Sunday, February 27, 2011

Accident nearly spoils happy ending

From the Parkville Luminary

My life sounds like a bad TV movie.

In this tragic biopic, the lead character, a distance runner, overcomes some predictable and trite obstacle, runs a marathon, but drops dead of a heart attack 100 yards from the finish line.

This has pretty much been my life lately, except for the dropping dead part. Though I’m currently non-deceased, I did literally come within inches of joining the ranks of the permanently vertically challenged.

Before we get to the almost dead part, however, we have to discuss my marathon, which started eight long months ago. I have been managing and teaching a Peace and Electoral Journalism project in Uganda. Its goal is to prevent media-induced or exacerbated violence during the 2011 presidential elections. The obstacles my team and I have had to overcome to deliver this message to 320 radio journalists and announcers and 100 radio managers are many. They include logistical challenges, cultural differences, corruption, politically motivated media owners, language problems, bad hotels, worse food, and more than 10,000 kilometers spent traversing Uganda’s often abysmal roads.

The finish line for my marathon was Feb. 18, election day for president and parliament. Another six inches or so to the right, and I would’ve ended up like my TV movie’s protagonist—prostrate just a few yards (or in my case a few days) from the finish line.

As you’re now aware, I’m not dead, so unlike my movie hero, I got to taste the fruits of our efforts to prevent media-induced election violence. As election day unfolded, I planted myself in my easy chair, and surrounded myself with every electronic gadget at my disposal. The TV was on constantly, switched back and forth between two local news channels. Meanwhile, one eye was on my laptop’s Internet display.

All the news was the same, and it was glorious: there were no reported incidents of media (particularly radio) induced or exacerbated violence on Feb. 18 or 23, the day of Kampala’s mayoral election. We will be holding follow up meetings with journalists and collecting survey data, but we’re very optimistic that our peace journalism project did indeed make a positive difference in encouraging radio journalists and announcers to avoid using inflammatory speech while framing stories so that violent acts are not sensationalized,. Yes, there were a few scattered incidents of election violence on Feb. 18 and 23. However, none of this sporadic violence has been attributed to the media.

Indeed, it would have been “TV-movie-tragic” if I wouldn’t have been able to witness how responsibly and peacefully radio stations behaved on Feb. 18 and 23. Yet, this was almost the case. A few days before the presidential election, my two project assistants, our driver, and I were traveling on the highway near Kasese in western Uganda. The sun had just set. As we neared our destination, a car in the opposite lane attempted to pass a truck, except that there wasn’t enough space to safely make the pass. For about two seconds, his bright, blinding headlights filled the cabin of our van as his car careened head-on at our vehicle. My eyes were closed when the passing car side-swiped us, scraping the front quarter panel and driver’s side door. The offending car clipped the driver’s side-view mirror, folding it neatly against the side of the car but otherwise leaving it undamaged. The car that hit us sped away into the night, gone in the time it took me to turn around and look for him. Fortunately, no one was injured. I’d estimate that we were going about 55-60 mph, while the other car was much faster, maybe 70 mph. Had we struck head on, we’d all have been killed.

Our driver that evening, Mr. Grim Reaper (not his real name), was a substitute for our usual, cautious driver. Mr. Reaper did not react at all as the passing car barreled down on us—no swerving, no breaking, no nothing. Though this accident wasn’t technically his fault, a one-foot swerve to the left could have left us unscathed. Upon hearing about our ordeal, our usual driver took a bus to Kasese the next day so that he could drive us home.

So, unlike our bad TV movie, my story has a happy ending. Ugandans are celebrating presidential and mayoral elections free of radio-inflamed violence while I celebrate and take stock of my life. Our brush with death has left me shaken. However, I am now unequivocally certain of one thing: I love life, and won’t be ready to ride again with Mr. Reaper for at least another 40 or 50 years.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Four opposition presidential candidates are calling for peaceful protests against the "sham" election held Feb. 18. (To read the full statement, click here). Will Ugandans take up the call? Police and army are deployed thickly across Kampala and nationwide, and will serve as a strong deterrent to anyone considering protesting. If protests do materialize, will authorities allow them to proceed as long as they are peaceful, or will the army and police intervene with a show of force?

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement condemning the shooting of a freelance journalist on election day. In a statement, the CPJ is calling on the government to thoroughly pursue the investigation into the shooting, which reports say was carried out by an army gunman. Today's Daily Monitor newspaper is also reporting that a Channel 44 journalist was shot and wounded during yesterday's local election chaos (see below).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BULLETIN: Rigged Kampala mayoral election leads to several isolated clashes

Allegations of ballot box stuffing along with several isolated violent clashes forced election officials to cancel today's Kampala mayoral election.

Seven boxes of pre-checked (“pre-ticked”, as they say here) ballots were discovered at three different polling stations in Kampala, according to the Monitor and Independent newspapers. Reports say the ballots were filled out for the ruling party (NRM) candidate. As the bogus ballots were discovered, brief, violent clashes between supporters of different candidates broke out at least three polling places—Kawempe, Rubaga, and Kapeka. No word on injuries. Two unconfirmed violent incidents consistent with the newspaper reports were also registered via text message on Uganda Watch. The Monitor reports the police and military have responded by sealing off some polling places, and by deploying heavily in Kampala to prevent widespread violence.

Note: In Uganda, polling for different elected posts is held on different days. Last Friday was for president and parliament; today was for local officials and Kampala mayor.

Today’s incident is also instructive as to the relative value of Twitter. The good news—reports are posted fastest here. The bad news—a great deal of the information I’ve read today on #ugandavotes is nothing but speculation and wild rumor. If the press disseminated some of these tweets, it would certainly lead to panic and possibly incite violence. Twitter is also dangerously viral, as I see the same hyped or bogus rumor repeated verbatim in tweet after tweet.

--My family and I are fine. I would say normal, but we are talking about my family...

A journalist's-eye view of the Ugandan presidential election

I received the following email today from a Fort Portal, Uganda radio journalist who attended one of my peace journalism workshops. Her perspectives on the election and peace journalism are enlightening.

Here is her email:

In this part of the country (western Uganda), it was very free and fair and there was no chaos or violence anywhere. I am sure it was all because most journalists were trained and aware of what and how to handle the elections. I am sure your work greatly contributed to this peaceful election countrywide.

(Photo: Fort Portal is surrounded by beautiful, fragrant tea plantations).

There was tight security because they expected some chaos because the two parliamentary contestants were of different tribes. One is a retired col. who likes violence and is most feared. so tribal clashes were expected but they did not happen. As peace journalists we are using the radio to educate the masses about the dangers of such clashes.

...The MPs that lost in this region met on Sunday after elections in a closed meeting but invited me and another journalist to be there. They discussed things like forming a pressure group and lots more. Today one of the defeated MP's (members of parliament) sent me a message on my breakfast show (morning radio program) saying that I should inform his supporters that, "We seem to have lost the battle, but not lost the war. The struggle continues." This made me feel so bad. I instead criticized such acts with out mentioning his name but just told my listeners that they should not even associate themselves with anything similar to violence.

I am sure I will exercise all my abilities as a peace journalist.

--From a radio journalist, Fort Portal, Uganda, February, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

--Two also-rans call for protests; NY Times stumbles on basic facts

MONDAY, THREE DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION—We finally got out and about today in Kampala. Pre-election fears of violence have made the last 3-4 days pretty anxious for many. However, everything seems to have returned to normal here. The only difference I saw today is a stronger police presence. Lots of cops seem to be deployed around town guarding trees, since the police I saw mostly seemed committed to lounging in the shade.

Two losing candidates, Olara Ottunu (1.6% of the vote) and Samuel Lubega (0.4%) today threatened to mobilize Egypt-style protests (AP). Seriously, these guys could barely muster 2% combined of the vote total, and they’re going to organize protests? Fantasy. The one opposition candidate with the most credibility to organize demonstrations, Kizza Besigye (2nd place, 26%), has complained that the election was corrupt and unfair, but has stopped short of calling for protests. The other losing candidate with some gravitas, Norbert Mao, is expected to make a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, let’s take the New York Times to task. In a Uganda election story today’s edition, reporter Josh Kron writes, “The streets of Kampala were quiet and calm on Sunday, with no celebrations of the president’s re-election.” Wrong. Hundreds (thousands?) of supporters of the winning NRM party took to the streets yesterday in impromptu parades. We saw the footage on two TV networks, and could even hear the honking and whistling in the distance from our apartment. Hey New York Times, if you can’t get little details like this right, how accurate is the rest of your international coverage?

Finally, congratulations to Uganda and Ugandans for pulling off a nearly violence-free election. I’m thrilled.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

--Miffed opposition says election unfair; No demonstrations reported yet

5:00PM SUNDAY--President Yoweri Museveni has sailed to victory in Uganda with 68% of the votes, besting his closest rival Kizza Besigye who nabbed 26% of the vote.

The opposition is claiming, loudly, that the election was not free or fair, and included pre-marked ballots, names missing from voters’ registers, and stuffed ballot boxes. However, an election observation team from the Commonwealth Nations told NTV that though “the playing field was not level” and there was “too much commercialism”, the process was “largely transparent”. A Great Lakes Region observer team labeled the elections “free and fair”, though they criticized the slow pace that results were released. (Daily Monitor newspaper).

On Facebook, one anonymous user, Youthsuganda Rise Up, called for a peaceful anti-election demonstration today at 10am at Constitution Square. I have found no evidence on Facebook or Twitter or on TV or radio that this demonstration took place. The online call for demonstrations was met with some support, while others labeled any protest effort “ludicrous” and “premature”. One critic wrote, “Why don’t you go to Bahrain? I can buy you a ticket.” Youthsuganda Rise Up responded, “If you can’t overcome your fear, stay and home and pray…We will welcome your support when you overcome your fear.” At presstime, Youthsuganda Rise Up’s Facebook page had 61 supporters.

Meanwhile, the Daily Monitor’s website reported that loudspeaker trucks traversed Kampala today exhorting Museveni supporters to gather at Constitution Square to celebrate the president’s victory. No word yet on whether the rally materialized.

On Mr. Besigye’s Facebook page, his supporters lamented their candidate’s demise. One wrote, “Just do like Egyptians and Tunisians otherwise the old man (Museveni) will never leave power trust me. Here he goes again more five years.” Another said, “The old man has shown Uganda that u can't (beat) him thru election coz in 2006 he used violence and now he has used a lot of bribes to people so we need to do something.” One depressed Facebooker wrote, “Is my vote wasted? Am tired. I may go out of this country and be in exile.”

Kampala remains a bit calmer than normal today, although on a long walk today we observed much more hustle and bustle than yesterday. Unless protests materialize, things should be pretty much back to normal tomorrow.

9:00AM SUNDAY--Not that there was ever any mystery, but the latest provisional results from 95% of all districts show a resounding win for President Museveni. The latest tally has him with 68% of the vote, down a few percentage points from yesterday. Final results are expected later today.

(Photo--The army deploys in Kampala, where they've established a strong presence. Pix from The Daily Monitor)

The question now is, will the Ugandan people protest these results, which have been widely criticized as unfair and fixed? Museveni’s top challenger Kizza Besigye said at a press conference yesterday, "We've lost faith in the courts, people can protest. You've seen protests remove dictators elsewhere in the world.” Meanwhile, Museveni threatened to arrest Besigye if he encourages protests. He said demonstrators will be "bundled" into the courts and jail. "Revolt? Let him try, let him try, because the hour is here now, and then he will know what it means to revolt," Museveni told reporters on Friday. (Reuters press agency)

The battle lines are drawn, but will the people respond? I’ve been scanning Twitter (#ugandavotes) for signs of a popular uprising. I’ve seen a half dozen messages mentioning Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain, and a half dozen more messages including the term “people power”. Another tweet says, “I dreamt we could fit on city square.”

You be the judge as to whether 15 tweets are indicative of impending protests against the elections and government. (Note—I have searched, unsuccessfully, for any real Facebook-based Uganda protest movement. I found a page called “Museveni must go”, but it has only 200 members and has been updated only once in 2011).

Still no reports of media induced or exacerbated violence related to the election. Also, Kampala remains calm, quiet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

--Kampala “quiet and calm like Christmas day”

7:00 PM DAY AFTER ELECTION—Kampala remains very, very calm. I took a brief walk today, and was startled by the lack of traffic—1/5 the traffic of a usual Saturday. The newsstand where I typically buy my newspapers was closed. Only a few boda boda (motorbike taxi) drivers lounged around. Usually, I see dozens of bodas. One Tweet summed it up: “Kampala calm and quiet, like Christmas day. Too quiet?” The Daily Monitor newspaper reports beefed-up security, including a heavy arm presence, at Electoral Commission headquarters.

There are several current unconfirmed reports of police deployments, shots fired, and tear gas incidents in eastern districts. Again, these have not been verified.

Meanwhile, new partial vote tallies are being released every two hours. The latest totals indicate a landslide for the sitting president, who is garnering 70% of the vote. His lead is no surprise, but there’s shock at the huge margin. The final tally is expected tomorrow. The leading challenger, Kizza Besigye, just held a press conference wherein he rejected the results as tainted by bribery and intimidation. An NGO monitoring the election, DemGroup, said in today’s Monitor that it has recorded 6,090 incidents of bribery, mostly by the ruling NRM party.

A reporter friend emailed me that residents in Gulu in the north are still upset about all the electoral process snafus. She wrote, “Many voters were bitter about their names missing in voter register yet they say during the voter display last October their names were in the register; this denied them opportunity to vote. Few arrests within the municipality as result of some indiscipline acts of some campaign agents trying to woo votes even at polling stations. There was a brief fight between polling officials and the RDC and his men in Pader district. On the whole Northern Uganda is calm. I hope the situation remains the same after (final) results are announced.”

My family and I are fine, though starting to go a little stir-crazy. We’ll hang out one more day in the apartment, and if Kampala remains calm, we’ll venture out on Monday.

--Still no reports of media induced or exacerbated violence

9:30AM SATURDAY—DAY AFTER ELECTION—Things seem to have been quiet overnight. I haven’t run across any new reports of protests, unrest, or violent incidents. The Daily Monitor reports that as of about 9pm last night, “Kampala City Centre is deserted in the early evening hours as both military police and army deployed heavily soon after elections closed. All the major roads in the centre… are all under close surveillance with foot and mobile military patrols.” (See yesterday’s blogs below for details about the violence, which the New York Times dubbed, “sporatic flare-ups”.)

Ugandans will be discussing for weeks (months) the confusion at the polling places yesterday. One journalist friend writes, “I am not happy and very disappointed with the Electoral Commission, not sure of the new name they should be given. Is it, “Electoral Confusion”? Many people could not vote because of missing names, displacement and misplacement of pictures etc and my disappointment is that even now, the EC Chairman has not come out to apologize and explain. This is total confusion from EC. What exactly went wrong with the voter register, is that a smart way of rigging? Not fair for citizens to fail to exercise his voting rights.” (Photo above--Counting ballots early Friday night in Kampala. Source--NY Times).

Meanwhile, in no surprise, President Museveni leads his rivals in early provisional results with 72% of the vote. (4700 out of 23,000 polling stations reporting). The Independent reports that Museveni’s vote take has increased even in Northern Uganda, where he has traditionally received few votes.

Personally, everything is calm and quiet here in the center of Kampala.

Friday, February 18, 2011

--Reports of scattered violence centered in East; Kampala quiet

10:00PM ELECTION DAY—NTV and UBC networks have begun announcing individual precinct vote totals which show President Museveni with a very early lead. Final, certified results are expected Saturday night or Sunday, although the consensus is that Museveni is a shoo-in.

There were reports of scattered violence this afternoon, although things seem to have calmed down tonight. All of the most serious incidents occurred in Mbale district in Eastern Uganda. NTV interviewed a Mbale reporter riding in an MP’s car when the reporter was shot, reportedly by the army. The Independent newspaper writes that there were injuries and one death in Sironko in Eastern Uganda. In a separate incident in Mbale district, three people died and four were injured after being stuck by a fleeing government minister’s car, according to the Monitor newspaper. There have been no reports of violence in Kampala, though the army has been heavily deployed in the city.

I have heard no reports today about irresponsible media or media-induced or exacerbated violence. This includes the media monitoring section on Uganda Watch, an SMS election monitoring tool. Since preventing media induced violence is the goal of our Peace Journalism project, this preliminary report is very gratifying.

TV and newspapers reported about unsealed ballot boxes, late or absent polling materials and personnel, names missing from voting rolls, and chaos at some polling places. According to the Monitor, Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu apologized for the election “hiccups”, arguing that Uganda is a growing democracy. Meanwhile, European Union observers have expressed their disappointment in the general election. “The impression is that the process is not systematic,” EU chief observer Edward Scicluna told the Monitor. He told NTV that election precinct officials showed “ignorance” that reflected “a lack of training.”

The opposition is already crying foul. The FDC party told the Monitor, “The election process as has been witnessed has been characterized by electoral flaws. [There has been] mass rigging for the president.”

On a personal note, my wife, son, and I hunkered down safely in our apartment. We’re fine. As a political junkie, I’ll probably be up half the night watching election returns.

--Next Update—8-9am Kampala time Saturday morning--
5:00PM ELECTION DAYAn NPR report today discusses numerous delays and long lines of voters. News24 reports on missing ballots in Rubaga, and implies that the delays may be deliberately designed to disenfranchise opposition voters. Uganda’s NTV calls the Rubaga problems “anomolies” involving unsealed ballot boxes. Radio CBS Kampala reports three hour waits to vote in the Masaka area. One recent Twitter message details long lines late this afternoon in Kasubi, Lungujja, and Ggaba. However, The Standard (Kenya) writes that all voting materials and officials were ready to go on time this morning in Eastern districts. (Photo--Patient Kampala voters today. Source--AP)

The Times (South Africa) writes that the Ugandan government is censoring SMS messages today that might incite the public, including editing out words like “Tunisia, Egypt, Tear Gas, and People Power”.

There are several reports of scattered violence, but nothing seemingly organized or systematic. The New Vision website reports there was gunfire in the Budadiri region, but doesn’t mention any injuries. In Sironko and Moroto, two unconfirmed Uganda Watch SMS messages indicate possible violent incidents. In the East, a Uganda Watch report also indicates beatings and injuries in Mbale district. These are confirmed by NTV, which interviewed a photojournalist who says he was beaten by security forces in Budadiri. NTV says one person was killed in Mbale district, but offered few details. An NTV reporter says there is a heavy military presence in the streets of Mbale town, and that “people are scared”. In the North, The New Vision reports 11 were arrested in Apac for “allegedly beating up people”. There are no reports of violent incidents in Kampala. Our neighborhood remains quiet except for the screaming toddler next door. We’re all just fine.
NOON ELECTION DAY--A few bumps are being reported. Uganda Watch (a text message based system wherein citizens report voting irregularities) is reporting several unconfirmed, isolated violent incidents—one shooting, and several cases of government supporters allegedly beating up opponents. It’s important to note that these incidents are unverified. NTV reported some delays in voting in Jinja and Moroto because of late-arriving ballots. Also, 18 were arrested in Lira with machetes in their hands and hundreds of dollars in their pockets for allegedly bribing and intimidating voters. Meanwhile, the New York Times has an interesting piece about Uganda and the election. As for the local newspaper websites, nothing has been updated yet today. Pretty lame. Everything seems very quiet here in our Kampala neighborhood.
9:00AM ELECTION DAY--So far, so good…Ugandans began heading to the polls at 7:00 am today to elect a president and parliamentary representatives. NTV reports that some rain in eastern districts has “disorganized” the voting process, while in Masaka some voters are confused by the ballot. Uganda Watch (a text message based system wherein citizens report voting irregularities) is reporting some intimidating tactics by the Ugandan army. The Daily Monitor newspaper reports similar intimidation in Gulu in northern Uganda, where security forces have virtually taken over the city. I also have received a similar report from a journalist colleague, who has observed the army “flooding” areas near polling stations in western districts. Most importantly, at this point, there have been no reports of violence.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ugandan Peace Clubs promote violence-free elections

I spent a wonderful day yesterday in Kasese meeting with some personal heroes of mine—about 18 Ugandans who are working diligently to ensure that there is no violence during Friday’s elections. These citizens have come together to organize peace clubs in their western Ugandan communities (Kasese, Rukungiri, Kabale, and Fort Portal). These clubs have been reaching out to citizens (through radio messages and visits to churches, mosques, and schools) urging them to maintain the peace. I was very impressed with their activities, and encouraged that their worthwhile efforts will bear fruit. (For photo album of the Kasese Peace Summit, click here).

Stay tuned to this page for regular updates on the Ugandan elections on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Home from Arua; Election Updates posted here

Back in Kampala after long trip from Arua, in far NW Uganda. Great seminar--very engaged journalists. (See photo. For complete photo album of the seminar, click here).

Meanwhile, we're preparing ourselves for the presidential election on Friday. See article below. Stay tuned to this site for full details and regular updates. I plan to update several times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Hopefully, there won't be much to report--other than election results.

Ugandan elections ignite concerns

From the Parkville Luminary

MASAKA, UGANDA—This being Africa, and this being election time, you’ll excuse me if I worry about my Ugandan friends.

I’m worried about Gloria, who lives just a few miles from the site of a tire-burning riot a few years ago. I’m concerned about Gloria’s two adorable girls, especially my god-daughter and namesake, 1 ½ year old Stephanie, who finally let me hold her a few weeks ago.

I’m worried about Tabu, who lives in an economically depressed neighborhood where violence might be more likely. I’m concerned that Tabu and his family could become targets if violence breaks out because Tabu is a grass roots organizer for a political party.

Most of all, I’m worried sick about the 320 radio journalists who we’ve trained since last July. These journalists will be immersed in the crowds, right there on the ground, and will be in real danger if violence breaks out during or after the Ugandan presidential election scheduled for Feb. 18.

This worry is understandable, given the legacy of election related violence here in Africa. In Kenya in 2007-08, 800 people died and 250,000 were displaced in post-election violence. Ghana, Zimbabwe, Togo, and Ethiopia have all suffered from election violence in recent years. Now, Cote D’Ivoire is in the grips of what could be a very violent situation.

No one knows if the election this Friday will be violent, although no one doubts that this is a real possibility. There are number of risk factors for violence present in Uganda. The electoral commission, which is supposed to administer a non-partisan, fair election, is widely seen as corrupt and unfair. The 2006 presidential election here was largely rigged, according to a Ugandan court ruling that acknowledged the fraud but did not overturn the result. Stir in past animosities between the government and several tribes, threats and intimidation by candidates and their supporters, and you have a tinderbox just waiting for a match.

After eight months here working with radio journalists, I am confident that this match igniting conflict will not be thrown by the press. I am directing and teaching a Peace Journalism program here designed to show journalists the important role they play in not inciting violence and framing their stories in such a way as to lay a foundation for peace. I believe that the radio journalists understand the stakes, and will not induce the violence here, the way radio in particular has fueled conflicts in Kenya and Rwanda.

The question remains, however: Even if the violence isn’t started by media, will the politicians light the match? Certainly, bitter, defeated politicians are as dangerous as wounded animals. Will there be peaceful post-election protests that turn violent because of brutal security forces? Extra security forces here don’t make things extra secure, and are as likely to spark violence as to prevent it.

Even the most well informed Ugandans I ask don’t seem to know if there will be violence, offering guesses all over the map, from completely peaceful to significant rioting and unrest. If Ugandans do take to the streets, I’m hopeful that the Egyptian revolution can show them that non-violence is a desirable, even preferable option.

As Friday approaches, Ugandans are understandably nervous. Seeing riot police moving around in their full battle gear is disquieting, as is reading about new water cannon and tear gas trucks being delivered in Kampala. The bomb sniffing dogs at the shopping center yesterday didn’t exactly put us at ease.

In a travel advisory urging Americans to exercise caution, the State Department writes, “Uganda’s 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections generally were orderly and peaceful, and there are no indications that the 2011 elections will be any different.” I concur, though I concede that this may be wishful thinking. Whatever happens, my wife, son, and I will be hunkered down safely in a well-stocked apartment in a guarded compound in a well-policed, safe part of the city. So please save your concern, as well as your thoughts and prayers, for the vast majority of Ugandans who do not have the luxury of safety. My family and I hope and pray for peace on Feb. 18 and the nervous days that will follow.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Melting, melting, melting (what a world....)

1. Yes, it's that hot in Arua, in dusty far northwestern Uganda. This is by far the hottest place in the country--low 90's the last two days. At least it cools down at night, which is more than I can say for Kansas City, where it's sometimes 85 or 90 at midnight.
2. Great seminar here with really enthusiastic participants. It's our last three day seminar before the Feb. 18 presidential election. I've started to get nervous about the election. Will radio stations behave responsibly, or will they incite violence?
3. Finally, I am meeting tonight with the Arua Rotary Club, which is co-sponsoring school lunch program here with the Parkville, Missouri Rotary Club. More on this later, including photos, a radio story, and a column.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nairobi, Kenya: clean, interesting

Just spent four days in Nairobi. My first impressions were all positive. I love the Kenya National Museum (featuring 2-3 million year old human remains) and the adjoining Snake Park (Left-black mamba. For complete photo album, click here). The city is clogged but clean. In fact, smoking is not allowed anywhere in the city center--even outdoors. Of course, I know that this tourist's-eye-view of Nairobi is just an illusion, since one of Africa's biggest and poorest slums lies just a few miles away from the city center.

The land(s) of the brave

From the Parkville Luminary

NAIROBI, KENYA—The Kenyan reporter sitting two chairs down from me was arrested, beaten, and eventually fled for his life. His crime: exposing government corruption. The young German media trainer sitting next to me is understandably concerned about her security in Afghanistan, but said she can’t afford mentally to obsess about safety issues every waking moment. The Zimbabwean newspaper editor across the room gets regular visits from government security thugs. These menacing goons are sent by Zimbabwe’s repressive government to intimidate the editor into ceasing his criticism of the country’s leaders. The grinning editor laughs off these incidents as though he were somehow bulletproof.

Soldiers get medals for their bravery. If they ever start giving bravery medals to journalists and those who train them, the courageous, dedicated professionals I just spent two and a half days with at a seminar in Nairobi, Kenya would surely be the first to be recognized for their fearless dedication.

These unflappable individuals gathered at a Conflict Sensitive Journalism (CSJ) Experts Forum sponsored by a Danish NGO, International Media Services. The 20 participants came from around the world, including Sweden, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Liberia, Uganda, U.S., Kenya, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines. The seminar’s goal was to discuss conflict sensitive journalism projects around the world, and to leverage the participants’ experiences to improve resource materials for CSJ trainers. CSJ follows most of the same principles as its cousin peace journalism. Both aim, essentially, to help reporters avoid fueling conflicts and make choices that lay a foundation for peace.

The most striking conversations at the seminar revolved around safety and security issues for journalists. This is especially salient for these seminar participants, and those who they train, because of the hostile environments under which many of them operate. I have always known that properly executed CSJ and peace journalism can make societies safer. What these brave individuals taught me is that peace reporting can protect individual journalists by teaching professional skills and conduct that can help trainees avoid being victimized. Indeed, one presenter noted that 50% of journalists’ safety issues can be resolved if journalists conduct themselves ethically and in a professional manner. Thus, just doing our job as trainers can help reduce the appalling amount of violence directed at our journalistic brethren.

At the seminar, several CSJ presenters discussed country-specific security issues and initiatives. One trainer outlined a forward thinking journalist safety program underway in one of the world’s scariest places—Afghanistan. The need for this initiative, involving safe houses and a security hotline, underscores the bravery demonstrated by any journalist or any journalism trainer who dares to go to Afghanistan, where 22 journalists have been murdered since 1992 (

A trainer of Filipino reporters (71 murdered since 1992) relayed the sad story of an ambush killing of 32 journalists in a convoy in 2009. The murderers haven’t been brought to justice, so a number of journalists and trainers in journalism have formed a group called N23 (the mass murder was on Nov. 23) to apply pressure to bring the killers to justice. Equally horrifying was the tragic story of a Sri Lankan (18 killed since 1992) photojournalist who snapped pictures of five kids murdered by the government. When the photojournalist’s name became public, the photographer was dead within 24 hours.

What made all these presentations so powerful was that most of those delivering these messages are living and working under a cloud of intimidation in repressive, dangerous places like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. (Incidentally, in Uganda, where I’m teaching peace journalism, there is intimidation, but not the kind of epidemic, jarring violence against journalists that characterizes daily life in other places.)

Despite the danger, the journalism trainers remain courageously committed to their profession and to the notion that their trainees can avoid inflaming conflicts while practicing security-enhancing professional and ethical conduct. 849 journalists worldwide have been killed in the line of duty since 1992. If our CSJ and peace journalism seminars can prevent even one reporter from being added to this tally, then our efforts will have been worthwhile.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Best seminar ever; Eating camel

In Nairobi, Kenya for three days attending Conflict Sensitive Journalism Experts Forum organized by Danish NGO International Media Services. I’ve never attended such a relevant, fascinating seminar, thanks no doubt in large part to the attendees from around the world—Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sweden, etc. More on this later. Also, I ate roasted camel (among other meats) this evening. I’ll say this—it’s better than stir fried donkey. (Photo--actual camel roast, from someone on the Internet who actually took this picture)