Fellow Rosebell Kagumire: Meeting one of the ‘most influential Arabs.’

Earlier in December, Fellow Rosebell Kagumire had the opportunity to meet Abdel Bari Atwan in Amsterdam.

On Friday 16, I was honored to attend a public lecture in a small library in Amsterdam where Abdel Bari Atwan, named by  Middle East Magazine as one of the 50 most ’most influential Arabs’, was speaking on the eve of the one year commemoration of the Arab Spring.

Atwan in Amsterdam on Dec 16.

Atwan is editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. He discussed the Arab spring and the future of the Middle East and North Africa beyond the ‘revolution’.

Some of my favorite quotes from the meeting:

“We Arab people were suffered double humiliation. That brought about by imperialism and another by own very own corrupt government.”

I found this quote very meaningful for not only the Arab world but also of Africa. All year long many people have been watching closely to see if there will be a sort of African spring. And every time some friends asked me when is the African Spring, I replied, we won’t have a spring, ours will be the African Harmattan! None the less there has been inspiration from the north of the continent spreading south. In many ways our realities are close to those of the MENA countries and we can only wait and see what changes and how long will they take on the African continent. Just like Atwan said “whoever knew or predicted that the Arab people would depose four dictators in just one year?”

I have very passionate Yemeni friends and Atwan said he respected the struggle of Yemen, knowing how many guns are in the hands of so many people that the country has not moved to a civil war. He applauded the choice of non-violence of the people of Yemen even when they had access to arms. And he told us a famous saying about the difficulty of ruling Yemen with its tribes system that i loved.

“Riding a lion is smoother than ruling Yemen”

Then came Atwan’s passionate talk on the events in Libya and how he disagreed with the NATO military intervention. Even though he was glad that the killing of Muammar Gaddafi has been called a crime against humanity, he decried the west for allowing impunity of rebels turned government of NTC.

I was interested in the fact the the ICC had backed off the Libya case and of recent the prosecutor had indicated that Libya’s new rulers were capable of prosecuting Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Personally i found this ridiculous, how could the killers of his father offer him a fair trial in a country has no justice system. Having spent the earlier week hearing people decry the ICC being an African court, here i was with a situation which clearly an outside court could have done better.

When I asked Atwan about this he went beyond the case of Saif to talk about his recent trip to Tripoli and how many African countries and the were silent about crimes being committed about African people, both Libyans and immigrants.

There are at least 7000 black people in Libya being tortured and living in the most inhumane conditions all these atrocities being presided over by the new regime.Yet we see no human rights papers about them. Nothing from western governments who supposed intervened on human rights grounds. I will not be surprised if we soon hear that Saif has been executed. The West is keeping a blind eye to crimes committed by rebels because of they always put their interests above anything else.

And that was from a Palestinian man who lived in as a refugee in Jordan, managed to study in Egypt and later run one of the most respected Arab media outlets from London since 1989.

Atwan said for the future of the entire region, one must not put their eyes off Egypt. He said is Egypt becomes more islamist, chances are that most of the other countries will follow suit.

Fellow Jina Moore: How will you spend Christmas in Africa?

Fellow Jina Moore heads to Rwanda for the holidays and asks how people across the African continent spent their Christmas.

Yesterday I was driving through Old Soweto market, in Lusaka, with my ebullient taxi man. He’s always pointing things out to me, whether it’s telecom headquarters or the home of an ex-MP. We wound our way through spools of commerce — Soweto is an informal outdoor Wal-mart, organized by product type. The Plush Armchairs Section, followed by the Steel Doorframe Section, followed by more armchairs. Then Aluminum Pots Section, the secondhand clothes section, and finally the Foodstuffs Section. Women hugged the edge of the road with huge sacks of rice, and they were surrounded.

“This time everyone has to buy the rice, so much rice. And the chicken. Even you don’t take rice ever, even you don’t like the chicken, you have to be having it on Christmas,” my taxi man says.

I’ll spend Christmas in Rwanda, which I’ve done every other year for the last… counting makes me feel old. This time, I’m so fortunate to be hosted in the home of a dear friend — just like I was six years ago, when I landed a stranger, a newbie to Africa, a curious and confused early twentysomething in wonder at everything around me, and a friend of a friend welcomed me into his family’s home for a holiday meal.

So I have some sense of what Christmas is like here.

UNICEF, apparently, does not. In a bizarre ad spot, UNICEF’s Santa insists, “I don’t do poor countries.” The idea being UNICEF doesn’t — isn’t that nice? — so give them your holiday money instead! I don’t follow the logic of this little ad at all, which you can watch below. H/T View from the Cave, who told me about it on Twitter.

Meanwhile, I’d like to know DO do at Christmas time. As the South African satire site Hayibo reminds us, Africans actually do know it’s Christmas (so thanks ‘n all, Bob Geldorf, but can you please stop asking now?).

If you’re in any part of Africa, what does that the holiday like where you are?

The blog See Africa Differently gets the ball rolling, with tidbits on Christmas meals in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Madagascar. But I’d love to hear more stories — and not just about food. How do you spend the day? If you aren’t a church-goer, what do you do? If you’re not a Christian, what do you do? What’s the most important thing about the holiday for you?

Continued.

I was in Kikuube, a small village in Uganda, and shared some thoughts here. What about you?

Fellow Rosebell Kagumire: “No near end to violence as DR Congo election is disputed.”

Read the original post here.

I am in Brussels where two days ago Congolese community had clashes with Police when they went out to demonstrate agains the president Joseph Kabila’s ‘re-election’ which has so far been rejected by international election observers and leading opposition candidate Etienne Tshisekedi.

The Carter Center said “we find the irregularities are significant enough to undermine the credibility of the election results.”

Again the contention is on the tallying process. Earlier the opposition had warned that the Electoral body had chosen to announce first results from Kabila’s strongholds in Katanga, a move seen by many as way to psychologically prepare the population if Kabila is finally announced as a winner. But Once again we have a Cote d’Iviore situation, both men have announced themselves as winners of the election. There are reports of government moving troops into Kinshasa and rounding up youth linked to the opposition. The situation is unpredictable and no one seems to know how this stalemate will be solved. And as tensions flare I am reminded of women of DRC, eastern DRC in particular who have endured all sorts of inhumane acts by soldiers and militias. On this day they see the little hope of having a government that can bring peace wane.

And I bring a story of Ester Munyerenkana a health worker at Panzi. I have held onto this story for quite a while. Her and other health workers daily have to deal with the end result of the broken political system and violence in Congo .

They all hope they can see a function government that can protect it’s citizens from this violence but as the two figures clash, like we say when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. I hope Congo is not left to descend into further chaos.

Ester’s Story 

Ester Munyerenkana could be rightly called one of the world’s most hard working health workers. A mother of four, together with many other women hustles daily to bring back life to sexually violated women at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The hospital, which offers medical and pyscho-social care to women from as far as Katanga region, receives at least 10 women a day after brutal sexual violations has been meted on them in the various conflicts that have plunged Eastern DRC since the ousting President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.

In 2009, more than 5,000 women were raped in South Kivu alone according to the UN figures.  The majority of the rapes are committed by soldiers or armed rebels but recent studies have showed an increased in raped committed by civilians.

Oxfam and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) in April 2010 carried out as study from interviews of 4,311 female survivors of rape treated at the Survivors of Sexual Violence department at Panzi Hospital and fund an increase in number of civilian rapes among the patients treated. The number of reported civilian rapes among patients admitted to the SSV-project in 2008 was 11 per cent and in 2009 it increased to 15 per cent. From July 2009 to June 2010 the figure had further increased to 18 per cent.

This is the department where Ester works. She explains her bravery amidst the daily distress to being raised by a single mother. Ester’s father passed away just when she had started nursery school and her eldest sibling was just 12 years old. She says her mother pushed to look out for community service.  “It was the upbringing in a Christian family where love was central. My mother emphasized passion to others as she struggled to take us through school,.”

Ester got her Midwifery in 1976 in Bukavu DRC and after which worked at different centres. Now at Panzi Hospital, she is better known as Cherie Mama for her welcoming smile.

“Since the war began in the late 1990s I have been working with women who are in the most painful situations, physically and psychologically,” explains Ester, “but in 2004 I decided to take up a social work course.

She says it was because of her desire to be more than a midwife. After her course, Ester asked the hospital management to be transferred to the Survivors of Sexual Violence (SSV) department.

“I wanted to work with the worst cases, I was not satisfied just doing only deliveries. I thought it is best to go to those with no happiness and I will bring happiness to them,” she said.

At the time Panzi Hospital would get more than 400 rape victims per months some of the survivors of gang rapes come from as far as 100-600 miles from the hospital.

“Most victims of rape when they arrived at Panzi hospital they soiled, dirty, torn clothes and in despair, the first thing I and other workers do is to bring back their dignity by providing the basics such as basin, soap, lotion and help them take a bath if they are unable,” she narrated.

While a woman takes a birth, Ester is busy give her “encouraging words” before a meal is offered. Ester emphasizes that it is important to love this work because the patients will take long to feel secure and loved.

She narrated the nature of violent attack on the survivors. Speaking passionately in Swahili Ester tells gruesome levels of violent that are beyond one’s comprehension.

“These militias use many methods to rape women, it includes pushing bayonets or logs into the woman’s vagina, some drop burning hot plastic liquids into the vagina and even more heartbreaking is looking at girls as young as 7 years raped this way.”

After meals survivors are taken for medical tests and she estimates that out of 100 screened survivors for various infections about 10 are found to be have HIV/AIDS.

Ester’s routine

Ester arrives at Panzi hospital at 7:00 am and leaves at 4:00 pm.  First task for her is to prepare the women survivors for the prayers. These prayers are an important part of counseling but also for detection of recovery of the women. After prayers the sexual violence survivors then return to their wards and go through different therapy using confidence building activities, health exercise, talks about hygiene and nutrition.

I attended the exercise session where Ester and other social workers bring up songs and rhymes about different societal issues in a satirical way. It is in moments like these that they take note which patient is fully recovered those that are not.

“As we go through the various exercises for about 30 minutes, I track those who are not active and follows them up in individual sessions to get the underlying cause for their inaction.”

Most women with most stigma are those who have had children from the rapes or those who raped by close relatives. They are afraid of returning to the society not only because of the rapes but also the fear that they and their children will not be accepted. Others cannot easily accept their own children.

Everyday hundreds of Panzi hospital staff like Ester work with the survivors of violence and giving hope back to such women is one of the toughest jobs. Ester tells of one of the stories that have touched her most, a story of a raped child mother who was suicidal.

“It was during the counseling session, 12 year old girl told me she had been raped got and a child as a result.  When the child was about 6 months, life was very difficult for,” Ester narrates. “ It was a baby boy and she walked to the lake to throw him in. And she told me that suddenly the baby looked at her face and smiled, then she stopped and wondered what he was telling her. She tried three times to drown the baby but wouldn’t and then she decide to come to Panzi.

The 12 year-old girl told Ester that she didn’t like “the child” because it was from the Interahamwe and in future he would want answers about his father. After days of counseling with Ester, the girl began to see the child as her own not just from the Interahamwe.

Interahamwe is a Rwandan paramilitary group that has been operating in DRC since the end of the Rwanda genocide in 1994. More than 5 million people are estimated to have been killed in DRC from 1997 and 2008 both directly in fighting and others due to diseases.

It is after listening to such stories that the psychologist takes over from Ester. Ester and other social workers are the first line of hope for many women who come to Panzi and they stay with them for months.

Ester’s joy.

You see a glitter in Ester’s eyes as she tells the story of restoring hope and having these women accepted back in the community. She tells of her followup trips of four women from a village whom she had looked after for many months. After a year of leaving Panzi, they were still supporting each other and involved in agriculture and sustaining their families.

She tells of another woman whose husband had rejected her because he insisted she had HIV. In this case Ester brought the man back with her to Panzi where the two could get tests and after they came out negative the man accepted the woman.

Often the husbands refuse the women and many of the survivors lose property rights on top of suffering to raise their children they came back with.

All over Eastern DRC, the challenge for survivors of sexual violence remains access to primary as well as secondary health care, which is due to displacement, political insecurity and lack of capacity within the health centres. And it is difficult for many to feel safe in the very communities where they experienced the violence. Living in their homes without an assurance that this will never happen again is the most difficult time, Ester says. And this is because the conflicts are still going on with no end in sight.

I spoke to Ester during a trip supported by Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) and the Stephen Lewis Foundation program – African Institute for Integrated Responses to Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS. The program is aimed at creating a network of African-based, women centered technical support on issues of violence against women, HIV/AIDS and counseling.

Dr. Dennis Mukwege, the Director of Panzi hospital said the hope women who are sexually violated lies in finding a lasting political solution that would eliminate the current environment that makes it easy to target women.

And the Congo presidential election is refuted , now more than ever survivors of sexual violence in Easter DRC need to see action from African Union and international community to ensure there’s no escalation in violence.

Fellow Jina Moore: “Your Crib Sheet for Covering African Elections, in Congo and beyond”

Read the original post here.

We’re all watching the DR Congo with baited breath. The recent presidential election, or process that has borne the name, has sparked unrest and violence, inside the country and in the diaspora. It’s a grave situation, certainly, and a gloomy one.

But I’m having total post-electoral depression, especially when I read this piece in Foreign Policy. Take out the context — I can’t believe I’m saying that, but try it — and you have the same story of so many other sub-Saharan elections. I’ve watched four of them in the last year, and read about others.

The whole thing is so damn obviously predictable that I can’t bear to point it all out. So instead, I’ve made this handy crib sheet, Mad Libs style, for journalists and other observers who may need to cover another election that looks exactly like the last election we covered, borrowing from (without blaming) the FP piece above. Just fill in the blanks with the relevant details. Whatever you do, don’t get distracted by actually talking to citizens of the country you’re covering. Especially intellectuals.

(Note to freelancers: Just because an election seems to fit the bill doesn’t mean you can sell the story. Think twice before you hitch your rent payment to covering the vote in, oh, Burundi.)

It’s not the media’s fault, of course. There’s books to be written on this whole thing… oh. wait. Wars, Guns & Votes was a bestseller? Well, surely there’s another book to be written.

And if you don’t believe that the media only covers elections with this formula, ask yourself if you remember reading any good analytical coverage of the recent presidential vote in Zambia. It’s a huge copper producer, so “financial interest” doesn’t answer the question. Peaceful country with a peaceful vote, free and fair, and then a peaceful transition of power? Who wants to read that? Especially when there are other Africans we just totallyknow ready to kill each other.

Covering African Elections: A Crib Sheet

These days, nowhere are crises more predictable than in __________ (poor/recently violent country). And yet, when they unfold as anticipated, Western policymakers and diplomats always seem caught off guard — raising questions about the competence, willingness, and commitment of the ________(captial city)-based diplomatic corps and the United Nations mission to discharge their responsibilities.”

“….Nothing underscores the apathy and inconsistency that characterize Western diplomacy in _____ more than the current impasse…The legitimacy crisis threatens to trigger another round of civil war in a country that has already __________ (short-phrase recap of how many people died there in recent memory, thereby justifying interest).”

“The ____________[major INGO] cited serious irregularities, including the loss of _____ (electoral documents) in _______ (city/town/village), a _____ stronghold….. Meanwhile, according to ________ (INGO) multiple locations in _______ (another city/town/village), a bastion of __________ (current ruler) supporters, reported impossibly high rates of 99 to [over] 100 percent voter turnout, with all or nearly all votes going to the incumbent.” (Note: Some wisely fix this slightly lower than 99 percent; adjust as needed.)

“….As grievances and disputes over electoral law arose, the CENI [independent electoral commission] failed to provide an adequate forum for dialogue with the opposition.” (Sorry, players, that one goes verbatim in every election post-game.)

“…..The independence of these commissioners has been called into question as _____ has regularly shown bias against ______”

“…..These same international actors remained silent about the allegations of fraud and irregularities, even as _________ (local/national orgs) denounced violence and abuses. Their silence has helped spawned (sic) a crisis that could have easily been averted.”

“…. ________ (incumbent) waited nearly ___________ days(/hours) to hold a news conference and react to… _____________ (oppostion’s) rejection of the results.

Oh who are we kidding? This could go on forever….

Fellow Jina Moore Wins Elizabeth Neuffer Gold Medal Award

Congratulations Jina!

Jina Moore, part of the reproductive-health reporting team, has just won the 2011 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize gold medal, for best reporting on the United Nations. The award honors her project on UN peacebuilding activities, a Pulitzer Center-sponsored initiative that took her to four countries across Africa. The work was made possible by a grant to the Pulitzer Center from the Stanley Foundation and it was featured in the Christian Science Monitor; the Center helped organize nearly a dozen events at which Jina has spoken about her project. The collaborative approach to covering underreported issues is at the heart of our model. The Neuffer prize is a tribute to Jina’s great work.

Elizabeth Neuffer was an award-winning journalist for The Boston Globe who died in a car accident while reporting in Iraq in 2003.

Jina Moore: “Right on, David Newhouse. Or, “How to report on Penn State”

It would usually be a bit uncouth for editors to question each other in public, but David Newhouse did the right thing in talking back to the New York Times.

The editor of the local newspaper the Patriot-News, which broke the story about Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual assaults, over more than a decade, of young boys, criticizes the Times not for naming the boy — which the paper, in a recent profile of him, did not do — but for including so many details that a quick Google search makes his identity clear.

“The story quotes his next-door neighbor and names his neighborhood. It describes the detailed circumstances of a car accident which was reported in local papers at the time. It says he liked to wear tie-dyed socks,” Newhouse writes.

Continued.

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