email from Michael Shipler, Director Asia Programs, Search for Common Ground

‘I just traveled across the E. Terai and talked to tons of people who listen to the drama there, Sangor. I have to tell you, this show is amazing. It is so popular, well loved and impactful. The writers captured the essence of your trainings and your guidance perfectly and have truly created a radio drama which is all that we want one to be.’

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Kurt Schork Awards and Michela Wrong’s boots

“War reporting is a privilege. After three years, the grime and gore of combat, the dreadful logic of ethnic hatred are no longer abstractions for me. More important, every day I see the grace and dignity of ordinary people trying to survive under extraordinary circumstances.” – Kurt Schork

The 2010 Kurt Schork Awards, held at the very glitzy Reuters building in Canary Wharf, are given in memory of the American journalist Kurt Schork, who was killed in 2000 in Sierra Leone. This year Adrian Mogos, a large Romanian who looked uncomfortable in a suit, won the local journalism award for his fascinating Forged Identity – Highway to the EU, and for Fields of Terror – the New Slave Trade in the Heart of Europe. The freelance category was won by Stephen Grey for his reports from Afghanistan, in particular Jonno the Brave and two other stories.

A. Mogos

Adrian Mogos & David Loyn

Jeremy Bowen made a good speech about Kurt Schork, saying that he fell out of love with journalism a bit when the day after Kurt was killed another journalist friend died in another war on another continent. Sean Maguire, Reuters’ editor of political and general news, reminded us that whereas in 2000 twenty four journalists had been killed, in 2009 that figure had tripled. I did wonder though whether that may be because so-called local journalists are being counted a bit more seriously than they used to be.

The panel discussion, with the award winners, the BBC’s David Loyn and writer/journalist  Michela Wrong was led by journalist Sheena McDonald, who said that when she met Kurt Schork in Sarajevo three unusual things struck her; he didn’t drink, always wore a clean white t-shirt, in a place where water was hard to come by, and he had integrity. The discussion focused on the remarkable and essential role ‘fixers’ play; Stephen Grey went so far as to say, ‘It’s a scandal that we steal the stories of local journalists’.

S. Maguire

Sean Maguire looking thoughtful

Sean Maguire looked thoughtful at this point, as well he might.

Inevitably citizen journalism and the dangers it presents to independent journalism also came up, with Michela Wrong being the most pessimistic. My own feeling on this is that the migration of specialist news and analysis to specialist websites and magazines is simply a reflection of the minimal interest which the majority of people have in in-depth analysis, especially of events or wars a long way away.

At this point I noticed Michela Wrong’s wonderful boots – see below, flanked by David Loyn and Stephen Grey. But during the drinks afterwards I made the mistake of complimenting her on both her books and her boots. She seemed to be discomforted by this, or perhaps simply surprised by the compliment – supposed to be light-hearted. Anyway there was no smile, and I felt like an idiot of course.

M. Wrong

Michela Wrong with boots

And I really do admire her books, especially the 2009 It’s Our Turn to Eat about the Kenyan whistleblower John Githongo (with whose name Sheena McDonald had a bit of trouble). I moved on swiftly and had a quick discussion with David Loyn about how journalists have for years worked with armed guards – during the discussion he had suggested that it was a very recent innovation – in particular in Somalia, but also elsewhere.

I wanted to apologise or at least explain myself to Michela, but fled before I could make a further fool of myself.

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Radio Programme Impact – from Niger

I like this story from Niger about how a radio programme on which I worked in 2009 inspired someone to change things himself.

la fleuve Niger

Abdoulahi Aboubacar is a tailor and the President of the listening club “Fada Lumière Couture” in Illela, a town in southern Niger. Inspired by an episode of Equal Access’ youth radio magazine programme Gwadaben Matasa, his listening club took the initiative to organize a clean-up for the town streets. Abdoulahi explained how the idea came about:

In the drama section of one of the episodes of “Gwadaben Matasa” there was a character who was a doughnut seller. One of her clients told her that he didn’t want to buy her doughnuts because her stand was right in front of a ditch filled with trash. The doughnut seller told the client ‘The ditch is not my responsibility; it is the Mayor’s responsibility.’ When we heard the episode we began talking about how our Mayor has been doing a lot to clean up the city. We asked ourselves ‘Why not help out the Mayor in the cleaning effort?’

Next, Abdoulahi and his fellow listening club members paid to have an announcement read on the radio inviting other citizens to help with the planned clean-up. On the day of the activity, local leaders and residents participated, each contributing what they could, whether labour, materials, or cold water. The Mayor provided a wheelbarrow for Abdoulahi’s listening club, and another municipal leader joined the club on the clean-up day and helped out by sweeping. Abdoudalahi explained that not everyone understood their actions. “One person said to me ‘You are a tailor, why are you cleaning the streets?’ But I think that it is important to lead by example. Others may join in, or be inspired to do something else.”

Fada Lumière Couture’s clean-up initiative continues to have impact. In their weekly activities the club has included a clean-up day for their immediate neighbourhood. Their example has also had implications at the municipal policy level. The Mayor of Illela told Abdoulahi that he was so inspired by their clean-up day that he had instituted a 4000 FCFA ($8 USD) fine for littering or throwing trash in roadside ditches. Further, the Mayor now regularly invites listening club members to participate in community actions that are sponsored by the city or by NGOs. At a small but significant level, the collaboration between Abdoulahi’s listening club and the Mayor’s office exemplify effective youth civic participation and collaboration of public and civil society sectors, as well as an inspiring level of initiative that has benefited their greater community.

If you want to know more take a look at the Equal Access’ website. And the story came from an evaluation report authored by Dr. Karen Greiner and the Peace Through Development project funded by USAID.If you want to know more take a look at the Equal Access website here: And the story came from an evaluation report authored by Dr. Karen Greiner and the Peace Through Development project funded by USAID.

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Are human rights and conflict resolution in conflict?

See this exhaustive, not to say exhaustingly long (necessarily so) discussion from Berghof Conflict Research of, ‘The relationship between human rights protection and conflict transformation seems straightforward, but it is not an easy one. Over and over again, the question has been asked whether the two share a common agenda or actually pursue competing goals.’

It’s an as interesting and up to the mark discussion as I’ve seen anywhere.

Called ‘Human Rights and Conflict Transformation: the challenges of just peace’, edited by Véronique Dudouet and Beatrix Schmelzle.

It can be downloaded from the Berghof website at,

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Journalism and Objectivity

A quote from Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest, which really says everything which well-known, successful and brilliant journalists have been arguing against for years – pretending, I suspect, rather than believing that it isn’t true.

After covering a story day-in, day-out for a time, no correspondent can possibly remain detached – although in order to maintain the ruse that we are impartial we pretend to be as dispassionate as lawyers or doctors – so ours is an imperfect position.

My point is simply that recognising this would be a step in the right direction, and might allow many journalists (particularly in the West) to take up and use some of the tools which have been developed over the years to help them deal with conflicts in ways which ensure (as far as this is possible) that they don’t make it worse. As I’ve written elsewhere, journalists have as big a responsibility to those they report on (in conflict) as those they report to…


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More about taxis in Antananarivo

Renault 4 taxi

Ubiquitous Renault 4 taxis

The doors tend to fly open if (usually) they take a corner, or a roundabout, too fast (ie over 15 mph), which is a little unnerving. They tend to be rather shinier inside than outside, with little remaining of the panels, and the original seats are always concealed by material. Yesterday I was in one which had once had a sunshine roof, now covered with a piece of colourful, if faded and thin cloth. I asked the driver what he does when it rains, and he just laughed cheerfully. The driving is more British than French and I’m constantly surprised by how drivers in general allow each other in, wave the other driver ahead, rather than the more common (in Africa and elsewhere) blind determination not to allow anyone in anywhere. The exception to this rule are the many enormous 4x4s, whose drivers and owners seem to become more aggressive and ‘con’ the larger the vehicle – and I’ve even seen a few Hummers (the most stupid car ever invented, with the most stupid owners) here, charging down narrow, crowded streets.

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Places & People, Madagascar

Moramanga starts early

Eau Vive

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