Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Somalia: state of emergency

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 13, 2007

Interesting snap just in from Reuters:

BAIDOA, Somalia, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Somalia’s parliament on Saturday declared a state of emergency for three months in order to restore security in the country after several weeks of open warfare ousted rival Islamists, an official said.

“A three-month state of emergency has been passed. If need arises for the government to extend the period then the president will have to ask parliament for approval,” second deputy speaker Osman Elmi Boqore told parliament.

Comments Off on Somalia: state of emergency

And once more back to Somalia

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 11, 2007

It seems my prediction that Somalia would become a big story in 2007 has proved true..albeit earlier and in a more bizarre fashion than expected. On Monday the US military revealed that they had spent a relaxing Sunday bombing the shit out of suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

Interestingly the news came from the US and not from the ground itself; southern Somalia being so remote no reporters in the country new much about it at first.

And it’s interesting on another level because it marks the first American intervention in Somalia since the imfamous ‘Black Hawk’ incident in the early nineties, which until Monday, caused an utter withdrawal from Africa and (some might say) let the Rwandan genocide continue unheeded.

And up one level more, it hits the interesting mark as the interim government, until two weeks ago holed up in a tiny town miles outside the capital, have supported the foreign intervention.

One Somali in Mogadishu told the BBC on Monday:

“I see that the warplanes that were used in the bombing were chasing terrorists and we Somalis have to support the efforts of the transitional federal goverment”

The interim government are taking a dangerous move in embracing foreign intervention from both the Americans and the Ethiopians, especially when that intervention comes loaded and ready to fire.

Most worryingly it’ll do nothing to salve the divide growing inside the country: interim government, US and Ethiopia on one side, Islamists and Eritrea on the other, each vowing to wipe the other off the map.

As usual with the US War on Terror (c) (TM), the two outcomes were the same:

  1. They didn’t actually kill who they wanted too.
  2. And – according to the excellent Nima Elgabir on site for Channel 4 News – they killed dozens of civilians including a wedding party.

More soon.

Comments Off on And once more back to Somalia

Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview

Comments Off on Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

No news at Christmas?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 26, 2006

Apparently it’s hard work putting together a news programme over Christmas. The misery of working Christmas Eve/Day and perhaps sipping a bit too much sherry aside, the problem facing journos over the festive period seems to be the lack of news.

“It can be quite tricky putting together a news programme on Christmas Eve… when there’s no news” writes Channel 4 News’ Emily Wilson on Christmas Eve, “surely in the last 24 hours, something other than Mark Ramprakash winning Strictly Come Dancing merits some television coverage.”

But this to me seems extraordinary. No news? If any editor tried looking outside the UK they’d see one of the most important stories of this and the coming year playing out in front of their eyes.

I’ve been writing quite a bit over the past few months about the burgeoning conflict in Somalia.  In August the United Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist Islam group, took control of Mogadishu, ending over a decade of warlord induced chaos. The legitimate government holed up in Baidoa protested, but there were initial talks and a prospect of peace.

But then the two neighbouring countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea got involved. Ethiopia’s a big supporter of the interim government, as its essentially Christian. Muslim Eritrea meanwhile’s behind the UIC.

We’ve all known since September that Ethiopia’s had troops massing inside the country. But on Christmas Eve they finally admitted the fact, and launched several military attacks against the Islamists. As it stands now, the UIC are in a retreat, and Ethiopian troops are about 70 km from the capital.

Why is this important? First off, under the UIC, Somalia became a worry to the west especially as an Al-Qaeda training ground. Whether this is true or not we don’t know. Secondly the real danger emerging is of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea fought in Somalia – something that could have tragic consequences for ordinary Somalians. This is afterall a country that hasn’t seen stability since 1991.

And that’s before you consider Somalia’s proximity to other hot spots, notably the DR Congo and Sudan.

So a massive conflict on the brink. I think we’ll here a lot more about Somalia next year.

So far, Al-Jazeera English is the only network leading with that story. At the same time I know african conflict isn’t really in the remit christmas domestic bulletins in the UK . But if journalists are so desperate for news, isn’t a burgeoning conflict with immense humanitarian consequences more significant than an indepth report on Leona’s X-factor win?

And as I write, there are devastating floods in Indonesia, four hundred dead in a pipeline explosion in Lagos…oh and a 1 metre tidal wave heading for Taiwan and the Phillipines (2 years to the day after “The Tsunami”.)

No news at Christmas? Yeah right.  

At the Frontline

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 17, 2006

Frontline Club logoWent to a very interesting awards/debate event at London’s Frontline Club last night, after an invite from the lovely James, Rachael and David at Westminster Uni.

 

 

Hosted by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, it began with the Kurt Schork Awards, highlighting brave freelance journalists like Kurt himself who was killed reporting from

Sierra Leone in 2000. One award went to Steve Vincent who was killed recently in
Iraq and there was a touching moment as his widow accepted the award from Kurt Schork’s widow, which really brought home the sacrifices some people choose to make.

Then came a debate on the impact of new technology (such as DV Cams and VJs) on local freelance journos around the world. Some were worried that the accessibility of equipment would water down journalism, and others that the equipment’s too expensive for local journalists anyway. But I reckon the flood of “citizen journalists” (if the flood ever happens) will only strengthen the need for accurate, well trained journalists (cough-cough!).

 

But I remembered something the venerable Emmanuel Bensah said a while back when I got excited about new technology:

Video journalism is all exciting, innit, but I have to say that I espouse a visceral belief that journalists are far from dead. In the long run, these are TOOLS, TOOLS, and TOOLS, NOT substitutes. When all else fails, we need our journalists to do the quintessential work of, erm, journalism, no?”

I also got to meet David Dunkley-Gyimah who runs the ever expanding View Magazine site. He’s riding the new media wave big time, and apparently View Magazine’s going to make Minority Report look like Postman Pat before long. Brilliant.

Ruud ElmendorpDavid also mentioned that Ruud Elmendorp just won the International TV Award at the Video Journalism Awards in Berlin. Ruud works freelance in East Africa and his reports are a much needed alternative side reporting in Africa. Definitely check out his excellent report where he meets the imfamous Joseph Kony. Great to see he’s got some recognition.

Comments Off on At the Frontline

Darfur Diaries

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 14, 2006

For months many bloggers – myself included – have been banging on about how terrible the Darfur crisis is, and how poorly the international media are covering it. But we’ve all been left in the dust by Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe and Adam Shapiro, who’ve all gone out and done something about it.

Two years ago, they went to Sudan and Chad to make a film:

“After monitoring the worsening political and humanitarian crisis for months and recognizing that the mainstream media offered marginal and inadequate coverage, the team set out with the goal of providing a platform for the people of Darfur (both those displaced inside Darfur and those living in refugee camps in Chad) to speak for themselves about their experiences, their fears, and their hopes for the future.” Darfur Diaries

It’s now available to buy and there’s a preview on their website. I haven’t got a chance to see it yet so I can’t offer a review, but I think it’s a nobel project.

And if you’re in the mood, check out this week’s From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Online. As well as a piece from Jonah Fisher on the difficulties of reporting from Darfur, there’s also a moving piece by Matthew Price on last week’s events in Beit Hanoun. Price is, in my opinion, one of the best broadcast journalists there is.

Comments Off on Darfur Diaries

Damned by debt relief

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2006

This week I came across a charity called WORLDwrite who, among other things, recruit volunteers to make films as a way of fostering global understanding.

They’re touring UK universities to promote a new 28 minute documentary called Damned by Debt Relief which puts a compelling case that the G8/Live8 extravaganca of 2005 didn’t do all it promised.

The documentary was shot in Ghana by a group of WORLDwrite volunteers; Ghana was one of the so-called “HIPC” (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) that had it’s debt cancelled as a result of Gleneagles and “I hate Mondays”. What we weren’t told was all the strings that came attached, that some say, has made the situation worse.

It would appear that the idea of helping poor countries to help themselves has been forgotten and western governments still insist on telling poor countries how they should spend their money.

After living in Ghana for a while in 2003, I’m unabashedly in love with the country; I left feeling that although there was great poverty in places, it is still a modernising country, stable, peaceful, with a bourgeoning middle class and ambitious young people, like the audacious and witty E K Bensah.

Obviously there were some things I missed – see this NYTimes article on child labour in Krete Karachi (on the northern shores of Lake Volta) where I’ve been, but didn’t notice well enough.

Next March is Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. It was the first country in Africa to gain independence from Britain, so I reckon it’s a big deal. Ideally I’m hoping to go back briefly next year (money permitting), possibly with a camera in hand to see how Ghana stands on the brink of fifty.

And in contrast to all the negative, patronising publicity HIPCountries get too often, Ghana was recently surveyed as the 10th happiest country in the world – above both the UK and the US. So something’s going right!

I’m going along to the next WORLDwrite meeting in a couple of weeks to find out more – I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, watch a shortened version of their Damned by Debt Relief video – it’s a very interesting 3 minutes 30.

Meanwhile in Somalia…

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2006

I’ve been following the major upheavals going on in Somalia over the summer, which has basically seen fifteen years of chaotic warlord rule ended – by a fundamentalist islamic group.

It all unfolded like this:

11th July: the Union of Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu. The country’s official (but feeble) government holed up in Baidoa, north of the capital. Peace talks between the two sides begin.

20th July: reports came out that the Islamists were advancing on Baidoa to remove the official government. But at the same time, reports appear saying that Ethiopia was massing troops on the Somali border. Which, of course, they denied. It all gets a bit ugly as the Islamists vow a “holy war” on Ethiopia for intervening.

22nd July:  the Union of Islamic Courts calls off talks with the interim government because of the Ethiopia connection.

It’s been a summer of relative peace – and for war-weary Somalians – a tempting hint of a hopeful future. But this silver cloud has a dark lining.

What’s worrying is the development of a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, both bordering Somalia. On one side, Ethiopia openly supporting the interim government, and massing troops on the border. On the other side Islamic Eritrea supporting the Islamists.

Ethiopia and Eritra, it seems, are gagging for a fight. A bitter border dispute ended in 2000 but it all kicked off again about a year ago. Ethiopia moved half it’s armoured force onto the border and Eritrea sent troops into a demilitarised zone, and tensions rose dramatically. Last October it all looked a bit serious…until you look at a map of the disputed land (from BBC News Online):

BBC Map of Ethiopia-Eritrean border

In other words: it’s tiny. And by all accounts, dusty, deserted waste land. Definitely not worth fighting over. With UN diplomacy, it all calmed down, but with Somalia entering the game, causing tensions between all three countries, it could spiral with worrying ease. This is of course a part of Africa already in turmoil.

This weekend, UIC supporters in Mogadishu are calling for a Jihad against Ethiopia,  while reports are emerging of refugees flooding into Kenya and Yemen in the most horrible of conditions.

(more…)

Pronk stays!

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2006

Brief bit of good news off the back of my previous post. Jan Pronk, the UN’s representative in Sudan has been allowed to stay in Sudan…at least for a little while longer.

He flew back to New York at the start of the week and emerged, according to reports, with Kofi Annan’s full support.

The Sudanese have said they still want him out (as a result of his excellent blog) but have given him until the end of the year to leave, on the understanding his deputy does most of the work.

Comments Off on Pronk stays!

A blog worth writing

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 23, 2006

Jan Pronk - screenshot

It’s been known for blogs to get you into trouble. There was that office worker who bitched about her colleagues online, all very funny and all, until of course, her boss found out.  And then that air hostess who posted saucy photos of herself aboard planes, and lost her job.

This time it’s happened to Jan Pronk, the UN envoy in Sudan. On his blog, he’s been writing exceptionally detailed accounts of the work of the peacekeeping mission, and the frustrations of trying to get rebel groups and government officials round a table.

In a mass meeting with them [rebel groups]- I counted about three hundred military commanders and political officials – they promised not to attack the Sudanese Armed Forces. They declared that they would defend themselves, if attacked, but promised to stop attacking. I demanded more: stop considering AMIS, the African Union Peace Keeping Force, as you enemy. Guarantee that bandits and rogue commanders no longer harass aid workers and steal their vehicles.

Last week he was frank about the state of the Sudanese army:

The morale in the Government army in North Darfur has gone down. Some generals have been sacked; soldiers have refused to fight. The Government has responded by directing more troops and equipment from elsewhere to the region and by mobilizing Arab militia.

This honesty, it seems, has backfired. He’s been ordered to leave by the Sudanese authorities, and by all accounts will fly out today.

It’s a serious set back to the peacekeeping mission which seems (if Pronk’s accounts are accurate) to be making slow but steady progress in the right direction. Apparently, his blog‘s unpopular with UN officials, who’ve wanted him to stop writing for a long time.

But I hope he doesn’t. What he’s produced is the most detailed eye witness account of poorly covered negotiations that exists. If it suceeds, the deal could become a blueprint for other nations, and writings like Jan Pronk’s will be vital to understanding it. 

It’s not the fault of Pronk or his blog that this has happened. It’s yet more evidence of the Sudanese military’s power within the country and their willingness to silence opposition.

And meanwhile, reporters still in the country bring back more grim news.

More biased coverage

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 12, 2006

From AFP (French Press Agency):

200 leading journalists gathered in a recent conference in Johannesburg, and agreed that western media do not grant Africa fair coverage, failing to report positive economic and democratic news. “Every time a country like South Africa is reported internationally, we are reminded about escalating crime and diseases such as HIV and AIDS,” said Tim Modise, a presenter at Johannesburg-based South African 702 Talk Radio.

A confirmation of the fact that the coverage of African stories needs to be enhanced, can be seen in the recent decision of major international media organizations to have a more significant presence in the country.  Zafar Siddiqi, chairman of CNBC Africa, an affiliate of the US NBC, said he is planning two new offices in South Africa, and others across the country. Al Jazeera announced the same intention, and offices will be opened in Abidjan, Cairo, Harare, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

 

More proof of what I’ve been saying for ages. But it’s a problem that we’re not seeing any attempts to correct bar, perhaps, this conference earlier in the year.

In April I wrote about a Commonwealth Broadcasting Association survey into whether television was reflecting the real world and my conclusion was something along the lines of:

News producer need to be more creative in the stories they find, reporting the good and the bad, in new and original ways that are more reflective of the continent, as well as the rest of the developing world.

And producers from other genres must broaden their horizons. The survey has found that audiences do want to see more from the outside world, but they’re tired of the same repetitive formats.

Good to see Al-Jazeera will be boosting it’s Africa coverage when it finally launches later this year.

The solution isn’t simple, but I’d be really interested in what bloggers in Africa think…do you think British/American/European media outlets reflect your world accurately? Make some noise!

Comments Off on More biased coverage

Sudan: a “cruel hoax”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 7, 2006

Excellent opinion piece in yesterday’s Guardian. Jonathan Steele, still reporting from Sudan, making a sad point about the British and American’s seemingly positive response to the Darfur crisis:

A cruel hoax is being perpetrated on the desperate people of Darfur. With their constant demands for UN troops to go to Sudan’s western region as the only way to protect civilians, George Bush and Tony Blair are raising hopes in a grossly irresponsible way.

It is not just that the Khartoum government rejects the idea of UN troops. More important, Bush and Blair know that, even if Khartoum were to back down, they will not be sending US or British troops to replace the African Union (AU) force. Nor will other European governments.

Why does this matter? Because hundreds of thousands of displaced villagers who sit in miserable camps across Darfur are under the impression that European soldiers will soon be riding over the hill to save them.

All the rhetoric, all the promises then, mean nothing. For some reason I’m surprised, but I know I shouldn’t be.

Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s piece on commentisfree

Sudanwatch and the Hell On Earth blog have also picked up on it