Meet the African Great Lakes Reporting Fellows: Democratic Republic of Congo


In June 2015, the IWMF led a reporting trip with six journalists to Eastern Congo. The purpose of the trip was to explore new narratives such as democracy and governance, economic development as a demobilization strategy and the impact of aid. This trip is part of the IWMF’s African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative.

Since returning, the fellows’ stories and multimedia content have been published in print outlets such as The Times of London and The Christian Science Monitor. Fellows Roxanne Scott and Ruth Maclean’s reflections have been posted to BBC’s website.

During the course of this reporting trip, the fellows sat down and talked to us about the highlights of the program, lessons learned, as well as how their perception of Congo changed as their reporting progressed.

The following Q&A is excerpted from Meet the Fellows interviews.

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Q: What has been the highlight of this trip?

Ruth Maclean:

“I think my highlight was just finding out about so many new stories. I feel like I was pulled in 10 different directions and trying to report on everything at once. That was really fun and really interesting. There were a lot of interesting people to talk to who all had different takes on what the country is like, what its history is and what the different relationships between different groups are.”

Siobhán O’Grady:

“There are so many highlights, but it’s probably just the drives with the fixers and getting the chance to ask questions as we went. Pretty much everything that we passed on the road became a new story idea for the next time when I’m in Congo.”

Ariel Zirulnick:

“I think my highlight of the trip was this motorbike ride we had from Goma to the town of Nairobi. We were going to work on some stories on mining and it was just this incredibly beautiful ride. And it was an amazing way to see part of the country, see the villages we passed through, and see how incredibly gorgeous it can be in parts of this country.”

Roxanne L. Scott:

“I was working on some story ideas and I had some extra time to do reporting. The fixer and I decided to talk to as many people as we can, and I feel like I had a really good sense of Goma by doing that.”

Q: How has your perception of Congo changed as your reporting progressed?

Natalie Keyssar:

“I tried to come in with an opened mind, but when you read about this place you read about war, you read about atrocities. The reporting my partner and I have been doing is focused on youth culture, art and activism and it’s really given me a much more hopeful and complete picture of this place.”

Kate Lamb:

“So many of the stories we heard about Eastern Congo are about war, atrocity and rape and I came here to focus on young people and political expression. I met a whole sway of politicized smart young people who are writing songs about not giving children guns to join rebel groups. So I feel like I got a really nuanced idea of the society here.”

Ruth Maclean:

“It’s easy to think that a place like Eastern Congo is just going to be war-torn. You read about it and you think it’s had decades of conflicts. You know, the famous thing about it is sadly that so many women have been raped here. But really, it’s so much more than that. It’s such a colorful interesting place with such lovely, gentle and kind people. It really added a depth to my understanding of what the Congo is and what it’s like.”

Siobhán O’Grady:

“I think in the U.S., when you tell people you are going to Congo, they remember all the violence, but getting the chance to focus on some stories that show a different side of Congo here allowed me to see through my reporting that there’s still so much hope in this area.”

Q: Why did you come to Congo through this fellowship?

Ariel Zirulnick:

“I only read two types of stories from Congo in the last two years: one is focused on rape and arm groups in the region and one is focused on conflict minerals. It just made me very curious about what else there was to write about in this region. And this is a great opportunity to come here, ask people questions and dig into the topics in a way that gave me more understanding of the issues.”

Q: What did you think about the security training that was provided through the reporting trip?

Roxanne L. Scott:

“Security training really made me become so much more aware of the surroundings. In the future, I know I’m way more prepared about handling emergency situations or how to react.”

Natalie Keyssar:

“The security training is fantastic. I’ve done some security training before and I feel like this was really complete, helpful and practical for some of the situations I’ve been in and will be in in the future.”

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The African Great Lakes Reporting Initiative was created in 2014, building on the success of earlier IWMF reporting trips to the Western Sahara and Eastern DR Congo (DRC). The IWMF designed this program to support journalists interested in pursuing stories that go beyond the well-established path of political instability, armed conflicts, and humanitarian crisis in the region. Please visit our website for more information.

 

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