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“I’d like African journalists to do African investigations supported by African people”

Ugandan journalist Solomon Serwanjja discusses his new institute and the many challenges investigative reporters face in the continent

Maurice Oniang'o

Monday 28 November 2022

Ugandan investigative journalist Solomon Serwanjja is the Executive Director and one of the founders of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ), a Ugandan-based media organisation focused on supporting investigative journalism in Africa.

Solomon’s career spans over 14 years. He has worked in media houses such as UBC , NTV Uganda and NBS television, and has conducted some of the most audacious ground-breaking investigative documentaries in Uganda.

The Ayes Have It’ exposed how members of Uganda’s Parliament including the speaker, Uganda’s finance minister and the second Deputy Prime Minister had allocated themselves $2.7 million of Covid funds. ‘Stealing from the sick’, a collaboration with BBC Africa Eye, exposed how dodgy medical practitioners were stealing lifesaving drugs meant to be issued free of charge in government facilities and selling them in private hospitals. ‘Dark World of Drugs’ showed how some police agents in Uganda were dealing cocaine and heroin on the black market.

Solomon’s work has also resulted in a man-hunt by security agencies, a police raid on his home and the arrest of his wife, and court battles with people he's sought to expose. Solomon has been recognised many times for his work and he won the prestigious BBC Komla Dumor award in 2019.

Solomon and his colleagues started AIIJ in 2020 as a platform in which journalists from various media houses in Uganda could learn how to do investigative stories, collaborate on them and get legal support. The Institute’s work is critical in ensuring the growth and sustainability of quality investigative journalism in a country with a poor record on press freedom. Uganda ranks 132 out of 180 at the 2022 Global Press Freedom Index. It ranked 125 in 2021, an indication that the situation is deteriorating.

I spoke recently with Solomon about his own career, the challenges of investigative journalism in the region and how this kind of reporting can be funded in Africa and beyond. His responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. How did you get into investigative journalism?

A. My career as an investigative journalist started when a woman walked into NTV crying. She said that her son had been taken abroad by some people from the United States so that they could take care of his education. They had told her he would come back but he didn’t.

I followed this story and did a five-part investigation called ‘Taken and never returned’. I found that some lawyers had made it a business to go to villages, take pictures of children, and put them online for adoption. One of them was the Attorney General at the time, whose legal firm was at the forefront of these wrongdoings and making a fortune. The investigation also exposed the corruption involved, including the fact that judges sat at night to sign those adoption papers and were involved in the forgery of documents. In the case of the woman I met, they had forged her husband’s death certificate to indicate that the child’s father had died but he was still alive.

As a result of the story, the Ugandan Parliament amended the Children's Act, and it's now very difficult for you to adopt a child or to get legal guardianship for any child in the country without following proper procedures.

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