Journey to South Africa, part I

south-africa-by-the-roadSo, me and my friend Jaime decided to take a reporting trip to South Africa. As we planned it, the need arised for good rugged backpacks to last us through the journey and beyond. After browsing the web for information, we stumbled on the Rangermade website, where a page was dedicated to how to choose the best tactical backpack, which was exactly what we needed. After all preparations were made and our tickets purchased, off we went.

From the air, Pretoria and Johannesburg seem residential cities, American style, completely flat and square, with magnificent houses with swimming pools and surrounded by vegetation. But grey spots of illegal camps are also visible, with shabby shacks that resemble cemeteries from the plane. These are cities full of contrasts, where wealth and poverty go hand in hand.

We landed at noon time at the Jan Smuts airport of Johannesburg and it took us longer than is desirable to cross the customs. We changed money at
Master Currency (two per cent of commission) and finally, get into a Nissan Almera in National-Alamo, that was previously booked over the internet. Since we’ve landed and until we drove on the road in the car there were three long hours.

At the Alamo counter we asked about the motorway exit and a Cuban from Miami offered to guide us to the N-12; we follow him and we’re heading to our main objective of the trip: the Kruger Park. We expect nearly five hours of road ahead, to the town of Sabie, our stay for the night.

An alternative to car travel would have been to fly from Jo´burg to Nelspruit or Hoedspruit, on the outskirts of the Kruger Park, however, the flight schedules require to wait until morning to embark.

Driving in South Africa is nothing complicated: there’s barely traffic, the roads are large and well marked.

Halfway through the journey, we stop to stretch our legs in Milly’s Trout Stall, the stores of the biggest supplier of produce in the country, especially fresh, smoked and frozen trout. Trout can be fished in the small adjoining lake and then they will cook it for you at the restaurant. These stores sell typical Delicatessen: honey, nuts, cheeses, pickles, pastries, etc. We bought a few chunks of dry mango and banana strips, to entertain our stomachs during the trip. In 2011, there was a fire in their restaurant that destroyed this shopping complex completely.

I imagined South Africa with little civilization and much wild vegetation and I found just the opposite: the forests of this area of Mpumalanga have been reforested, so on both sides of the road there’s only an endless green mass of pines and eucalyptus trees, all of the same height and with the same distance between them. Too civilized for the eyes of adventurous tourists. It seemed that we were in Canada rather than Africa.

By sunset, we arrived at the village of Sabie. Most of the houses are made of stone, English-style, and the lawns are impeccable.

At the first guest house we visit is full, but fortunately, the woman who welcomes us makes a phone call and then directs us to the Azalea bed & breakfast on Cycad Street, just a hundred yards from her place. Here, we take the only available room left. Apparently, it’s a long weekend and nearby accommodations are all filled.

Warning by the UN: 50,000 children in South Sudan under threat of starvation

UN refugee camp in Juba - financial needs of over one billion dollars

UN refugee camp in Juba – financial needs of over one billion dollars

Experts from the UN warn of impending tragedy in Southern Sudan. If the international community does not quickly send emergency supplies, the threatening famine could cost the lives of thousands of children.

Juba – The world is torn apart by a bloody power struggle for South Sudan, thousands of children being acutely threatened by starvation. In the battles in the northeast African country, thousands of people were killed and more than 1.5 million people forced to flee, said on Saturday the United Nations responsible for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer.

“The consequences could be terrible – 50,000 children at risk of dying from starvation if they get no help.” Lanzer called on the world community to help, and estimated the outstanding financial need at about one billion dollars. This sum is necessary to help a total of 3.8 million people in South Sudan, “who are affected by hunger, violence and disease.”

South Sudan is the newest country in the world, gaining its independence only in 2011. In mid-December a power struggle simmering for years  escalated between President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar, resulting in bloody battles. The political rivalry between the two leaders is exacerbated by the fact that Kiir belongs to the ethnic group of the Dinka, whereas Machar belongs to the ethnic group of the Nuer.

For a week, the parties agreed to hold talks in Ethiopia on the formation of a transitional government within 60 days. However, observers are skeptical about an agreement. Previously agreed-to ceasefires were broken within a short time.

In Addis Ababa, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have agreed to end the violence in the East African country. Within 60 days, they intended to set up a transitional government. In addition, organizations were again to get access to the troubled region. This was announced last week on Wednesday with the East African federation of states, IGAD.

Already in May, Kiir and Machar had agreed on an end to the fighting. But the bloody conflict just went on. Kiir and Machar had now taken on the brink of IGAD conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and decided the peace agreement. “We have agreed to follow the plan that we have signed on May 9,” Riek Machar was quoted by Sudanese media.

Previously, the IGAD countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, mediated. In the event that the battles went on, the IGAD countries had threatened sanctions. The U.S. has already frozen the accounts of some representatives of the conflicting parties, excluding them from trading with U.S. companies.

South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, it is independent only since the split from Sudan in 2011. Last December, a power struggle between the elected President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, his former deputy, had escalated. Kiir had Machar accused of plotting a coup. Both belong to different ethnic groups. In the ethnically-motivated civil war, thousands have been killed, and about a million southern Sudanese had to flee.

Sidney Ocran: journalism as a tool for peace

Sidney Ocran journalist Liberia

Sidney Ocran, Liberian by birth, left behind a country at war and a refugee camp to study journalism in distant Russia, whose government gave him an education grant. Recently graduated, Sidney expects to return to his native Africa, and use his journalistic expertise to help resolve armed conflicts on this hurt and forsaken continent.

Greg Simons – Peace correspondent

Sydney, you’re from Liberia, a country devastated by war in 1990, where some of your family were tragically killed. Having escaped with international help, you stayed for a time in Ghana, and decided to start a new life, even tried to do different types of work. In 1998, you received a grant from the Russian government to study at the Friendship University in Moscow.

What was it that motivated you to apply for this scholarship and go from Africa to Moscow? Why did you choose Russia?
Well, I have always craved knowledge, and I wanted to get more education by going to college. Living in the refugee camp, I shared some knowledge with my fellow Liberians, but I understood that in order to be more useful and effective, if I wanted to impart knowledge, I needed more instruction.

Through the NGO Assistance for all Liberians, who was based in the refugee camp in Buduburam (in Ghana) and was in charge of meeting the needs of refugees, I learned of the existence of scholarships, I applied and was granted.


Sidney Ocran, Liberian journalist

Actually, I came to Russia because the first application I made failed. The Canadian government offered a grant, but I did not fulfil the necessary qualification requirements, so I waited for a second chance, and it came from Russia.

And in retrospect, do you regret this decision?
Frankly, thinking about the education that I managed to get in this country, no, I do not regret the huge step I took to come to Russia … I feel some nausea when I think of some xenophobic attitudes I faced, however, I think that’s nothing compared with all that I achieved here.

Besides studying journalism, in what other activities have you been involved?
I’ve been the president of the National Union of Liberian students of the Russian Federation for several years. I’ve got some funds from sewing and manufacturing garments for students and diplomats, and I am the director of the choir of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, and sometimes I participated in concerts.

Why did you decide to study journalism, instead of, for example, medicine or engineering?
Seeing what happened in my country, Liberia, I strongly believe that the media are a vital instrument for reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. In my experience, I believe that I can be very proactive in covering armed conflicts, and make a difference in the resolution of such conflicts. With these ideas in mind, I decided to study international journalism.

At what point did you decide to become a journalist?
Well, after reading a bit about what it means to be a journalist, and the role that the profession plays in forming opinions on the speed and extent of existing audiences through modern technologies, then I thought “Yeah, maybe I could study journalism, and perhaps could use what I learned to help immensely in the reconstruction of my country and the African continent in general ”

Moscow is completely different from your previous college experience. How was it to study journalism in this country?
The press is here much more under the control of the state, and as a journalist, you can not freely refer to certain issues, especially if you are a foreign student. However, I must also emphasize that this place always has interesting stories, and to report events or to write about them.

My thesis is about the media and the resolution of armed conflicts on the African continent between 1990 and 2008.
Actually, it is devoted to the study of media coverage in the middle of these conflicts in Africa; it’s an analysis of the performance of the national and international media in portraying the situation of conflicts.

The emphasis is to first explain the causes and events that led to these conflicts on my continent, and then analyze how they were covered in each of their stages by national and international press. Besides that, I also explore media coverage about the efforts of international organizations, they were there to stop or resolve conflicts in the region.

Sydney, you have been living in Moscow for the past 10 years, that means you are by now quite fit. Are you thinking to return to Africa to finish your studies?
Yes, I would use what I’ve learned here to help my continent to solve their conflict. I’ll Agree that today, more than half of the population in Africa are living on less than $1 a day. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, because one of the main causes of underdevelopment and poverty on the continent is precisely the war, although of course, factors such as AIDS, malaria and poor governance also contribute; but if Africa continues in this manner, I fear that the problems of government and underdevelopment will never be resolved.


And you think that what you’ve learned in Moscow is applicable to current conditions in Africa?
I firmly believe that what I have learned can be applied to Africa and other regions as well.

What is your opinion on the general trends in African media?
I think it’s been 4 or 5 decades since most countries in the region gained their independence, so it is time for Africa to have its own satellite in orbit, allowing it to issue its own information to the world and to their own people … in order to stop relying on Western media powers.

What essential qualities do you think a journalist must have? And tell me, is it hard to deal with your own expectations?
If we talk about independent media, or independent journalism, one might think that this is impossible in Africa, but I think it’s possible. Ghana is a good example of this: when the defamation law was introduced, it was possible for the press in that country to be free … so to answer the question, I think that freedom is central to both the press as well as the journalists themselves, who should follow the ethics of the profession to the letter.

elections-LiberiaWhat advice would you give to those who want to become journalists and perhaps want to follow in the same path you have chosen?
I would advise people to be very vigilant of their behavior and in their attempts to pursue this profession, because as a journalist, the stakes are high. One must earn credibility, and this is only achieved through objectivity, impartiality and neutrality.

How do you envision yourself in 5 years?
To be frank, I can not predict the future; However, within 5 years I would be actively involved in journalism, using my skills to help solve the many problems that plague the African continent by the conflicts that occur there.

Sidney Ocran defended his thesis in February 2009, is currently awaiting his PhD in order to return to Liberia, where he hopes to pursue journalism that promotes peace on the continent.

About the Author:
Greg Simons is a researcher at the “National Centre for Crisis Management Research” in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also a guest researcher in the department of Euro-Asian Studies at the University of Uppsala. He has a PhD in Russian studies from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and specializes in issues on Russia, media and crisis. This interview was originally published by the European Journalism Centre.

The uncharismatic rebel

Al Bashir ruled with an iron fist for 20 years.


Al Bashir served in the ranks of the Egyptian army in the 1973 war against Israel

General Omar al Bashir, who was born in 1944 into a family of farmers, is a man of three faces. He has managed to play the military man, the Islamist, and to show a certain openness to the outside world when it suit him. The court’s decision finds him playing the latter role with some success after reluctantly allowing the deployment, highly conditioned, of an African peacekeeping force – only 9,000 of the planned 26,000 – and the establishment of dozens of NGOs that has turned Darfur into the largest humanitarian operation in progress.

The arrest warrant for the Sudanese President may be proof that international justice is gaining, albeit with difficulty. Since yesterday, a head of state (finally African) can be convicted when the crimes he is accused of have the severity of the crimes committed in Darfur since 2003: over 300,000 dead, as many refugees in Chad and Central African Republic and about three million displaced. Most of the crimes were committed by the Janjaweed, a militia that no longer hides their coordination with the Sudanese army.

He served in the ranks of the Egyptian army in the 1973 war against Israel

But in addition to a legal success, whose outcome remains to be seen, the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a serious nuisance for U.S. and China, the major investor. Under human rights in Sudan, Africa’s largest country, huge amounts of oil are hiding. In this case there is no political unanimity like that aroused by Serbian Slobodan Milosevic.

Omar al-Bashir seized power in 1989 through a military coup that led to the outbreak of civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, which soon became an international game board. Washington helped the south through Uganda and later made a symbol of Darfur, on a par with Rwanda and Cambodia. The U.S. Congress was the first to speak of genocide.

Omar al Bashir likes to wear the uniform, especially in photo shoots at rallies and in difficult times like the present. It is as if behind those medals, some won in the ranks of the Egyptian Army which fought Israel in 1973, he feels secure. Those who know him say that he is a nicer man than it appears, though elusive, without charisma, not too educated, and that he has always envied the intelligence and ability of the Islamist intellectual Hasan al Turabi, with whom he has a complex relationship (admiration mixed with orders at house arrest). Nor was he in good terms with the leader of the guerrillas in the South, John Garang, who also surpassed him in brilliance, and who became his Vice President forced by the 2005 peace agreement and who weeks later went on to a better life in a bizarre plane crash.

The arrest warrant now creates a dangerous scenario in Sudan, in that the first sacrificed were the NGOs, and through them tens of thousands of civilians. It will be interesting to see the role of U.S. leadership, one of the countries opposed to the ICC, together with China, Israel and Russia.

Your own way is the best way

More than a million Bild copies are published every day in spite of much criticism. I got closer to the reason of this success when I met the chief reporter of Germany’s best-selling tabloid in Berlin.


The story of Kai Feldhaus

Kai Feldhaus looks a little bit young for his position, but he quickly convinced me and my colleagues from 16 countries in Asia and Africa of his professionalism. For almost two hours in Bild’s headquarters in the German capital, Feldhaus showed us the way editors and reporters do their jobs. It was a great experience for all of us.

But that is only a part of the story, because the chief reporter even showed us more things, especially about himself, when he discussed with us in a conference room. Firstly, he answered all our questions about the tabloid paper. I was impressed with the way he answered the questions that related to moral issues of Bild.  I was even impressed more when I learned that the publications have taken images of naked women from the front page in order to attract more female readers. It showed that Bild not only cares about circulation but also listen to the public.

Secondly, Feldhaus talked more about himself and that was the reason why I want to write this story. He started working for Bild 7 years ago. It was difficult for his parents to understand his decision. “Are you serious?” they asked after knowing about this job offer.

In spite of his parents’ doubts, Feldhaus still became a reporter of Bild. He has done his job well and travelled to 42 counties in 5 continents in 7 years. It’s a good job for him, and the most important thing is he had his own choice for his own life. That should be the way everyone should do for his own life.

My story

In Vietnam where I come from, most of children don’t choose their own road. Their parents often force them to choose a university and then a job which they (the children) really don’t want to. For example, I chose to get in an external economy department of a business university, which I don’t fit. During the time in university, I truly recognized that it was not my life and I had to find my own career. I like writing, reading news and travelling a lot, so I myself chose journalism as my job.

I started searching information and studying to become a journalist. I did it on my own. In the second year in university, I set up a news site. It was very simple but it helped me to think of my job in the future. And then a good chance came to me.

Only five days after passing the final exam in university, I got the first job in my life. I worked as a collaborator for a sport daily newspaper which was especially published during the World Cup 2006. After that, I became a reporter of sport section in an online newspaper and then I get the same job for another sport daily newspaper. After over three years working as a sport reporter, I spent one year and a half to travel a lot and work as a freelancer. Finally, I joined the world news section of a leading online newspaper in Vietnam. It’s my current job.

The problem was my parents didn’t like journalism and they didn’t want me to become a journalist, however there’s no one but me can choose a job for myself. I chose to do as a journalist despite my parents’ hard reaction. I tried my best to convince them that it’s a right choice for me. Fortunately, my parents changed the way they think of journalism and now I’m working as a journalist. I think they’re proud of what I decided and what I will do. They believe me. That’s the most important thing for me.

Story of Bild

Bild is not the most creditable newspaper in Germany like Der Spiegel magazine or other publications. It is the biggest tabloid and more than a million people open their pocket everyday to buy copies of Bild.

What is the success of Bild? In my point of view, it always does the right thing in its own style. Bild has its own way and always sticks to it. It would be nonsense if Bild wanted to become a magazine like Der Spiegel. In spite of much criticism, this paper still goes on its track because it believes that it always has its own readers. They buy, they read and they support Bild.

Story of Bild is also the story of everyone. Every person should choose his own way and believe in this decision. Feldhaus and I did that, what’s about you?

Nigerian Government Finalizes Creation of Nine New Universities

The Nigerian government has approved the appointment of vice-chancellors (VC) and registrars (Reg) for its newly created federal universities, which cut across the six geo-political zones in the country.

According to Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, minister of education, the action was in line with the resolve of the government to ensure that the universities took off by September. “President Goodluck Jonathan has graciously approved the appointment of the vice-chancellors and registrars for the universities,” she said. “Council also aproved N1.53billion for each university to be sourced from the Education Trust Fund.”
Rufa’i explained that they were selected from the academia, especially from the rank of former vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors, provosts of Colleges of Medicine, and distinguished Nigerian professors in the Diaspora.
The new appointees, whose appointment take immediate effect, include, Prof. Bolaji Aluko and Mr. David Suwari, VC and Reg, respectively for Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State; Prof. Chinedu Nebo and Dr. Modupe Ajayi, VC and Reg, respectively for Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State; Prof. Jibrila Amin and Alhaji Yusuf Adamu, VC and Reg, respectively for Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State; Prof. James Ayatse and Mr. Abubakar Yusuf, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State; Prof. Geoffrey Okogbaa and Mr. John Ansho, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Wakari, Taraba State; Prof. Mohammed Farouk and Dr. Abubakar Bafeto, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State; Prof. Ekanem Braidi and Dr. Idris Jibrin, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State; Prof. Abdulmumini Rafindadi and Mrs. Habiba Adeiza, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State, and Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe and Mr. G.O. Chukwu, VC and Reg, respectively, Federal University, Ndufe-Alike, Ebonyi State.
The creation of the new universities, according to Rufa’i, was informed by the “imperative to creating more access to university education in view of the large number of qualified candidates who are annually stranded.”
The Joint Admission and Matriculations Board (JAMB) has been directed to facilitate students’ intake into the universities, come September.

(PS: For information on admission, please contact the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board office).