Monday May 27: Goma's female journalists - their courage to uncover secrets
For Valentine Baeni, journalism is a vocation. The Goma, DRC-based journalist says she wants to uncover the secrets that dictate their lives. (Lisa LaFlamme)
There are 10 journalists in the world I wish I could get to know better. I would have liked to have had dinner with them, but for security reasons, they had to go. They are women in Goma, DR Congo.
The city is, again, under a curfew imposed after fighting broke out between the M23 rebel army and national troops. This war on the doorstep is off limits for these journalists. Professional suicide.
We met around the same board table that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used three days ago to discuss the faltering peace accord and tomorrow's arrival of a controversial UN Intervention Brigade. It will have the broadest powers in UN history - to ENFORCE peace, not just traditional peacekeeping. In simple terms, they won't need permission from Congo's national army to strike.
The violence unfolding here kicks off our conversation at this workshop, organized by Journalists for Human Rights. For these women, it's an opportunity to share their professional aspirations and personal fears.
Interestingly, the two are intertwined.
They female journalists instinctively want to uncover the best kept-secret in Congo - who leads the mysterious M23 rebels? But the savage tactics used by the militia group make frontline reporting impossible.
No one knows where the frontline is. It's not just a gender issue here. Male reporters have also been unable to infiltrate this marauding army.
I showed a video of conflicts I had covered in the past, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My flak jacket is a luxury no one here can afford. It generated a flood of conversation on how few resources exist in this region.
A notebook and a pen, one computer for every five reporters and travelling, even 20 kilometres out of the city, is never approved by the boss because of limited transportation and the cost of gas.
I asked all 10 women why they chose journalism as a career in a place so handcuffed by cultural barriers: half said that the barriers are exactly the reason - they are desperate for change and freedom.
Three of the women said if they didn't, no one else would cover the most vulnerable in their community, the very young and the very old.
One woman - Valentine - said she wanted to "uncover secrets" (and they are endless) and another - a TV presenter - revealed that someone once said she was pretty and had a nice voice. She also admitted she likes the money, most of which comes from "la coupage" - money paid under the table by business owners and politicians in return for favourable coverage. This conversation was so honest and raw, the others around the table just nodded.
They all come from newsrooms where the unwritten code is to not cover anything that provokes the government, and yet it is exactly the brief taste of these types of stories that has made them most proud: exposing conditions at a refugee camp on the edge of town, a rare arts festival that pushed the envelope, and a traffic by-law changed after the story hit the airwaves.
They're pessimistic about change but the fact that these young women are now part of an organized club IS change.