometimes I attended early morning newsroom meetings. I could swallow weekly newspapers and I asked myself how I could step in.
After my internship period, I searched for a professional internship at Jimbere Magazine. That was the real start of my journalism career. I graduated in English Languages Literature in the Business Communication track. For me it was the closest substitute to a journalism degree I could get since at the time there was no media Bachelor’s programmes.
My motives to become a journalist came when I was a kid. I could get stuck on radio for hours listening to the news with my father. From that time, I swore to become a journalist childishly but today the dream became true. Back in 2020, while I was a journalist at Burundi Times, I happened to attend my first global investigative journalist conference which spoilt my thinking. During the conference, I was introduced to investigative journalism. From that moment, I was sick and tired of daily political news imposed by my editors that does not help society much except for some people. As of today, few media outlets in Burundi cover ground stories that matter to the population to hold the power to account. Then, I thought of a new idea based on investigative journalism. Our first idea was to report on human rights. But the latter looked sensitive so we opted for the environment to get recognised and get documentation for our newspaper.
However, we still have a desk designed for investigative journalism, but it has not yet been launched officially. Our motivation lies in climate justice. We cover or look forward to covering untold stories in Burundi, The Great Lakes, and the East African community with a focus on collaboration to reach out to as many audiences as possible to draw attention to actions [that can] mitigate the effect of climate change.
2. Can you tell us about the work that you do at Inside Burundi?
Inside Burundi is an English-language media outlet based in Burundi. The project is still in the birth stage, it was partially launched in April 2021. Today, we cover data investigative environmental stories and sometimes do field investigative assignments. The newsroom is composed of six people: two main journalists including me, a newsroom editor, two interns, and an accounts person who assists in small accounting tasks. Under my leadership, Inside Burundi is still in the process of training younger journalists, in regard to the vision of the newsroom becoming a professional investigative media outlet. When the team is fully equipped by the end of this year, we hope to launch officially. We are investing in training each other, learning through different platforms, and amassing all possible knowledge for investigative journalism. Alternatively, there is a project to start French content as well as Kirundi but now the focus is on the Anglophone audience based in Burundi and abroad.
3. Environmental journalism/climate change is a niche topic, how have people reacted to your content? Is there an interest in environmental journalism in Burundi?
When we started the initiative, people laughed at us and said where do you bring your investigative idea, to Burundi? Do you want to die? Even people who reached out for partnerships or funding rejected us because they said it was a suicide mission. Why? Because when you want to report on any environmental issue at a certain point it becomes sensitive. Either you find at the bottom line a general, a mafia, or other powerful people. Take an example of plastic pollution, in our ground investigations we found out that there is no regulation governing plastic in Burundi and why? The one who imports them is a general and is untouchable. If you go to ask, they tell you, to mind your own business, and drop the story. Another example, in our investigation we found out that people in Cibitoke province (western Burundi) have suffered from a mega cement industry polluting the environment, and people have been suffering unknown illnesses. The company belongs to the mafia working with the government. If you dare to do an investigation you receive calls to silence you. As a remedy, we are searching for other newsrooms to publish our stories before we get the credibility to do it as it takes time. They have been applauding and encouraging us. To date, media outlets have not yet started to widely cover environment and climate change-related stories. They are still afraid, and some lack enough skills and equipment. However, many newsrooms remember to cover it when it is breaking news only.
4. How would you describe the media landscape in Burundi? In terms of media freedom?
Today, the media landscape has evolved since Evariste Ndashimiye’s reign compared to the late Pierre Nkurunziza’s. However, journalists are still reluctant to dive into news that really matters. They are still haunted by past incidents and instead cover entertainment, press releases and those investigative stories still missed out. If we keep the same speed the president is giving the floor and green light to journalists, we will be back to normality soon before the end of this year, we hope. Now, it is easier to move throughout the country on field assignments, speak to local authorities, and people come back without any problem, despite the subject you are covering. The president has been calling for all authorities to be open to journalists. Last month, I was surprised to call a minister and he answered my questions.
5. What are some of the challenges of reporting in Burundi?
The media industry is jammed with people who call themselves journalists while they know nothing about journalism and they are not willing to learn. The main challenge is training referred to as capacity building amid this changing news consumption. The second one is the lack of funds. Most media houses rely on themselves to fund newsroom daily activities. And what is happening here is beyond our understanding but we try our best. Most newsrooms do not have a permanent workforce as they cannot pay them. Those who pay monthly salaries to their journalist are few and do not exceed three online and print newspapers including IWACU Press Group. The remaining two have got local NGOs as their funders including Jimbere and Ejoheza News funded by a private manager. The other challenge relies on published content, at least 80% are blog posts not based on traditional journalism. The latter questions their content as unprofessional mainly Yaga, Jimbere, and Ingo Magazine. The other challenge is access to sources. If your media outlet is not affiliated with the ruling party or not state-owned, sometimes you are given permission to attend some field assignments.
6. Where do you see Inside Burundi in the next five years? What are some of your goals as a publication?
The Inside Burundi publication was initiated based on investigative journalism but with a focus on reporting environmental issues, a health desk as well as a fact-checking desk. However, investigations might be broadening accordingly as journalism is changing then other beats might be added such as human rights. In five years, I see Inside Burundi as one of the leading investigative newsrooms in Burundi and on a regional scale. I see Inside Burundi as one of the pioneers of data journalism, and geo-journalism as far environment reporting is concerned. I see Inside Burundi as a hub for debunking mis/disinformation in Burundi, East Africa, and the continent in general. With vision and perseverance, nothing is impossible. However, in view of global trends, our long-termed vision might be subjected to change.
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