Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

International Justice/ICC: Mar ‘09

Congolese listeners tune in to IWPR Lubanga trial broadcasts, while radio stations in northern Uganda cite IWPR reports on former war zones.
By IWPR ICC
Congolese radio stations say daily reports from IWPR’s Hague office continue to be the main source of information they have on the trial of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga.


In recent weeks, more than ten stations around the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi have been broadcasting journalist Ewing Ahmed Salumu’s updates on the Lubanga proceedings.


He had been sending his reports via a Skype connection from the IWPR Hague office to local radio stations to be broadcast live throughout DRC.


Salumu, from Bukavu in South Kivu province, spent two months in The Hague covering the International Criminal Court, ICC, case against Lubanga – leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC – whose trial started on January 26, 2009.


Salumu was in the Netherlands as part of a project developed by the Open Society Justice Initiative and IWPR.


This project gives journalists from the Great Lakes region the opportunity to take up a traineeship at IWPR in The Hague and send stories back from the courtroom to their home countries.


Their material, along with daily and weekly summaries of court proceedings, is also posted on the newly developed website – http://www.lubangatrial.org/


Listeners across the country told IWPR that they closely followed Salumu’s updates and comments on the trial.


“It’s extraordinary and our friend [Salumu] has done a titan’s work,” said a journalist for Radio Tele Groupe L’Avenir in the capital Kinshasa.


“People [followed] his reports, because it is of great interest to them. It’s fundamental. They want to know what is going in The Hague as it directly touches them.”


Pacific Kalau, journalist and co-director of programmes at the Radio Communautaire du Katanga in Lubumbashi, said he has also appreciated Salumu’s regular updates.


“Sometimes, we [couldn’t] establish a connection, and we [couldn’t] have reports from Salumu for a while,” he said.


“Listeners then ring us up and ask what is going on, and why don’t they hear about what is happening at the trial?”


For many Congolese, receiving live reports from Europe was an extraordinary event, because local media usually lack the resources to send journalists abroad.


“Our audience could not have imagined that one day, despite the little resources we have, they could have had access to reports on what is happening in The Hague,” explained Jean-Pierre Nifoli, a journalist at Radio Mwangaza in Kisangani.


Although Radio Communautaire du Katanga sent one of their journalists to The Hague for a few weeks, they could not afford to keep him there for too long.


They say they came to rely on Salumu’s reports, as well as on those produced by international media, such as the BBC or Radio France.


“But Salumu is better, because he brings to life what is happening. He makes us live it,” said Kalau.


The stations say they get little information from the ICC itself.


“We received some documentation from the ICC at some point but nothing since, and we cannot always access their site,” said Nifoli.


He believes the Congolese people are hungry for information.


“Whether it is a Congolese journalist or a journalist from somewhere else, what’s important for them is to be informed on what is happening in The Hague,” said Nifoli.


For a journalist at Radio Messager du Peuple in South Kivu, that Salumu is Congolese is significant.


“For us, what is important is that the information comes directly from the ICC, [and] from someone we know and we trust. It is easier for people to understand him and trust him,” the journalist said.


Meanwhile, IWPR stories written for the ICC project by Ugandan trainees and republished in various local media are having an impact on daily life in the country.


In northern Uganda, the stories may even be encouraging people in the country’s war-torn communities to return to their villages after 20 years of civil strife, said financial manager of Lira-based Voice of Lango local radio station, Gerald Lee.


Voice of Lango is among the most popular in the Lira region of northern Uganda.


“When you read IWPR stories you come to understand the whole situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Uganda,” Lee said.


“This is the kind of reporting that the international and national news media should adopt.”


Lee believes that many people affected by the twenty-year war, in areas such as Gulu, Pader, Kitgum and Amuru, had decided to remain in camps for the internal refugees because media reports on the conflict had discouraged them from returning home.


To counter this situation, many northern Ugandan radio stations now cite IWPR articles in their output to keep displaced people informed about conditions in their former communities, Lee said.


It’s important for the north to begin rebuilding the region which has been devastated by the prolonged conflict between the government army and the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, according to Lee.


“Enough is enough,” Lee said. “We want our people who have been displaced by the rebels of [Joseph] Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army to go back to their various villages of origin.”


Dan Okello, a leader of opposition party Uganda People’s Congress, UPC, recently commended IWPR for its special report on reconstruction challenges in northern Uganda.


“If all journalists in the country want to contribute to the development of this nation, they should copy the work of IWPR,” he said.


“Journalists should not be used to fight wars which are not theirs. They should focus on major core issues of development of the country as IWPR does.”


Melanie Gouby is an IWPR contributor in London, Peter Eichstaedt is Africa Editor for IWPR in The Hague, and Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained journalist in Uganda.

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