By Stuart Dickinson

Kenyan journalist Tom Odula took top honours at the inaugural WCJ/AIJC African Investigative Journalist of the Year Award for reporting that showed compassion in dealing with the victims of sexual violence, as well as dogged persistence and courage in bringing the perpetrators to book, through his exposé titled Sex for Work: The True Cost of Our Tea.   

African Investigative Journalist of the Year, Tom Odula


Shot for BBC Africa Eye, Odula’s documentary delved into the widespread sexual abuse on farms which supply some of the UK’s most popular tea brands, including PG Tips, Lipton and Sainsbury’s Red Label. Over 100 women in Kenya came forward to reveal how they were forced to have sex with their managers while working on plantations which have been owned for decades by two British companies. 

Odula received US$5,000 as the first winner of the new award which was introduced at the 19th African Investigative Journalism Conference, supported by Absa.

“This is a culmination of my practising journalism for 25 years, and I am so humbled,” he said, adding that it was no easy task to report on such a story in a country renowned for rampant corruption within the police force and government. 

“This recognition helps me keep telling these massively important stories and instills a belief that one can make a difference on a much bigger scale.”

Since the story broke nine months ago, more than 20 plantation managers and 56 supervisors have been fired, with women leaders taking their places in some instances. Further, three law firms in the UK have taken up a pro-bono class action lawsuit against the tea companies involved to seek reparations for the victims. 

CEO of Absa Group Regional Operations Saviour Chibiya and AIJC convener Anton Harber with runner-up Dewald van Rensburg. Photo: Leon Sadiki


At the awards ceremony, held on November 21, Dewald van Rensburg of amaBhungane was declared runner-up for his intensive investigation into how “shape-shifting money launderers” infiltrated South African banks over a number of years, and revealed how the country had become a laundering hotspot of “staggering proportions”.

“It is imperative to acknowledge you here tonight, the broader community of African investigative journalists,” said Saviour Chibiya, CEO of Absa Group Regional Operations. “Your crucial role in ensuring communities are well-informed and that those in positions of power are held accountable, is commendable. Even in the face of physical danger, dwindling resources, disinformation and the challenges of the digital age, your dedication remains unwavering and the quality of your work exemplary.”  

Veteran journalist and editor Gwen Lister was convenor of judges for the awards. She thanked the judging panel that included Pulitzer Prize winner, Maggie Michaels, award-winning South African investigative journalist and newly appointed convenor of the AIJC, Beauregard Tromp, Mozambican journalist and former media group chair, Fernando Lima, and Senegalese media veteran, Hamadou Tidiane Sy, for their tireless work in settling on the winner and runner-up, chosen amongst nearly 200 strong entries from across the continent.  

“We had lengthy and vigorous online discussions which closely analysed the submissions against several criteria, from originality and public impact to accessibility and persistence,” said Lister. “Some of the entries were just too long, while others lacked any major revelation or demonstration of any harm to public good. A few displayed an over-reliance on unnamed sources, which can be something of a scourge in our profession, and with little or no corroborating evidence to back up assertions. Other entries just didn’t go quite far enough. Hopefully this provides some food for thought to journalists who may, and hopefully will, submit their work in future. We’d like to see more explanatory and solutions-based journalism going forward.”

Lister explained that the judging panel was impressed by the diversity of entries and pleased to see that several of them tackled issues around the environment and climate change, which disproportionately affect Africa and its most vulnerable people.   

“This award, in my opinion, will go a long way towards inspiring our continent’s journalists to even great heights, and in so doing, reinstate journalism’s indispensable role in service to the people,” said Lister.  

The evening also saw a touching farewell and Lifetime Achievement Award given to South African journalism giant, Anton Harber, who stepped down as conference convenor after 19 “incredible” years at the helm of Africa’s biggest gathering of working journalists. Tromp takes up this role in 2024.


Retiring AIJC convener Anton Harber receives a standing ovation and lifetime achievement award at the awards ceremony. Photo: Leon Sadiki