In February 2013, we launched JHR’s first program in Tanzania. A year later, JHR Trainer Rosella Chibambo reflects on the impact for students at Saint Augustine University.
My first full-time gig as a reporter was a wonderful summer in a small city in eastern Canada. Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick. It’s home to the provincial legislative assembly and two universities. The problem for news-gatherers is that those three institutions are effectively in hibernation for the summer months. Between May and September, there isn’t much in the way of sensational news in Fredericton. I remember a day where the cameraman and I drove around looking for news. After a few hours of searching, we did a story about a small rise in the number of visitors to a provincial park.
Developed countries like Canada can be referred to as “developed”, because not much happens. Citizens are safe, healthy, secure and, for the most part, have their human rights respected. Here in Sierra Leone that is not the case. Before I came here, a former JHR trainer told me that “there is a story on every corner.” I think of that phrase almost every day.
For the last reporting trip of my time in Sierra Leone, we decided to head north to Kambia District to see what sort of stories we could find. I mentored two journalists from Africa Young Voices Radio, with help from JHR Local Trainer Kevin Lamdo and Kambia journalist Gibril Gottor (recently-crowned Male Media Professional of the Year). Our plan was to do two stories.
We started with a story on unsafe abortion. Abortion is illegal in almost all cases in Sierra Leone. The current legislation dates back to 1861. A recent report showed that, in 2011, 1,622 women went to hospital as a result of the effects of illegal abortions. It estimates that almost 2% of abortions resulted in the mother’s death. We spoke to a community doctor, nurses, a pastor, and after some searching we finally a woman who said she had had an abortion, performed illegally in a local hospital. Story #1.
The next day we went to a remote village believed to be a source of the 2012 cholera outbreak that killed around 400 people in Sierra Leone and Guinea. We took various modes of transport, including a one-hour boat trip to reach Yeliboya Island. We met the village chief, a nurse who treated those who were ill and dying from cholera, and a woman whose four-year-old step-daughter died from cholera. We saw how the water situation had been improved by the digging of wells on a nearby island, and how the sanitation situation remained unsafe. Waste from hanging toilets fell directly into the river, and children continued to use beaches as a toilet. Story #2.
On the way to Yeliboya, we had stopped at the village of Kychom to hire our boat. While waiting, we noticed hundreds of empty water packets sitting in the sun. These ubiquitous 500ml bags of water are the cheapest way to get purified drinking water. The packets litter the streets and clog-up drains across the country, contributing to sewers flooding the streets in rainy season. AYV reporter Princetta Williams asked about the packets. A woman told her she was drying them to send them north to Guinea for recycling. Recycling programmes are almost unknown in Sierra Leone. Story #3.
When we got back to Kambia town we noticed new sets of clean water taps around the town. They were all installed with the help of the Japanese government in February. But they had all been turned off for the past month. It turned out that very few local home-owners were paying the monthly fee of Le15,000 ($3.50). The local water company engineer said that all he needed was $50 of fuel per day, to pump the water and restore supply. He also said the Ministry of Water was supposed to inject $17,500 into the project in February. The money came two months late, and was only $9,300 – enough to pay-off some of the fuel debts. In the past month, locals have been going to old water sources that are no longer chlorinated. Story #4.
On our second evening in Kambia, we decided to head north to the Guinean border. After a colourful exchange with border police (Gibril said they don’t like him very much), we were allowed to walk into Guinea. The border is protected by four rope barriers. But just off to the side is a modern border complex, with barriers, offices and an inspection zone. It was closed. We wandered across. A sign highlighted the grand opening of the Joint Customs Border Post on June 2nd – just days away, I thought. I read it again, June 2nd… 2012. The project was funded by the National Revenue Agency and has sat empty for a year. Story #5.
Nothing seems to surprise Sierra Leonean journalists. Almost everything still surprises me here. When I leave Sierra Leone this month, I will miss it desperately. I fear that life will be too boring back in the developed world. The thing is, so many Sierra Leoneans long for the day when life here is as quite, as healthy and as uneventful as places like Fredericton.
By Adam Bemma
ARUSHA, Tanzania - Meet Martha Mganga. She’s a 50-year-old Tanzanian woman with albinism.
She’s not afraid to use the term “albino” when referring to herself and others living with this condition. Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically-inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.
As the first born out of three albino children (seven children in total, four being non-albino) Mganga’s father abused her psychologically. She recounts in vivid detail how residents in her village blamed her for everything that went wrong, from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes, believing she was a curse upon them.
This lead her to contemplate suicide, as Mganga couldn’t bear the mental anguish anymore.
“When I was a teenager I tried killing myself several times,” she said. “I threw myself into a river because I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. But God had another plan for me and I washed up on the shore, alive.”
For almost 30 years, Mganga has worked with albino children to educate and empower. She teaches these kids, and family members, about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
People with albinism lack pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all albinos are visually impaired. They may also have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life-threatening skin cancers, states the UN.
Mganga, single-handedly, runs a non-profit organization called Albino Peacemakers. She works alongside established non-governmental organizations; Under the Same Sun and Tanzania Albino Society, to help provide sunscreen, sunglasses and hats to albinos across the country.
According to the UN, in Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected by the condition.
So far this year, attacks against albinos have increased dramatically in Tanzania. In 2008, BBC Swahili bureau chief Vicky Ntetema exposed to the world how albinos were murdered and graves robbed for body parts, to be used for witchcraft purposes.
Ntetema’s investigative stories caused an international outcry, one which continues to this day.
Mganga says Ntetema’s journalism gave her reason to branch out and begin work as a peacemaker in regions of the country where albinos are seriously threatened, like the area around Tanzania’s second largest city: Mwanza.
“I often visit Mwanza and villages close to Lake Victoria to give talks to Tanzanians about how albinos are ordinary people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s still a stigma associated with being albino. One that leads ignorant and uneducated people to carry out horrendous acts.”
A recent upsurge in violence against albinos made the UN condemn the violence, with four attacks in a period of sixteen days, three of those being albino children. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is urging the Tanzanian government to bring those responsible to justice.
“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks which are committed in particularly horrifying circumstances which have involved dismembering people, including children while they are still alive,” Pillay said.
The UN human rights chief states that successful prosecutions are extremely rare in Tanzania. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented since 2000, only five cases are reported to have resulted in successful prosecutions.
“Apart from physically protecting people with albinism, the government needs to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism,” Pillay said.
Mganga just returned to Arusha, her home since leaving the village she grew up in, after spending National Albinism Day in Tanzania raising awareness and trying to battle the discrimination faced by albinos in the country.
Close friends of Mganga refer to her candidly as “Sister Martha” and liken her work to that of Mother Teresa, due to her religious devotion and dedication to society’s less fortunate.
By Adam Bemma
Located inside the historical Arusha Declaration Museum, near the Uhuru monument, there’s a small workspace for Tanzanian artists and students. The ACAA – Arts and Cultural Association of Arusha – provides studio and gallery space for indigenous artists from Arusha and other nearby regions in Tanzania. Featuring the voices of Seth Kenguru, a renowned painter; Anna Kombe, an artist from Kilimanjaro; and Emanuel Samson, a performance artist from Arusha.
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For photos of the ACAA click here
Freetown Golf Club (FTG). Saturday, May 18th, 2:03 p.m. – I was finishing some interviews for a feature article about Sierra Leone’s only golf club, when I saw something remarkable for a golf course; people running.
I had played the course a week before and enjoyed speaking with the friendly caddies and professionals. One young professional is about to head off the Senegal Open; his first competition outside of Sierra Leone, his first time abroad, his first opportunity to play a course other than FTG, and his first opportunity to putt on greens (FTG has “browns” rather than greens. They are flat surfaces made from sand and oil). A caddy also told me about how his father was shot in the back of the head during the war. He said it made him thankful for every day he could walk around a golf course, and be paid for it.
But my second visit to the club was proving to be less heart-warming, or inspirational. Players and caddies were running from the course, towards the clubhouse. A few hundred metres behind them, a group of young men followed with sticks and fire bombs. Caddies later told me that everyone ran after hearing gunshots, and they said the men had threatened to burn down the clubhouse.
A stand-off followed for a few minutes, with the the men and caddies at either side of a ditch. Some caddies told me they were glad that a friend was there to take pictures and make audio recordings. Armed with golf clubs, the caddies organised themselves and charged back, shouting “attack!” As I followed them down the fairway towards the other end of the course, all I could think of was the movie Braveheart. I thought it best not to be the William Wallace.
One caddy told me he could see a man with a gun, but my eyesight wasn’t sharp enough. He told me where I could safely stand to take photos. Moments later there were two sharp pops. We all fled back towards the clubhouse. The caddies ran in zigzag lines, low to the ground. They encouraged me to do as they did.
Back beside the clubhouse another caddy came up to me and said “A-K.” He had served in the army and said that the AK-47 has a distinct sound. He said he knew who was firing it too. Allegedly a member of the OSD – the paramilitary unit of the police force – who lives in the New Life City community, beside the course.
Around 50 police officers soon arrived and headed down to New Life City. We heard a series of gunshots from the community. When it calmed down, I went to New Life City, and saw that police made at least four arrests, including one man dressed in an army uniform. But by some accounts, the OSD officer had escaped.
Some newer houses were being torn down by men who appeared to be caddies. All in full view of the police. One of the arrested men was screaming and in tears. Residents showed me their ransacked houses and said police were to blame. Groups of young men took items from half-destroyed homes and brought them towards the golf course.
The club manager told me the situation arose because New Life City is built on golf club land. The houses had been ordered destroyed by a judge in March. Some were soon rebuilt. A surveyor had visited the site on Friday and had his equipment stolen. A subsequent visit by some police officers on Saturday seemed to have sparked the violence.
With the help of a colleague at Radio Democracy, I produced and co-wrote a radio report that he voiced in Krio. It aired that evening and again on Monday morning. On Monday night a caddy called me and complained about what the report had said about the alleged actions of some caddies. He said he thought we were friends.
One of the biggest problems for journalism in Sierra Leone is media ownership. Many media houses are funded by one of the two main political parties. Friends are not always criticized. I now understood how it felt to have to do so. I didn’t enjoy it. But here’s to more of that in Sierra Leone’s future.
Note: Despite Sierra Leone’s bloody past, gun violence like this is relatively rare in Freetown.
In Liberia, hard-won press freedom is being eroded.
Government threats to the media in the aftermath of World Press Freedom Day have sparked a two-week blackout of that country’s front pages.
On May 16, two JHR-trained journalists from two of the most independent newspapers in the country were briefly arrested, along with their driver and trainer, for seeking information on court proceedings in Bong County.
The journalists were charged with “attempted blackmail and for trying to make Liberia look bad.”
Liberia Media Center and JHR representative and lawyer Lamii Kpargoi, who was travelling with the group, worked with Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson to secure the group’s release. This comes a few days after government representative Mr. Othello Warrick threatened to go after journalists who “impugned” others.
The President of Liberia is the Nobel Peace laureate and Harvard graduate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The government has since apologized for Mr. Warrick’s statement. However, though made a “Friend of the Media” in Liberia earlier this year, Sirleaf’s voice has been noticeably absent from the press freedom debate.
These incidents come as red flags to show just how vigilant the sector and the international community needs to remain in order to safeguard the right to free expression in what up till recently has been one of West Africa’s strongest success stories. At a time when Liberia has made extraordinary strides, both in press freedom and in governance and transparency, it is essential that both the international community and leadership of the local media sector work in concert to ensure the Liberian media hold the line on those gains.
In the words of departing Liberia Media Center executive director and JHR partner Lawrence Randall: “The progress we have made should not and will not be reversed. It is time the media unite and assert the required pressure in demanding assurances from government for the protection of journalists and freedom of expression. An isolated threat to media freedom anywhere is a potential threat to the sector as a whole.”
The goal of Journalists for Human Rights is to make everyone in the world fully aware of their rights. We do this through facilitating good human rights journalism, primarily in developing nations. It’s sometimes hard for visiting trainers like myself not to feel like we should be doing more than just this. When we leave, we leave so many problems behind. However, this is the story of how one JHR Trainer helped a youngster called Paddy, and about how Paddy is defying the odds to prepare for a new life in a far away land.
Of course, it’s worth noting that Paddy does not have any human rights. Paddy is a dog. Some call him the luckiest dog in Sierra Leone.
In August 2012, JHR Trainer Nina deVries was getting a shared taxi to the Freetown neighbourhood of Aberdeen. As often happens, the dilapidated Nissan broke down. Nina got out and walked. As she strolled along the road, she noticed something moving down on the ground. A rat? No, it was a tiny brown puppy, limping to a safe place by the side of the road.
Nina describes what happened. “He must have just managed to cross. I was just going to put him in a safe place, but after chatting with a man who had seen him before and did not know where the mother was, I ended up taking him to Dr Jalloh, right before he closed that day.” Dr Jalloh is one of a handful of vets in the country. “I found a cardboard box and put him in that and took a taxi to the vet. He had mange, a limp, fleas, worms, diarrhoea, and for a while he was getting these weird bumps on his back. They were a kind of maggot growing inside him.”
The outlook was not good. Dr Jalloh gave the puppy a small chance of survival. But during treatment, Nina decided to call him Paddy. The place where she found him was close to the legendary Paddy’s Bar in Aberdeen. Paddy’s only recently closed down, but had stayed open throughout the 1991-2002 civil conflict. The bar in the movie Blood Diamond is based on Paddy’s. Paddy/Padi also happens to be the Krio word for “friend.”
Paddy slowly grew into himself. Despite his tiny size, Dr Jalloh reckoned Paddy was about three-months-old when Nina rescued him. It goes without saying that Nina grew attached to Paddy and decided to keep him at her house on Old Railway Line. He made new friends, including the other canine resident, Frisco.
With a heavy heart, Nina returned to her life in Yellowknife in March. Paddy stayed here with Frisco, me and the other residents of the house.
A few weeks later I noticed a bump on Paddy’s belly. I brought him down to Dr Jalloh. The staff couldn’t control their delight at seeing Paddy, all grown up. They yelled “Oh Paddy Paddy!” I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean “Paddy Friend,” or “Friend Paddy.” Maybe it means “Friend Friend.” In any case, Dr Jalloh removed what turned out to be a type of lymphoma growth, and after a few groggy days, the pride and joy of the clinic was back to his hyper best.
Paddy is one-year-old this month. He will accompany me back to Canada in June, for his new life in Yellowknife. He will miss Frisco. He will miss sitting in the hot sun. But more importantly he will be back with Nina, who probably saved his life.
I have been thanked for taking care of Paddy and for helping him to emigrate. But it’s a fairly selfish act. I love dogs and I get to have one for a few months in Sierra Leone. And anyway, what else would I do? Paddy’s my middle name.
In Hollywood “romcom” movies, you’ll sometimes see the male lead whisk away his lady in a blindfold for a surprise holiday. When they arrive, he removes her blindfold and she gushes in delight. Maybe that was an episode of The Bachelor, but I think you know what I’m talking about.
If such a thing were ever to happen to you, and you were brought to Bureh Beach, you would almost certainly think you were in the Caribbean. Along Sierra Leone’s Western Peninsula, below Freetown, there are a dozen-or-so beaches like this. The beach known as River Number 2 was used in a classic Bounty chocolate bar ad.
Some of these beaches are just 30 minutes from the capital. For a country as poor as Sierra Leone, the potential benefits from tourism are huge. But before that can happen, the country needs to improve its infrastructure. Freetown’s international airport is currently in Lungi, at the opposite side of a wide estuary. It’s a $40, 40-minute ferry ride to Freetown (cheaper ferries take longer). Getting to a beach from the airport is a long and cumbersome affair.
The government recently announced plans to build a new airport south of Freetown, quite close to the beaches. A new road is also under construction to bypass central Freetown, giving even quicker access to the beaches. Sierra Leone is a six-hour flight from Europe, the same as the Caribbean. It would seem as though all the pieces will soon be in place for a tourism boom. One obstacle remains. Sand Mining.
The recent economic growth in Sierra Leone has seen a jump in the number of public and private construction projects. Sand is an important ingredient in this building industry, and free sand is just sitting on the beaches near Freetown. For years, trucks would head to the beaches and teams of men with their shovels would spend the day filling them up. Back-breaking work, but work nonetheless. Recently, this practice has been mostly outlawed. The government now only allows mining during daylight hours at one beach at a time. But the sand mining still happens on most beaches at night time.
Radio Democracy Journalist Keziah Gbondo and I headed down to Lakka Beach to find out more about the effect of the mining, and the extent to which it still continues. Guest house owner Marcus Roberts took us on a tour of the beach and showed us how the landscape had changed over the past decade. He told us how visitors now complain of sprained ankles because of the unnaturally sharp slope on the beach.
Around the corner he took us on a tour of a swanky seaside house, abandoned by its Lebanese owner about a decade ago. Its pool now half-collapsed into the sea. Other residents nearby told us they now fear for the future of their own houses, large and small.
Later that night, we walked the beach, looking for miners. For hours, all we could see were flash lights in the distance, but when walked on we saw no one, just some tell-tale trenches feshly-dug in the beach. Eventually, at 1:30 a.m. we found one miner, filling a bag and lifting it off the beach
He looked petrified, but agreed to speak to us if we kept his identity secret. He was in his mid-twenties and had a weak-looking right leg – an injury picked up during his days as a child soldier in the civil war. He told us he had no education, so this is the only way he can earn a living. He gets two or three dollars a night. He says police sometimes catch miners like him. They ask for a bribe rather than issuing an official fine.
The local police unit commander blamed a lack of resources for not being able to stop the miners. The Executive Director of the EPA told us how she values the beaches as a vital part of the country’s environment. But for now, the mining continues, and locals dig up their future, to feed themselves today.
Keziah Gbondo’s story aired this month on Good Morning Salone on Radio Democracy 98.1fm in Freetown. The producer said it had a remarkably high response from listeners, in support of protecting Sierra Leone’s “Taste of Paradise”.
Every May 3, journalists, activists and media organizations in developing countries around the world acknowledge the importance of World Press Freedom Day. This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom.
Most don’t celebrate it publicly, or even give reporters the day off work. But deep down there’s a respect for those operating as media professionals in hostile environments.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) state in their most recent report that 70 journalists were killed last year and 232 journalists are currently imprisoned. This is the highest number of journalists in jail on record, states the report.
Over the last year in Tanzania, several journalists have been violently attacked. Just a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) was brutally assaulted outside his home. Last September, a television reporter was killed by police covering a political opposition party demonstration.
According to the CPJ, Tanzania was the seventh deadliest country for journalists in 2012. These unfortunate events have led many Tanzanians to believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead up to the 2015 elections.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 Press Freedom Index indicates Tanzania dropped 36 points since the previous year, from 34 to 70 (out of 179 countries). This in a year of unprecedented economic growth for the East African nation.
One of the many reasons for this drop is due to President Jikaya Kikwete’s decision to shut down a Swahili language newspaper. Tanzania’s information minister deemed MwanaHalisi too critical and ceased its publication under the guise of the 1976 Newspaper Act.
The directive states the weekly investigative newspaper published news that was false and seditious:
“The government has decided to close down the production of Mwanahalisi for an unknown period according to the Newspaper Act of 1976, clause 25(i). The clause will be in effect from July 30th, 2012 based on the government notice 258 published on the government newspaper produced in Dar es Salaam on 27th July, 2012.”
Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the Kikwete government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish this repressive media law. There’s also been a strong push for media reformsto be included in a new constitution.
Back in 2008, MwanaHalisi was banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the elections. The newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Kikwete government. Since then several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom by thugs.
Media reform activist Henry Maina, director of Article 19 East Africa, writes that the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Maina cites Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
From May 3 to 5, 2013, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from all over East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania at Naura Springs Hotel for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Safer and better working environment for journalists in East Africa” and will highlight the need for media reforms all over the continent, with a focus on Tanzania, a country where many journalists still operate in fear of reprisals.
Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.
ACCRA & CAPE COAST, Ghana – The Bangladesh factory collapse has forced Canadians to look at their closets a little more closely.
The discovery of Joe Fresh garments in the rubble has also brought renewed calls from NGOs and labour groups to improve conditions for garment workers in the developing world.
Currently, there is no existing fair trade certification program in North America for apparel, only for commodities.
“It started with coffee, then chocolate, sugar… But it’s so expensive for businesses to go through certification so it falls on the producer’s shoulders,” said Carrie Hawthorne, former board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC.
Fair trade screening does exist for apparel, but is entirely voluntary. Expenses to remain “fair trade” increase production costs, putting companies at a competitive disadvantage to those not operating at the same standards.
The only incentive is to appeal to the small market of fair trade consumers. This incentive isn’t enough, for most.
“Can you really keep up with Walmart?” asks Hawthorne, who is now working for a fair trade organization in Ghana called Global Mamas.
This organization might be an exception to the rule. It is a Ghanaian-based clothing company with a formula to trade fairly and make a profit.
“The model that Global Mamas is setting up is to be large scale,” says Hawthorne.
The women involved essentially own their own businesses – each “Mama” is responsible for managing her own finances and hiring help if needed.
This approach means the company is dealing one-on-one with Ghanaian entrepreneurs rather than a company in Bangladesh, for example.
Women are employed in seven different locations in Ghana. The organization provides raw materials and orders for batiking, sewing, bead-making, assembling, weaving and soap-making.
Gloria Amanful, a seamstress in Cape Coast, has been working with Global Mamas for the past nine months. She is saving money to buy land, and is now thinking of buying a knitting machine to expand her business.
Amanful says she is gaining confidence in herself through her work. “Global Mamas has helped me by giving me something for my children and my family,” she said.
It’s something that Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam said is an advantage of working with women.
“You can be assured they’re going to invest their money in their family,” she said. “Women are definitely the best investment for the betterment of an entire community.”
“They even start employing other women,” said Adam.
Mary Koomson is proof: since she started taking on contracts with the organization, she’s been able to purchase her own plot of land, pay for her niece and nephews to attend school, hired two workers and one apprentice, and is now thinking of expanding her business.
“I want to open a store to make my new things in,” she said.
Koomson lives in Cape Coast, and has been working with Global Mamas for five years. She does “batiking,” an ancient process of stamping and dyeing fabric that has been practiced in Ghana for generations.
She said she has benefited from training provided by Global Mamas on fair trade, how to manage your business and how to save money.
The organization was founded in 2003 with six apparel producers in Ghana. It now has over 600 producers and is building a fair trade campus in Ashaiman, just outside of Accra.
Global Mamas hit the $1-million sales mark for the first time in 2012. Adam said that the organization is getting requests from all over the world to establish organizations there, but that Global Mamas will stay in Ghana until, she said, “we’ve helped Ghana to its extent.”
But the Global Mamas model is proving to be a success, according to Adam, in more ways than numbers.
“I think [the fair trade] approach is so amazing to be able to empower people in the workplace. It’s the opposite of what you read about China and other parts of the world.”