LOUIS ABELMAN

What Does a Congolese Reporter Look Like?

with 9 comments

Today via the always informative @texasinafrica, news of the latest accrochage in eastern Congo; an incident of infighting in Rutshuru, north of Goma, held for some time by the rebel M23 movement. Far down in the Bloomberg dispatch:

On the day the accord was signed, fighting broke out between M23 factions, according to the UN and Congolese government. Four rebels and four civilians were killed when Ntaganda’s supporters clashed with allies of another M23 commander, General Sultani Makenga, Araujo told reporters in Kinshasa today. Mende said more than 17 people died in the fighting around the town of Rutshuru, including a local journalist.

More than 17 killed, and notably a journalist; rarely do we learn the profession of the dead in a report from this dateline. The nameless civilian dead: we imagine villagers, naïve pastoralists, something from Rousseau in their patterned wax-cloth kikwembes, cut down while carrying firewood and water. But here is the small detail; one of these dead was a local journalist. Do we have an image in mind for a local journalist from the volcanic highlands of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo? Do we get a picture?

It happens that I have one, and maybe it can help give a clearer picture of the story. It’s from Rutshuru in 2005. With a colleague I had driven up from Goma on a MONUC convoy to the UN base in Rutshuru in order to attend a disarmament ceremony, the kind of thing the UN has been doing in east Congo for a decade now, at a cost of many billions of dollars and with mixed results. The local journalist pictured here joined up with us to form a tiny press pool.

Rutshuru reporter

His Rastafarian One Love beanie stood out in that crowd, which was made up of agitated townspeople held back behind a cordon of Indian and Nepalese peacekeepers, a parade ground of teenage militamen in formation to surrender their weapons, and a clutch of mzungu dignitaries who would witness and record the ceremony.

He was kind, solicitous, wanted to know how we were making out and whether we needed his help. He was a fixer, desperate for cash, and knew the locations of freshly uncovered mass graves. The real stories needed to get out. No one was covering anything real. These ceremonies were PR garbage. He could show us what was really happening. He had video archives. He was from the area and he knew people. He was a true believer in his profession, and though I never saw his work, I admired him immediately, for his obvious dedication, determination in the face of little revenue and long odds, and lack of fear or affect on that buzzing parade ground of powerful players and spying eyes.

He was barely making a living. And so I found out there is a world of struggling creative people— natural allies, friends first whenever you meet them, activists and potential nodes for a million projects. What possibilities if we could only network together and offer a sustainable lifestyle with our global resources, in exchange for their knowledge.

I don’t know if this was the man who was killed today. There were other journalists in Rutshuru, not too many, radio reporters and photographers. There are many journalists, trained and formed in the places they are reporting from, yet we seem to rely on members of our own tribe to venture out and tell us what’s happening in the world. Our people maybe pay the locals a little something to find out what’s happening, acting as middlemen and applying a markup.

There’s less and less of a reason for this. Technology has given motivated, creative people everywhere the capacity to produce stories accessible instantly to people anywhere else. At least, technology has made this a real possibility, given training and infrastructure. What’s missing in this formula is demand. There has to be an audience who wants to know, who wants to know from the mouth of the first-hand observer instead of the remote outsider, and who can tell the difference.

So, while recognizing the sacrifice of an unnamed Rutshuru reporter, a plea. Let’s hear more of the news told by the local man in the One Love beanie. He knows where the bodies are buried.

Written by louis

February 28th, 2013 at 12:39 am

Posted in Blog

9 Responses to 'What Does a Congolese Reporter Look Like?'

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