Le Souverain, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“My determination comes from Congolese women.”
Working as an independent journalist isn’t easy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but Solange Lusiku Nsimire has been doing just that, reporting on human rights and democracy in a country with a tenuous grasp on both.
The DRC is perhaps one of the most volatile countries in Africa when it comes to human rights. According to research and reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), those who dare to report and expose crimes against humanity, sexual violence, or rigged elections have been subject to threats and attacks. They can also become victims of corrupt judicial proceedings and arbitrary arrest, including lengthy detentions. Government officials and other powerful persons dissatisfied with press coverage publicly criticize journalists and accuse them of criminal defamation, insulting the head of state or the government, or spreading false information, all of which are against the law in the DRC. This creates a climate of fear and self-censorship that stifles free speech and discourages open and honest criticism of government policy and the conduct of public officials.
Between July 2005 and November 2009, four journalists from the well-known radio network Radio Okapi, created by the Fondation Hirondelle and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), were killed. In February 2014, Radio Télévision Muungano journalist Germain Kennedy Mumbere Muliwavyo was shot to death in North Kivu when the vehicle in which he rode was ambushed by the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group operating in eastern DRC and one of many competing powers in the province.
But this landscape of threats and attacks does not deter Lusiku Nsimire, 42, from her work as the editor in chief and publisher of independent newspaper Le Souverain. For almost ten years, Lusiku Nsimire has courageously and conscientiously led her team of reporters in challenging local and national powers, revealing corruption and abuse, and giving voice to the often marginalized peoples of South Kivu.
“I’m really happy and satisfied when I publish,” Lusiku Nsimire told the non-profit Frères des Hommes last fall. “I continue this commitment in the press — I am here to denounce [and] demand like a sentinel watches.”
Operating out of her hometown of Bukavu (the capital of South Kivu province in Eastern Congo), Le Souverain is published in one of the most troubled provinces of the DRC. Lusiku Nsimire took over as editor in chief of the paper in 2007, after the death of founder Nunu Salufa. Le Souverain was created in 1992 with the intent of liberalizing press in the Congo under the dictatorship of President Mobutu Sese Seku. Since then it has been published monthly, with content devoted to the promotion of democracy and advancement of women’s rights in a country where mistreatment and manipulation of both are too often the model.
Her work, Lusiku Nsimire said, “is a commitment, a press service of democracy, the promotion of women, and freedom. Hence, our belief is the freedom of the press—a right, and not a gift from the politician.”
As head of one of the few independent media outlets in the area, traversed by roaming gangs of Rwandan génocidaires, riotous army conscripts, and predators of all ranks, Lusiku Nsimire has been intimidated countless times during her fifteen years in journalism. One incident took place in 2003, when Lusiku Nsimire was threatened by unknown aggressors after reporting critically on the presence of guns on a university campus. The following year, while working for a local radio station, Lusiku Nsimire had to go into hiding after receiving threats from security service members who were angered by her stories.
In 2008, Lusiku Nsimire’s family home was attacked three separate times; her husband and children were tied up on the floor and questioned by armed men, who searched each room and demanded to know the whereabouts of “Solange”. Lusiku Nsimire lied about her identity, pleading ignorance and telling them that she was a shoe saleswoman named Chantal. After the third assault, the gunmen left the family alone but took their savings. This final incident led to the family’s decision to move.
When returning in 2009 from a “Media and Peace” training program in Nairobi, Lusiku Nsimire and a fellow journalist were extensively searched and shouted at by customs agents. In front of the others, they were told, “The press doesn’t exist in the DRC. Journalists are worth nothing in DRC and because of this, they’re killed like animals.”
In 2010, unknown men broke the windows of her home; in 2012, she was threatened with death after she published an editorial blaming Rwanda for fueling instability in Eastern Congo. Under the advice of MONUSCO, Lusiku Nsimire was forced to flee South Kivu with her two-year-old child for three months. That year, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported around 90 attacks on the press in the DRC.
Also in 2012, Lusiku Nsimire was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) for her exemplary work in journalism. The university also paid tribute to her courage as a journalist and women’s rights defender. “Journalism is my calling, the print media is my struggle, and independence is my motto,” Lusiku Nsimire said in her acceptance speech.
In an interview with an online news magazine in 2012, Lusiku Nsimire shared her views for making change in the DRC, saying, “At the top it takes willpower, [but] at the base, it takes courage.”
By Tania Hussain
Solange Lusiku Nsimire
Photo credit: Sylvain Muyali/IWMF