Rwanda prison biogas story on the BBC

Following on from the story I did for Reuters on the use of biogas in Rwanda’s prison system, I put together a nine photo slideshow for the BBC. It tells much the same story, but… in pictures. I was pleased to hear from the BBC this morning that the piece had “120,000 hits on Sunday” and that the story was the “biggest hitting african story – of any kind – yesterday + biggest for a week or so” Plus, a couple of days later, “another 50,000 yesterday – again top-hitting african story. So we can assume at least 200,000 altogether.”*

Good for the ego, and good for Rwanda – it’s a great human interest story about things that have been done in the name of “development”and that appear to work well.

Often, in Rwanda, the chatter around development is more about plans, policies, reports, workshops, presentations, seminars and seemingly endless action plans, than any actual “doing”. Hence, I was more than happy to follow up on the prison biogas story when, in late August, 2011, I read that

“We have finished installing biogas plants in all the prisons, which accounts to 75 percent of the energy needs. The rest is covered by peat energy and a small amount of firewood” – Deputy Commissioner General of Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), Mary Gahonzire – link

I ended up having to visit Nsinda prison in Rwamagana province, eastern Rwanda on two occasions. On the first visit we – Reuters – didn’t have the right permission, so we couldn’t film anything at all. Neither could I take the photographs I wanted to.

It took a further six weeks or so to finally get the right signature from the right person on the right piece of paper. This allowed us to go back to the prison, interview everyone we wanted to and film and photograph everything we needed to file our story across text, TV and photographs.

With that one piece of paper secure in our hands, we got unimpeded access to film and photograph whatever we wanted – related to the biogas project.

We also got to see inside the prisoner’s living quarters, although we were not allowed to film or photograph in there. Almost eight thousand prisoners live in rows of large tents inside the walled compound. I’m told Nsinda is a “model prison”. Even so, it was no holiday camp in there, believe me.

If you’re interested in learning how the biogas system works and the environmental and financial benefits associated with it, do please look at the BBC photostory.

* updated 20 December, 2011