By Kemiso Wessie 

                                              Dr Margaret Jjuuko

Recently promoted to full Professor, Dr Margaret Jjuuko of the University of Rwanda has been a dedicated media professional for several years, taking a particular interest in supporting women in the profession and in academia.

Among many other initiatives, Dr JJuuko introduced predominantly female student groups to tackle practical assignments that are often avoided. This helped foster inclusivity and empower female students.

She has also worked for the fair treatment of women journalists in news media in Rwanda through public speeches, short training courses and creating and supporting gender clubs at journalism schools.

Also a board member of the African Journalism Educators’ Network (Ajen), Dr Jjuuko’s  academic journey started at Makerere University in Uganda where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in  Mass Communication.

Her professors advised her to consider an academic career, and she then joined the university’s Department of Mass Communication (now called the Department of Journalism and Communication) as a tutorial assistant and later assistant lecturer.

Gender-specific student groups. Photo: Supplied.

She briefly served as a graduate assistant at Rhodes University and went on to join the National University of Rwanda (now the University of Rwanda) as a lecturer, where she worked towards her current position as professor of journalism, media and communication. 

However, Dr Jjuuko notes that “the seed was planted at Makerere and nurtured over time under those various institutions, but blossomed greatly at the University of Rwanda.” She credits her success as a journalism educator to hard work, networking and the support of great peers who have mentored and supported her through the years. 

Having earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in journalism and media studies from Rhodes University, Dr Jjuuko says during her time there she was able to embrace pluralism and diversity while creating social and peer networks in the institution which she calls “a hub of international students and professors”. She credits the institution as having played a pivotal role in shaping her academic career.

Dr. Jjuuko highlights her academic journey, mentioning that her early publications originated from her MA thesis on the impact of media liberalisation on public service programming. She also co-authored a publication with her PhD thesis supervisor Prof. Jeanne Prinsloo which analysed Ugandan media’s representation of environmental crises on Lake Victoria. 

Her wide academic experience has influenced her approach to teaching and research in her post at the University of Rwanda. While navigating through her postgraduate education she discovered an educator’s greatest role is to not only teach students “but to guide them into academic growth by pointing them in the right direction and encouraging them to think critically through a participant-centred approach,” Dr Jjuuko says. She adds that involving students enables them to discover possibilities on their own, embrace self-tutelage and take charge of their learning. 

One distinctive aspect of Dr. Jjuuko’s experience in Rwanda is teaching students with diverse backgrounds, including survivors of the 1994 genocide and those with refugee and forced displacement experiences from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan. 

Dr. Jjuuko’s research focuses on how social, political, and power relations are represented in media texts, uncovering biased representation in political discourse and media’s influence on societal perspectives, particularly in East Africa. She also delves into the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on journalism.

Passionate about climate change coverage, Dr. Jjuuko advocates for the media’s active role in addressing urgent environmental issues. She believes that “it is through sensitization that the environment can be saved for today and tomorrow.”

In her role at the University of Rwanda, Dr. Jjuuko is involved in groundbreaking academic programs. The university is set to launch an interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Media and Communication Studies, offering academic study along with opportunities for professional skill development. Simultaneously, Uganda Christian University is introducing a Ph.D. program in Media and Communication Studies, encompassing journalism, climate change, international communication, political communication, and research methods. Both initiatives are part of the “Preparing Media Practitioners for a Resilient Media in Eastern Africa” project, a collaboration with NLA University College, Norway, supported by NORAD.

Dr. Jjuuko is also co-editing a book with Prof. Carol Azungi Dralega and Dr. Solveig Omland from NLA University College in Norway on media’s representation of gender issues in Sub-Saharan Africa, exploring the role of media in achieving gender equality and equity. 

In August 2023 she organised the East African Communication Association Annual Conference of which the theme was “Media, Communication, and Social Justice.” Dr Jjuuko explains that “the theme was justified by the thesis that while media and communication rank high among the approaches to social justice, the current shifts and wider trends around these domains particularly in the global south, may or may not favour social justice.” 

The conference brought together delegates and educators from a total of 22 countries across Africa, Europe and North America. Some of the conference presentations will be published in the East African Communication Journal and an edited book on media and gender representations in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

Reflecting on her academic journey, Dr Jjuuko says it was far from smooth. Unlike many of her colleagues she did not receive any scholarships, instead she funded her  MA and PhD studies herself, relying on savings, family support and part-time work.

“I remember during my MA studentship at Rhodes University, I did [a variety of] jobs to sustain myself.  These [included] dishwashing at a restaurant where I was later promoted to a waitress; serving drinks at a local students’ bar, and cleaning cars on Saturday mornings at a second-hand car bazaar. I also worked for 4 hours a week as a graduate assistant in the First Television School – where I assisted on a Television Genres class on the undergraduate programme in 2001; and worked for a PhD student in Fisheries and Ichthyology to enter his data into Excel sheet, at a small fee, ” Dr Jjuuko recalls.

The challenges Dr. Jjuuko faced, demanding as they were, offered financial sustainability and valuable lessons in resilience and hard work. Juggling academic responsibilities meant making sacrifices, reinforcing the belief that hard work ultimately pays off. These experiences have become meaningful lessons for Dr. Jjuuko’s own children and students over the years.

As a professor, Dr. Jjuuko advises students and aspiring academics to recognise the abundant opportunities in the field, emphasising the importance of proficiency in leveraging online media tools. She stresses the need for constant updates on industry demands, responsiveness to societal concerns, and a deep understanding of the operating context for contemporary African journalists.