Trudeau scholar studies global media 

By Karen Herland

Magnifying glass

As a journalist with the Daily Monitor in Uganda, William Tayeebwa saw first hand the role media could and did play in conflict-torn regions. As a researcher, he hopes to understand and harness that power.

Tayeebwa has just been named to the ranks of the few researchers to receive the Trudeau Foundation’s prestigious scholarship. Since the scholarships were first accorded in 2002, 85 people have been granted the award. The $50,000 he will receive over each of the next three years will help defray tuition and living expenses, since “this is a very expensive country.” The funding will also afford him the opportunity to network with like-minded scholars at conferences.

His academic career has taken him from his home in Uganda, to Norway for a master’s in media studies and now to Canada, to the bilingual Communications PhD program. The department has been encouraging him to apply for funding.

Since only a limited number of Trudeau Scholarships are available to foreign nationals, Tayeebwa was not very hopeful going into the months-long application process. He received the good news the afternoon he arrived in Uganda for a vacation with his family in early May. “We were in a shopping mall,” he said.

The scholarship will allow Tayeebwa to explore how radio and the Internet can connect people across the globe who are interested in developing long-term solutions to violent conflicts.

His scholarship application proposes using Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung’s peace journalism model to counter “the role media often play in triggering conflict through spreading misinformation or fomenting inter-group hatred.”

He saw that process first hand in the Rwandan conflict in 1994 while a missionary student in then Zaire. He is interested in using social networking and knowledge-sharing technologies such as blogs and wikis to bring civil society groups across the African Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya) in contact with each other and with likeminded groups elsewhere.

Tayeebwa spent four months using collaboration software as a research assistant on the “Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and other Human Rights Violations” project. He used that experience to assess strategies for using this type of software in online knowledge sharing.

He sees global communication between African civil society and the broader human rights community as key to addressing African conflicts, pointing to the fact that the arms involved in conflicts in Africa come from Russia, China and elsewhere. He credits international cooperation with the recent arrests of accused African warlords Viktor Bout and Jean-Pierre Bemba in Thailand and Brussels respectively.

“Africa alone can’t achieve much. Unfortunately, so many NGOs and civil society groups in Africa are doing their own work in isolation, which is counterproductive.”

In keeping with the Trudeau Foundation’s mandate, Tayeebwa considers himself an academic activist. “Activists need the empirical data to be able to present an informed position driven by research and reason.” He sees his role as collecting, testing and providing that data to those who need it to effect change.

Not that he does not feel a personal connection to the issues. He grew up in Ruti, Mbarara, in Western Uganda under Idi Amin Dada’s dictatorship, and remembers his family living in the bush at times. He also remembers once in a while helping hide his sisters when marauding soldiers would come out of a nearby military barracks in search of women to rape.

Now, with the Trudeau Scholarship funds, he can begin to make connections with other social justice and human rights-based groups and researchers. Next month, he will be able to attend conferences in both Australia and Sweden.


Concordia University