Sunday, 20 February 2011

Congo Siasa on how to write about the Congo

Jason at Congo Siasa has a great piece on writing about the Congo. A lot of the points also apply to sub-Saharan Africa in general.

Look for agents, not just victims. In print and on radio, the Congo sometimes descends into a kabuki theater of snot-nosed children/rape survivors oppressed by savage black soldiers. We need to get away from this. Some Congolese are unscrupulous and vicious, but they usually have reasons for what they do. If we can understand why officials rape - and it's not always just as a 'weapon of war' - and why they steal money - it's not just because they are greedy - we might get a bit better at calibrating solutions. Of course, it's much harder interview a rapist or a gun-runner than their victims. But don't just shock us; make us understand. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame when we react to a rape epidemic by just building hospitals and not trying to get at the root causes. 
Be careful with ethnic descriptives. For a while, the CNDP was "an ethnic Tutsi rebellion." While the group was indeed led by Tutsi and backed by many in the Tutsi community, without further context, that description makes it seem like the reason for their rebellion was rooted in their ethnicity. Of course, it was, but it was not because part of their DNA sequence gave them a predilection for AK-47s, but because their ethnicity was historically entwined with land conflict and local power struggles since at least the 1930s.
Challenge yourself. Write different stories. Who are the Chinese companies working in the Congo and what have their experiences been? Did you know that Congo was one of the first countries to experiment with mobile cash-transfers to pay for demobilized soldiers? Have you checked out the famous artist studios in Kinshasa of Cheri Samba or Roger Botembe? The country's tax revenues have doubled over the past several years - how does that square with its corrupt reputation? What are Dan Gertler's financial relations with the Israeli right-wing? The Kivus apparently produces 40% of the world supply in quinine - might be a story there
Read the rest here.

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