Kampala, Uganda

Daily Monitor, Nation Media Group

Host: Miami Herald


Ugandan turns his storytelling nature into a profession

Isaac Imaka, who covers politics and the oil and gas industry for one of Uganda’s leading newspapers, got quite an early start in his career. When he was a “cheeky” child growing up the countryside near Jinja in eastern Uganda, his mother called him “the village journalist.”

“I started stationing myself at the village court to listen to cases of which drunk beat his wife; which villager stole food from whose garden; which philandering man had been caught in the act by their partner, among other issues,” Imaka explained.  “After the village court sessions, my role then was to rush back home and retell what had transpired at the court, my thoughts on the different cases and my views on how the court chairperson had handled the cases.”

Imaka, who was known by villagers as “the quick one,” said neighbors would confer with him to check on the veracity of a story that was making the rounds.

At age 29, Imaka is now making the rounds in the nation’s parliament building as a chief correspondent for the Daily Monitor, a newspaper owned by the Nairobi-based Nation Media Group. Imaka also covers the oil and gas industries and speaks English, French, Kiswahili, Lusoga and Luganda.

Although he initially wanted to become a lawyer, his natural passion for journalism prevailed. Imaka started writing about politics and social welfare issues for the Daily Monitor in 2008, while he was getting his degree in Mass Communication at Makerere. Despite the challenges faced by reporting in a country where journalists are subjected to harassment and intimidation by state officials, Imaka managed to break major stories.

One of his articles revealed how the multinational company Tullow Oil was paying an expatriate way more money for consulting services than the amount listing in government documents. Imaka’s reporting got the government’s attention and the company was summoned before the nation’s petroleum watchdog. The Ugandan journalist also broke a story about a group of legislators who were deliberately sabotaging debates in the House. His article stopped the misbehavior in Parliament.

Westminster Foundation named Imaka Best Parliament Reporter and the African Center for Media Excellence gave Imaka a first runner-up award for his oil and gas industry reporting.

Although journalism has been practiced for over a century in Uganda, Imaka said the media industry in the country is still nascent. He plans to one day start his own online multimedia venture, with a focus on public affairs. Imaka also wants to write a book about the first female speaker of a parliament in Uganda and the place of women in the region’s politics.

The journalist said he hopes his fellowship will help him improve journalism back home.

“I intend to use the knowledge I will acquire from the fellowship to train, through reading groups and mentorship, colleagues back at the Daily Monitor,” Imaka wrote. “In the long term, I hope to use the skills from the fellowship, and contacts I will get in the U.S. to make my dream, of owning and running a media platform, come true.”

During his fellowship, Imaka will work at the Miami Herald, where he wants to cover public affairs and learn more about political reporting. He also wants to apply multimedia skills learned during orientation to produce podcasts.

Tatiana Darie