BBC about Bunyonyi: Successes, Failure & Dilemma

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The BBC World Service broadcast two catchy Lake Bunyonyi stories this month. The first one was about canoeing to school, the second one about Punishment Island. As the Gorilla Highlands team played a supporting role, let us assess what we have achieved…

The journalist, Patience Atuhaire, initially just wanted to talk about the “school bus” dugouts. Then she found our interview with Maudah Kyitaragabiirwe and got intrigued. She had been to Lake Bunyonyi twice before, knew about Punishment Island but never imagined one could find a survivor. Patience reached out to us and we connected her with Maudah.

Success #1: Our blog and local knowledge helped a journalist expand her coverage of our region.

Atuhaire’s father happens to originate from southwestern Uganda, so this was more than a job to her: it was about rediscovering her roots. “It was a humbling, inspiring and learning reporting experience for me,” she says.

Success #2: We have managed to assist a Ugandan on her cultural exploration journey, and reached many others through her.

The Punishment Island radio segment, video clip and online article got international attention. We have been so far approached by Tabi Labo from Japan, a website eager to translate and publish our Maudah interview.

Success #3: More talk about our region around the globe.

We have of course happily allowed Tabi Labo to reuse our content, with only one condition: that we get a link to the Gorilla Highlands website from them. This is something we ignored while working with Patience Atuhaire: we did not request for the “Gorilla Highlands” name to be used for our region, and there is no link to us from the BBC website.

Failure: BBC stories from our region do not call it “Gorilla Highlands”, missing an opportunity for global branding, and there is no link that would help our search engine optimisation.

Finally, let’s tackle a sensitive topic…

Dilemma: Are stories about our people’s negative experiences actually beneficial to our region?

Atuhaire says: “Lake Bunyonyi is famous as a tourist route because of its breathtaking scenery. But the most important thing is the community, the lives of ordinary people. And in many cases their life struggles are complete opposites of this paradise. It was a bad practice to send girls to their death for being pregnant and today’s generation has to learn about this and work towards a better society for women, and all people. ‘Bad history’ cannot be buried or ignored in the name of ‘patriotism’, because it is a fact. My reason for telling Maudah’s story was to show that even in the worst of circumstances, some people beat the odds.”

And since it was the Gorilla Highlands team that first published the interview with Maudah, we obviously agree… We are here to tell stories, good ones and bad ones, that show cultural richness and complexities of our region. Such storytelling helps make it an area of interest, a destination by itself, and that shall bring economic and other benefits to Uganda and Rwanda.

text: Miha Logar; photo: BBC World Service video stills