Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A good start for Ban Ki-Moon

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2007

Three weeks in and the new Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon’s begun his first foreign tour. And he’s chosen Africa as his first stop.

Ban Ki-MoonToday he’s been in Kinshasa, the capital of a country which let’s just say had an eventful 2006. After months of wrangling, violence and uncertainty, elections were held in the D.R. Congo; the country can now justify the “democratic” part of its name.

Incombent Joseph Kabila won convincly with his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba joining the opposition…the country now seems on a more stable tack.

Addressing the Congolese national assembly today, Ban Ki-Moon hailed last years elections as a sign of hope for the country and urged law makers to start a “good governance pact” to see it continue.

After this, the UN Sec-Gen’s heading to the African Union summit in Ethiopia and meeting the not-so-applauded Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.

A good sign

To visit these countries first is a promising sign. It shows that Ban Ki-Moon’s serious about following his predecessor Kofi Annan’s commitment to peace on the African continent.

It would be easy for the South Korean to put more emphasis on problems closer to home, like the North Korean nuclear missile issue, but he’s made it clear that issue won’t take the spotlight off Africa.

And with Darfur still rumbling on, often without notice, Ban’s come at the right time.

Kofi AnnanBut we can’t get our hopes up too much. Africa was Kofi Annan’s mission too, taking his post in the raw years after the Rwandan genocide. And while victories for peace and progression have come in some places, like Liberia, Sierra Leone and D.R. Congo, Somalia only got worse and now Sudan’s in turmoil.

With so many concerted efforts gaining pace elsewhere to erradicate malaria and tackle HIV, Ban Ki-Moon needs to show he’s not all talk but a leader who can tie these threads together and really make change happen.
He’s got 10 years, starting from now.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Day for Darfur

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 17, 2006

Today is the global day for Darfur – a series of demonstrations are taking place in the U.S. and here in London. The bloggers are rallying too in their own cybernetic ways.
The U.N. are meeting this weekend and Sudan is top of the agenda, and insiders say the pressure is really going to be put on the Sudanese government perhaps leading to a confrontation between Bashir and the U.N.

It’s an embarrassment to human reason that so far we’ve all stood by and let genocide happen again; history will not judge us kindly unless we do something – now.

What you can do today:

Go :: to one of the many rallies being held across the UK. Here in the UK, demonstators are currently gathered outside the Sudanese Embassy.
Read :: about the attrocities on the Hell on Earth blog

Listen :: to the story of a survivor of the rwandan genocide

Look :: at these photographs – this is happening to people – in the 21st century. (you may find the images upsetting. Tough)

Write :: if you’ve got a blog, make some noise!

Add :: a “bloggers for Darfur” button to your website.

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Darfur: enough talking?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 16, 2006

The pressure’s starting to build on the Sudanese government this weekend.

As U.N. ambassadors meet in New York to discuss Darfur, thousands of people are taking to the streets in America and Europe to urge government action; they’re joined by thousands more bloggers too. And yesterday George Clooney gave an impassioned speech to the U.N. urging tangible action now.

“Make no mistake, this is the first genocide of the 21st century, and if it goes unchecked, it won’t be the last.”

Strong words. But are words enough? I’ve been writing furiously on Darfur for the last 2 weeks trying to get people to take notice and to criticise journalism’s lame effort on informing people so far.

So have hundreds of other bloggers, from Jewels in the Jungle, to the Sudan Watch, to the Hell on Earth blog.

But a comment left on Sudan Watch this week got me thinking. It was in response to an article on water shortages in Sudan. It elicited a stern response criticising all us bloggers:

Please take this as the constructive input it is intended to be. In my view it is time for all of us involved to make certain that our efforts are not feeding our penchant for voyeurism. You have done a wonderful, compassionate job of helping us see. NOW, IT IS TIME TO HELP PEOPLE ACT. Don’t let us be comfortable watching. We need more courage, more commitment. NOT, more information.
As Dr. King said, “When you are right you cannot be too radical….”
“… when a person is bleeding to death, the ambulance goes through those red lights at top speed…… Disinherited people all over the world are bleeding to death from deep social and economic wounds. They need brigades of ambulance drivers who will have to ignore the red lights of the present system until the emergency is solved…civil disobedience is a strategy for social change which is at least as forceful as an ambulance with its sirens on full.”

I can see his point. It’s all very well us decrying the attrocities and bemoaning the international response, but is blogging going to help the people of Darfur? Is it going to change Bashir’s mind?

Jay McGinley, who wrote the comment is taking direct action by the looks of it. He’s been protesting outside the White House for 110 days and has been on hunger strike for over 30.

Could the rest of us be doing more like this? And wouldn’t it raise the profile of the crisis more than a blog article or link to another article ever could? Perhaps we have to live up to the fact that blogging is an easy cosy way for us to relieve our conscience; “doing our bit”.

Perhaps. But lets not forget that some of these blogs do acheive something. Because to be able to change something we have to be able to understand it. And blogs, especially like Sudan Watch, do a valuable job in tirelessly alerting the blogosphere to the lastest developments that help us form our opinions.

Afterall, in the drought of western media coverage of the crisis, how else would Jay McGinley know how desperate the situation is in Sudan today?

And if you don’t believe me, check out this piece of praise for Sudan Watch from Daniel Davies of the Guardian no-less:

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that if there had been a website as good as Sudan Watch in the runup to the Iraq War, a lot of things might have become common knowledge a lot earlier which have in fact only really come out since the war. It’s an excellent website and deserves a lot more publicity.

So yes, we should be pulling our fingers out and doing more physical action and making more sacrafices, but we mustn’t belittle the importance of information and understanding. Without these, the battle for the people of Sudan would have been lost before it had even begun. 

New York Times: Darfur “trembles”

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 10, 2006

Darfur Trembles as Peacekeepers Exit Looms

An excellent article by the New York Times‘ Lydia Polgreen. Vivid, descriptive and a timely summary of the dire conditions prevalent in the refugee camps.

‘They call this place Rwanda…Many who live here say the camp is named for the Rwandan soldiers based here as monitors of a tattered cease-fire. But the camp’s sheiks say the name has a darker meaning, one that reveals their deepest fears.

“What happened in Rwanda, it will happen here,” said Sheik Abdullah Muhammad Ali, who fled here from a nearby village seeking the safety that he hoped the presence of about 200 African Union peacekeepers would bring.’

Click here to read the article in full

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Darfur audio

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 9, 2006

About a year ago I produced a couple of reports on the Darfur crisis for Radio Warwick, the student radio station at Warwick University where I was studying. It was the summer of 2005 and the run up to Live8; Africa was getting due prominence in the media, if only for a short time. Although most of the reports are a year old and out of date, I still thought it would be worth putting them out there; if anything, they have some interviews with some very interesting people.

Audio buttonBackground to Darfur :: first broadcast May 2005
A brief introduction to the situation as it was in summer 2005, including an eyewitness account from Adrian McIntyre, an Oxfam aid worker who had just returned from Sudan.

Audio buttonNo lessons learned :: first broadcast June 2005
An interview with the amazingly brave Beata Uwazaninka-Smith, a Rwandan woman who was just 13 when the genocide happened in Rwanda. She tells me her story outside 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s residence in London) where she was joining a rally to raise awareness about Darfur. Find out more about her campaign here.

Audio buttonA student in Sudan :: first broadcast May 2006
In April 2006 I interviewed Guiseppe Papalia, an Italian student who had spent his summer holidays working in Sudan. He was there when the peace deal collapsed and joy turned to despair.
Whether any of our reports on RaW News raised awareness of the Darfur crisis in 2005 is debatable, and student radio never has the highest audience figures at the best of times, but it would still be interesting to hear what you think of them. Let me know!

Sudan: why “never again” means nothing (II)

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2006

I recently wrote on the failings the UN, US and UK in intervening and preventing the genocide which is occuring in Darfur. A UN report recently declared that killings in Sudan were not genocide, conflicting with Colin Powell’s initial description. But if Rwanda 1994 tought us anything, it’s not to piss about deciding what counts as genocide and what doesn’t; 500,000 people from the Fur and other tribes have been systematically and brutally wiped out, because of their ethnicity. That is genocide.

I decided though that although the international community hasn’t dealt with Darfur well, lessons have been learned from Rwanda. The UN passed a resolution for 17,000 troops to enter as a peacekeeping force, which, although stalled by President Bashir, is still better than trying to get the hell out of there, which was what happened in April 1994.

The news media, however, has not learned its lesson.

Rwanda again

The Rwandan genocide and its coverage was one of the biggest failings of journalism in the last 30 years. A report by a scholar at MIT narrowed the media’s failings to four distinct problems:

  1. The press didn’t realise genocide was happening until long after it had started.
  2. They reported violence was waning when in fact it was getting worse.
  3. Mortality estimates were gross underestimates – the NYT suggesting 8,000 on the 10th April.
  4. Most western journalists got the hell out as soon as they could (April 14th)

The result of the last point was that coverage virtually stopped and the world didn’t realised it was happening. I was only 10 at the time of the Rwandan genocide, but my mother, then in her mid-thirties, said she was barely aware of the events.

So, major flaws, and flaws which should have been addressed. But they haven’t.

A whole decade later, I am seeing the same mistakes being repeated by a news media that should know better.

No coverage

On a humanitarian level, is the situation in Darfur not the worst on the planet? Are there not more people dying unneccessarily in horrible ways than anywhere at the present time? If you watch the news in Europe or the US, you wouldn’t think so. Steve Irwin’s untimely death this week received 1000 times more coverage than the 500,000 thousand Sudanese who died shortly before he did.

Last year, Darfur was the crisis du jour. But as soon as Bob Geldof shut his trap, the western media has simply forgotten about Sudan. This week the crisis has elicited 1 or 2 articles in each of the major papers in Britain plus the odd commentary – an improvement on the past 11 months. The broadcast media meanwhile has been silent, bar Focus on Africa etc. There are few reporters posted in Sudan and even fewer venture into Darfur.

Not all bad

There are shimmering stars of exception. Nima Elbagir has reported several times from Darfur for the UK’s More4 News (which only gets a few 100,000 viewers). In May 2006, she revealed accusations that AU soldiers had been raping refugees under their protection. She is an exceptional journalist and of Sudanese origin which makes things easier. But she is alone in the journalists willing to spend long in camps or villages in Western Sudan.

The BBC’s stringer currently in Sudan is Jonah Fisher. He’s currently holed up in Khartoum, and I haven’t seen or heard of him covering Darfur itself. Can anyone name another European or American journalist currently out in Darfur bringing attention to the pregnant genocide? Have they all forgotten what happened before?

Of course, Darfur is a difficult place to report from. Jonah Fisher received a roughing up at the hands of Sudanese police not long ago, and of course this week, thousands flocked to the funeral of a Sudanese newspaper editor brutally beheaded. But let’s not forget that there were more than enough journalists willing to brave the elements in the race to Baghdad.

So what?

This really matters. If you’re wondering why the world has not stepped into stop a genocide it knows is happening, the answer is simple. People don’t care. They don’t care, because they don’t understand.

This is why we need news media coverage of the Sudan crisis more than ever before.

And this doesn’t just mean reporting events – journalists must show us we need to give a damn about Sudan. This is a country the size of western Europe, on the brink of splintering into a hundred bloody pieces. This is a country that borders some of Africa’s most fragile states – Chad, Dr Congo, Somalia.

There is still a detatchment between western journalism and Africa – an “us and them” complex that relegates African and other developing world news to the Coca-Cola league of news, rarely getting an audience. But in 10 years time people will look back at Darfur and wonder how the hell we let it happen – and the reason? Because we didn’t know it was happening.

More links

Here’s some more interesting links:

“Less Valuable Lives?” : an original Adam Meets World blog about racism in the British media

Darfur: An Unforgivable Hell On Earth – an excellent blog I just discovered today

Why Darfur was left to it’s pitiful state – an opinion piece by David Blair of the Daily Telegraph.