Good/Bad Journalism

I am back at work at the Daily Monitor today, where I start each morning by reading 30-40 articles on Uganda and Congo. There are two brilliant stories that I wanted to share with you and one that needs a little improvement.

The newspaper I work for has done an excellent job parsing and criticizing the Government of Uganda’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013/2014. Today’s article, “More taxes, no pay raise in new budget,” criticizes the government for “balancing the books on the backs of the poor and the working class” by raising taxes on the poor without reducing spending by rich government officials.

Next year will be tough for Uganda. Even though the GDP is expected to grow by a nice 7%, donor aid is being reduced by 93% because Europe has finally gotten tired of Uganda’s corruption. But don’t worry, the U.S. is still standing behind this authoritative regime! And the regime is becoming more entrenched every day. Instead of cracking down on corruption and reducing spending, the government is adding new taxes, hiring more police officers and military personnel, and expanding the bureaucracy.

I don’t like the headline of this next article, “The Horror of Being a Refugee in Uganda”, but is an important piece to read. It describes the lives of two refugees who fled violence in Congo and Rwanda and sought refuge in Uganda. Some refuge…both women were raped several times and had no means to support themselves. One of these women moved to Kampala, where she tried to work at a restaurant, but the pay was so dismal that she had to enter commercial sex work. As the article describes, this is a very dangerous field where men sometimes beat women, drug them, rape them, and can have a full night of sex for less than $4 USD.

The other woman in the article received additional beatings and was raped because of her sexual orientation. For people living in rural areas, refugee camps, and even Kampala, being gay or transgender is very precarious. Family members and friends can’t fathom why you choose to be different (since they believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are a choice, not a biological disposition), and the police are unlikely to protect you since homosexuality is illegal.

Rape is a complicated issue and one that no one fully understands. Because I study the Eastern Congo, which is referred to by some as the “rape capital of the world,” I have long been puzzled with the rape culture that seems to predominate this bush warfare. This opinion piece by an editor of The New Times (Rwanda) begins with its own explanation: 

“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.

“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” says 22-year-old Mateso (not his real name).

According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.

Attention grabbing? Yes. Responsible journalism? No.

If this journalist interviewed the 22-year-old Mateso on his own, then he should have published the man’s full remarks and put them in better context. If the journalist pulled these quotes from somewhere else (which is much more likely, since he is a newspaper editor), then it is even more important to put this man’s words in an appropriate context.

There is a chance that this man boastfully revealed his rape count and that he rapes women and children solely for the pleasure it gives him. Even if this man is Satan himself, it is still irresponsible to portray all Congolese bush fighters as evil monsters. And that’s exactly what Mr. Sunny Ntayomba does–he deploys an explosive shock opener and immediately leaves the quote behind. In fewer than 50 words, he reinforces centuries of pernicious colonial thought by portraying all bush fighters as evil men who rape for pleasure. For a European or American reader, it takes less than a second to connect the dots. If all bush fighters are African, and all bush fighters are evil rapists…

I’m sure some bush fighters choose to rape for pleasure. But thousands of others are abducted as children and forced to become fighters in conflicts where rape is a weapon of war. Forcibly removed from their mothers and sisters, these child soldiers may have never had a real relationship with a woman and you can bet on the fact that they have never been out to the movies with a girlfriend. They are therefore socialized into a world where women are subservient to men and the only kind of sex they know is rape.

I’m not excusing this behavior–I think these men still make a decision each and every time they rape someone–but I think it’s irresponsible for journalists to oversimplify this complex issue and twist someone’s words for shock value.

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