July 7, 2015 – The IWMF, with partner organization Global Journalist Security, offered its first-ever hostile environments and first aid training (HEFAT) workshop in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 25 Congolese journalists in June 2015. Participating reporters came from across North Kivu province. 2014 IWMF Courage in Journalism awardee Solange Lusika Nsimire and a team of her colleagues traveled from Bukavu, in South Kivu province, to participate.
This is the first time this type of workshop has been offered to journalists in Eastern DRC, and based on the overwhelming response – more than 100 applications received from North Kivu province alone – the training is urgently needed.
Participating journalists described widespread threats they regularly experience while working in DRC. Risks ranged from officials confiscating their equipment and directly threatening them in response to reporting on taboo topics, to getting caught in the middle of gunfire while working on the front lines of conflict, to being kidnapped by rebel groups active in the region. The DRC is ranked 150 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 Press Freedom Index. Threats against Congolese journalists are expected to escalate in the run up to next year’s presidential elections.
During the four-day hands-on training that included a wide range of scenarios including civil unrest, traffic accidents and hostage situations, they learned vital skills to stay safe in the field, which many said they would immediately put into practice.
“I really learned how to protect myself and my colleagues; how to react in an emergency or accident; how to calm myself and help others during these situations,” Lusika Nsimire said. Founder of the independent newspaper Le Souverain, Lusika Nsimire has been attacked repeatedly and received death threats for her work. She added that receiving hostile environments training helped her to “de-traumatize.”
The workshop was offered as part of the IWMF’s multi-year African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative, with future journalism and security training opportunities planned in the DRC, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan.
Professional actors play the role of captors during a hostage scenario, part of the hostile environments training workshop designed to teach best practices for staying safe in the field. After each scenario, trainers debriefed with the journalists to discuss what techniques could increase their chances of survival in a real-life hostage situation.