CfA-GRID-Arendal fellowship: My experience unraveling crime in the blue economy

WanaData Africa
Published in
3 min readMar 22


By Gbemisola Esho

Gbemisola Esho

My fellowship with Code for Africa (CfA) and GRID-Arendal from November 2022 to March 2023 was a valuable experience that helped me gain knowledge, skills, and personal growth. As part of the programme, I produced a long-form multimedia story on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and its connection with human trafficking in Guinea. The story ‘Beyond the surface: Understanding link between IUU fishing and human trafficking in Guinea’s marine ecosystem’ was published by Vanguard News on 12 March.

My journey began when I stumbled upon a call for applications through a blog post shared by WanaData, a women’s group I belong to. I always loved the sea and exploring its wonders, so I was drawn to the topic of the call, which was centered around Life Below Water IUU fishing.

As a sustainable development advocate, I understood the significance of this topic and its impact on marine life. Intrigued, I delved into the subject matter and started researching more about IUU fishing. As I progressed, I realised that illegal fishing was just one aspect of a much larger issue.

Across various African countries, IUU fishing was often accompanied by underpaid or forced labour. I decided to critically examine the topic and explore a new angle to the story. The more I researched, the more I discovered anomalies that needed to be brought to light.

The fellowship kicked off with onboarding by the project manager, Tricia Govindasamy, and the project team from CfA and GRID-Arendal. Daily technical training sessions with my mentor, Emma Laura Kisa, followed, and I found them incredibly empowering. Through these sessions, I gained a deeper understanding of various data research and visualisation methods, which proved invaluable in finding, scraping, and presenting data.

During my training, I covered various topics related to data journalism, including an introduction to data journalism, techniques for finding data, working with spreadsheets, data cleaning, web scraping, data visualisation, data sharing and publishing, geojournalism, ship trafficking, and social media investigations. These sessions equipped me with the essential tools required to excel in data journalism and made the process of writing stories more manageable.

Moreover, the CfA team provided me with ample support in producing data visualisations and other assets that added value to my stories. As a result, I leveraged my skills to tell a more compelling story and present complex data clearly and concisely.

Before the fellowship, I had already compiled a list of individuals I wanted to interview on my podcast about human trafficking. As it turned out, this list was perfect for my project, and I reached out to them via social media, mainly LinkedIn and WhatsApp. Most of the interviews were conducted over Zoom.

The interviewees represented a diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from those in charge of the parastatals responsible for curbing IUU and human trafficking to maritime security agencies and individuals directly impacted by these crimes, such as fishermen and trafficking victims/survivors.

Despite encountering a few challenges while trying to interview all the relevant actors in the story, I persevered and refused to give up on my promise to deliver a compelling piece. Whenever I hit an obstacle, I tapped into my journalist networks and pivoted to my backup plans.

At one point, it seemed as though the main actors in the story were unwilling to speak with me, and I found myself at a dead end. However, I communicated this challenge to the team at CfA, and they offered their support, which eventually helped me break through this impasse.

When all the pieces finally came together, and I produced a story that demonstrated the link between IUU and human trafficking, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. My ultimate goal was to raise awareness of these crimes and encourage both people and governments in West Africa to be more vigilant in recognising and dismantling existing systems while resisting new ones to protect their livelihoods, ecosystems, and overall security.

This story was supported by Code for Africa (CfA) in partnership with GRID-Arendal as part of the Environmental Journalism fellowship on IUU fishing in Guinea.