Archive for the ‘Day-to-day’ Category

Slow day in the Congo…

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

13.Oct.2010

Didn’t get too much done today, but I am now sitting at the sublime waterside bar of Le Chalet, a bar and restaurant in Goma. I could dive in the cool waters of Lake Kivu if the desire overtook me, though I think I’d look a bit funny sitting here all wet during the interview that is about to take place. To my right the sun breaks through the clouds in glorious rays, casting a glow over the mountains in the distance. It belies what I know is the crippling violence ongoing far below in so many places.

The interview went well, provided just the outside perspective of MONUSCO I was hoping for. And then Roger and Jet (Dobs’s nearly identical younger brother) and I had a yummy meal at Doga, becoming a favorite.

Roger gave me a lesson over dinner about the ethnic make up of Congo’s people. It’s not simple, as one can imagine. So I had him literally map it out for me. And I could see he was a highly successful teacher in his day. The people who settled here came from two migrations – the first from the Sahara, the Bantu people; the second from the Nile, the Niletiques in French, not sure the English translation. They in turn, through further migration east and west of Lake Kivu and the environs, as well as coupling, became the Bushi people (I think) and the Rwandan Tutsi and Tanzanian and Kenyan Masai. From there it gets more and more complicated. Suffice it to say, the populations of the Great Lakes region (and most of the world) all basically started out as the same people and / or share significant family lineages. Makes the many conflicts engulfing this region (and everywhere, globally) feel all the more useless, since we are all the same. Naïve? Perhaps. But true.

World Press Freedom Day

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. But on this day, this year, I am not thinking about the dangers for the many journalists whose bylines I’ve come to associate with places like Mogadishu or Manila, Kabul, Moscow or Islamabad. It’s not because I don’t have immense respect for them and for the risks they take to bring their readers essential reports from some of the most dangerous, repressive corners of the world. I do.

But this year my thoughts are with those who rarely, if ever, get a byline. Yet these are the individuals without whom most foreign journalists – myself included – would never get a single story written.

These nameless men and women are the fixers, the translators, the drivers, the local reporters and aspiring journalists who make the work of their foreign peers possible. They are brave and determined individuals who assume nearly all the risk for telling stories those in power would often rather stifle and who are far too rarely recognized for their efforts.

Of all the journalists who have died around the world because of their work, 90 percent are locals, according to CPJ. It is common that their murderers are never found, prosecuted or convicted.

I recently returned from a three-week reporting trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was my second time there, covering stories primarily about women’s and children’s rights and sexual and gender-based violence. I was mostly in Bukavu and Goma, the regional capitals of South and North Kivu respectively, where violence and insecurity has been ongoing since the late 1990s.

Impunity and disregard for the rule of law is rife in Congo, a vast nation with a shoddy record of protecting the members of its media, especially in the east. Six journalists have been murdered since 2005, according to Reporters Without Borders, and three in Bukavu – one each in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Fixers are not immune. According to a 2004 CPJ report, Acquitté Kisembe, a fixer for Agence France-Presse, disappeared while on assignment in 2003. He was presumed dead.

Though Congo is seeing increased stability in some parts of the country, risks for journalists remain. On my first trip, last October, I reported on the death threats one month earlier made to three female journalists based in Bukavu.

On both trips I worked closely with a local interpreter whose assistance has come to be not just helpful, but a professional and personal necessity.

He, like so many of his colleagues around the world, guides me through every step of what I do in Congo. He’s found for me secure accommodations and reliable drivers to ferry me safely along eastern Congo’s gutted, perilous roads. He’s made contact with countless sources before I’m even in country to insure that I’ll have the story I’ve promised my editors. He’s spent hours helping me schedule interviews and translating them as we go. He never lets me walk into a police station or military compound alone. He tells me where I can go safely and where I can’t. I don’t question his judgment.

As we bump our way through Bukavu’s muddy streets, he shares his insider’s take on Congolese culture, politics and history. His lessons often become the silent background informing so much of what I write. And, no less important, he steers me to the best food and Internet connections in town. I’ve told him many times – and I can only hope he knows how sincere I am when I say this – I would be totally lost without him.

But his name goes nowhere on my stories. He’s a silent, but invaluable, partner. For me, this World Press Freedom Day is a reminder of my indebtedness to him and his colleagues everywhere.

At CPJ’s Impunity Summit, held last month at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Owais Aslam Ali, secretary-general of the Pakistan Press Foundation, underscored this point that unnamed locals are key to our work. Yet he felt that the international media community is not doing enough to protect and support those journalists and fixers upon whom we rely so heavily.

“This war is being covered by the foreign media on the cheap,” he said of the ongoing conflicts in Pakistan. The brunt of the dangers are being borne by the local media, he said, adding that they are pushing the limits of what they cover for, and because of, the foreign press.

Yet, Ali felt that there was scant support by the international media community for the journalists who take risks to bring us these stories, who become internally displaced as they flee their homes in the face of threats because of their work. He called the foreign media “callous” in this regard. The only journalist’s murder in the last decade to have been solved and prosecuted to a conviction in Pakistan was that of Daniel Pearl, an American, in 2002. But to Ali, the case was evidence that with international pressure, attention and support, there can be justice for all journalists, even when they are local.

So, today, I’ll be thinking about the names behind the names we see in print. I’ll be thanking them for their courage and tenacity and wisdom. I am grateful for the continuing work CPJ does to protect the fixers (here are some recent examples: http://cpj.org/tags/fixer). I hope that others at the Summit heard what I did from Ali – that when we speak up for journalists, let’s not speak only for those whose names appear in print.

(this post was written for the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalist)

Getting Away with Murder…

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Earlier this week the Committee to Protect Journalists released their latest Impunity Index — a ranking of “countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes” — i.e. the worst places in the world to be a journalist. Their annual report, the third of its kind, is an integral tool in the fight against government cover ups of crimes against the press, tacit approval of violent tactics used to silence dissent or disregard for the lives of those whose work is essential to balanced governance.

This year 12 nations made the list, with Iraq at the top. Only those countries with five or more unsolved murders in the last 10 years are included.

The list does not include those places where journalists are routinely threatened, attacked or have their offices ransacked. Perhaps because that list would be too long? It does, however, make the significant point that 90 percent of those murdered — targeted really — are local journalists. This issue has been on my mind a lot lately since coming home from Congo where I rely so heavily on locals to help me in my work. A vigorous dialogue about the responsibilities of the foreign media towards the local press, without whom we could report almost nothing, is in order.

I hope people will read this list and that the governments of countries included therein will be shamed into action.

On the air

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

“The Conversation” on KUOW (NPR) Seattle aired our segment about the Congo on Friday and I think it went pretty well. I thoroughly enjoyed the back-and-forth with Lisa and the host, Ross Reynolds, and I hope that for those listening it was informative and perhaps motivational. I mean, that if we were really successful, maybe we will be able to get more and more people interested in learning about, writing about, visiting and helping Congo, especially in finding a way towards a lasting peace in the east.

Here is the link to listen online or go to www.kuow.org/conversation.

Nick Kristof, Zainab Salbi, Lisa Shannon — what a week!

Friday, April 16th, 2010

So I started my week by going to hear Nicholas Kristof, columnist of the New York Times, speak at the Columbia Journalism School. He was the last in a series of speakers that have come throughout the semester to talk about covering conflicts. As I expected, he was thoughtful, articulate and, at times, quite funny. He talked a lot about his new book, “Half the Sky,” which I’ve recently read, and is well worth picking up if you haven’t already.

Among the unnerving facts he spoke about:
-Worldwide, there are more males than females because so many women have been killed because they are female. From the book, here is the stat: “more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”
-There is a well-documented connection between societies where women are most marginalized and those mired in conflict

I also gained what may at some point be a really useful tip while out reporting — never accept a ride from a photographer or cameraman in a war zone, “they are crazy,” Kristof said. If you want to drive towards the shooting and violence, not away from it, then get in that car. Otherwise, steer clear. Note to self…

After he finished speaking I was able to sneak in among the mob of people trying to talk to him, pass him my card, and tell him “jambo” from Roger and I. Roger, the amazing translator I work with in Congo, has also worked with the New York Times heavy. Mr. Kristof smiled in recognition and seemed surprised and happy at the coincidence.

Then last night, I went to the Strand to hear Lisa Shannon and Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, talk about Congo and Lisa’s new book “A Thousand Sisters: My Journey of Hope into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman.” Lisa is the women I mentioned in my previous post whom I met in Congo and who taped the KUOW radio show with me on Monday. The conversation between Lisa and Zainab was, again, thoughtful and compelling. Both women are such an inspiration in taking their passions and dreams and making them reality, all for the sake of improving women’s lives. Yet, what also came out clearly during their hour at The Strand was how much their own lives have improved and taken shape as a result of their work. It’s an important reminder not to waste too much time on jobs etc, that are not fulfilling and motivating.

Lisa talked a lot about the women in her book — her Congolese sisters that she has sponsored through Women for Women. One, Generose, has a particularly moving story. She suffered the loss of several family members (a child and her husband, I think) at the hands of a militia (the FDLR, I think, but don’t recall for sure) who also cut off one of her legs. During Lisa’s last trip to Congo, when we met, she held the first ever Run For Congo Women in Congo. It was on Feb. 28, as I was on my way from Kigali, so I missed the event. Nevertheless, she described it as joyous and mentioned that even Generose, on crutches, walked / ran for about 1/3 of a mile, as much as she could. Later she told Lisa, “if I run, then everyone will know they can do something.” If that’s not a poignant example of how strong and courageous Congolese women are, despite suffering in more atrocious ways than I have ever seen, I don’t know what is.

When Zainab later asked Lisa to comment on the idea that war brings out both the worst and best of humanity, she expanded on what Generose’s comments alluded to — the determination of Congolese women not to be bowed by the violence around them. Even, Lisa said, if militias terrorize, murder, rape, and torture them; loot their villages and burn their homes, Congolese women “can’t be stopped.” The militias do not and cannot win. “There is something in Congolese women that cannot be touched,” Lisa said.

I had the chance after the talk to go out with Lisa and it was such a treat to talk with her again and commiserate about Congo — what is so difficult there, inspiring there, what makes us want to continue going back. I hope that this last trip won’t be the only time we overlap along the shores of Lake Kivu.