Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Town Crier of Nyamagabe

The loudspeakers high above Nyamagabe.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Radio is, at least in most parts of the world, broadcast to its audiences over its namesake, radio waves. The preferred mode of delivery for Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe?

Acoustic waves.

Music plays throughout the town of Nyamagabe, Rwanda from morning until night. Sometimes there are breaks for sports shows, and other times locals call in to the "radio station's" DJ, Emmy Valentine.

"People mostly call in to give shout outs to their friends and family," Valentine said. "Other people just want to request a song."

Three loudspeakers are affixed to a 30 ft. tower to broadcast Valentine to the people of Nyamagabe, whether they want to tune in or not.

The entrance to Radio Voice of Parking Station Nyamagabe.
His studio is no more than a tiny closet inside what appears to be a small sewing shop. There's a portrait of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, along with an assortment of posters showcasing different styles of African women's fashion. Other than that, the shop appears to have been abandoned.

Behind the counter is the inconspicuous entrance to RVPSN.

"I work here from 6 in the morning until about 8 at night," Valentine said. "I began to work here in order to expand my talents as a journalist and as an artist."

Aside from being an on-air personality, he's also an aspiring musician. Some of his songs are even played from the makeshift radio station.

Emmy Valentine at his workstation.
When he needs to take a break from the studio, Valentine plugs his phone into the mixer to broadcast content from other radio stations. From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., Radio Voice syndicates a sports program from Voice of America. During this time, Valentine gets lunch and then searches for stories or announcements from the town.

"We run a program about hygiene in the city," he said. "Most of it is for the drivers, but it's also about keeping the city clean."

The "Parking Station" in the radio's name refers to the bus station in Nyamagabe. It's also a trade hub for the southern part of the country, sitting on the main road to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The drivers that pass through make up the show's target audience.

Radio Voice's composition raises a question: is it really even a radio station? Valentine seems to think so.

"We do everything that the other stations do," he said. "And this way, we know that people are always listening."

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Walk Through The Horror Halls

The exterior of the main building.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

"I can't go back there," Ashley Weselak told her friends. "I've been to Auschwitz and Birkenau before but Murambi is so much worse."

It had been two years since her last visit to the Murambi Genocide Memorial just outside of Nyamagabe, Rwanda, and she vowed not to return, never again.

"I had nightmares after I went," she said. "It's just an awful place."

Weselak and her friends from Huye had planned a hiking trip around the rolling hills of the Southern Province. At the last minute, Murambi was added to the itinerary. With that, the group that was seven was now six.

Of the six memorials commemorating the 1994 genocide, Murambi carries the reputation of being perhaps the most shocking. It was planned to be a technical school, but the civil war and subsequent massacre of over 800 thousand Rwandans halted its construction. Here, over 65 thousand of those people sought respite from the bloodshed under the guise of protection by French soldiers.

20 years later, a small group of European students and volunteers walks the same dirt road that the Tutsi refugees once walked. The atmosphere is certainly different; the sounds of a church choir and children laughing and playing can be heard from the hilltop where Murambi sits. The site is well-maintained, with rows of shrubs lining the dirt path that leads to the entrance.

The path leading to Murambi.
The group is greeted by a younger woman, perhaps the same age as the tourists. She appears to have a great amount of pride for her job, though it's obvious that working in such a somber place has left a lasting effect on her.

"More than 50 thousand people are buried here," she tells the group. "The bodies were uncovered from the original mass grave to receive a proper burial. Some of the bodies that were not claimed are kept preserved and are on display as a reminder of the terrible events that took place here."

The first part of the tour takes its visitors through a winding hallway that tells the history of Rwanda and the events that led to the genocide. The walls are adorned with pictures and text in English, French and Kinyarwanda to recount the grisly story of what happened to the tens of thousands of people who sought refuge here.

Soon after the refugees arrived to the still unfinished school building, the French soldiers abandoned their posts. Water and supplies were cut off. Those attempting to flee the grounds were immediately killed by the Interahamwe militia. On April 18, the surrounding Hutu forces began to attack the tired, starving Tutsis inside the building. The initial attack was repelled, but on April 21, a full assault was carried out. Some fell to gunfire, some died from grenade blasts. Most of the victims, however, succumbed to wounds from axes, clubs and machetes. Of the 65 thousand people trying to escape the violence, only 34 survived.

The guide leads a tour group through the memorial.
The tour group reads the stories from these survivors before coming to a room decorated by pictures of the deceased. A startling number are of children and babies. Much blame at the memorial is directed to the Western world for its failure to intervene. Promising "Never Again" after the Holocaust, the rest of the world turned a blind eye to Rwanda.

Behind the main building are smaller structures that were meant to be classrooms. In a way, they still are classrooms, teaching a much more profound lesson.

"In these buildings are the remains of several of the victims," the guide says sadly as she leads the visitors outside. "They were kept preserved in lime in the same positions they were in when they died."

848 bodies are on display at Murambi.
Nothing could prepare the group for the sights inside other than the smell. The scent from the preserved bodies dominates everything else, and it is incomparable to anything other than death itself. The buildings have open windows spaces and no doors. The only thing inside are several tables with corpses as white as snow.

Even in their state, the half skeletons, half bodies still show expressions of terror. One holds his hands over his eyes while another grabs at wounds that are no longer visible. Others wounds are still there, such as many cracked skulls and bullet holes.

The next room is more of the same. The one after is too, as is the next, and the next, and the next. Room after room is the final resting place for unidentified victims of an unspeakable crime. A few exhibits feature cases that showcase more skulls in one, stacks of femurs in another and shelves of clothes from the victims in the last.

The final part of the tour is the mass grave that was dug when the French soldiers returned.
Femurs inside display cases.

"When the French learned what happened, they told the Hutus to clean the blood off the walls so nobody would find out," the guide says. "Then they came in with bulldozers and buried the bodies."

After the bodies were covered, the French built a volleyball court on top of the grave as an extra measure. Today, the bodies have been moved near the front of the grounds. The volleyball court has been removed.

The group that had arrived talking and laughing left the museum in silence. After a short walk back to Nyamagabe, they met back up with Ashley Weselak. She didn't need words to see the effect on her friends.

"Told you so," she said.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Motorcycle Diaries: Rwanda

It's OK, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Produced and edited by: Austin Greene

Mom won't like this one.

"Be safe over there," she told me before I left home.

Naturally, I decided to rent a motorcycle and ride the dirt roads over the Rwandan mountains.

The iconic Guerrillero Heroico adorns the windshields of many cars and motorcycles in Rwanda, so perhaps my inspiration to zigzag the deeps ruts and jagged rocks came from a bit of subliminal messaging. That, and the fact that tourism here mostly caters to those whom Che Guevara would have despised.

Hey, I can see my house from up
here! No, the one in America.
I've had the white person, muzungu, experience in Rwanda. The swanky hotels and rooftop restaurants have welcomed me with open arms. Sometimes the manager of a stylish cafe in Huye brings in guitar so I can play it with him. I've seen the Kigali nightlife and the tourist traps.

One day I was told that I can rent one of the motorcycle taxis for just around six dollars per day. Riding trails on four-wheelers and dirtbikes was always one of my favorite passtimes in the US, and I also wanted to see more of this beautiful country and discover on my own.

My assistant, Irene, called up a driver and off I went.

Wanting to get the feel of the bike and make sure everything worked correctly, I decided to take the safer, paved road from Gasarenda to Huye before trusting myself to attempt the windy and rocky dirt roads that careen through the mountains and lack guard rails.

OK, not really. It was Saturday and I wanted to watch college football.

The instant I set off on my journey, mother came to punish me. By mother, I mean Mother Nature of course. It rained the entire one-hour drive to Huye and quit right when I arrived.

"Why didn't you just turn around?" one of my friends asked me.

Good news: the speedometer works.
Bad news: it's not in Freedom Units.
I told him that part of being American means that you don't miss football on Saturday. It doesn't matter where in the world we're sent, be it Africa or Antarctica, we'll find a way to watch.

Being soaked from head to toe an hour away from home and without a change of clothes, I had to think of a way to dry myself once the game was over.

"Oh that's right!" I said to myself. "I have a motorcycle!"

I paid to have the motorcycle for two days and wanted to get the most out of my money. My plan was to take any dirt road that I saw and just drive until I felt like turning around. Google Maps would save me if I got lost. My plans never go wrong.

On the bright side, road work doesn't last anywhere near as long.
The road north from Gasarenda seems to trickle down the hills like a stream after the rain. It's steep and slippery, but the payoff is worth the danger. The views from the backwoods roads are absolutely incredible, and the little towns along the way are reminiscent of the picturesque settings of fantasy video games I played as a kid.

When a reached a small village called Musebeya, I stopped for a drink before turning around. An ice-cold Coke would have been nice, but the lack of refrigerators in Rwanda don't allow for that. It's even ingrained in their culture; you have to specify that you want your drink to be cold when ordering at a restaurant or bar, as Rwandans prefer their drinks warm, even their beer.

If they had a gas station, they could do away with the tithe.
The term muzungu has come to mean white person, but its literal translation is "someone who roams around." As I was out "muzungu-ing," I remembered that there is a about a 15-mile dirt road to Kibeho near Gasarenda as well. It's sort of a pilgrimage site for many Catholics worldwide because of the Our Lady of Kibeho apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Kibeho is far out, but the church is able to raise money because of the number of people that come out, and it shows. The church grounds are beautiful and the building itself is large and modern-looking. It's a nice break from the bleakness that surrounds it.

Speaking of bleakness and reminiscence, my travels on the bike bring me back to Che Guevara once again. Much like the events chronicled in The Motorcycle Diaries, I experienced a much larger disparity of wealth than I've gotten used to. Children around Gasarenda are poor, but when you venture further away from the main road, there's a difference that almost can't be described in words.

I've seen many houses made from mud and logs. Kids carrying jerrycans filled with water pass by me on a daily basis while their parents work their hands to the bone in the fields. Further out, I could use the same words to describe the situation, but it's somehow worse.
This is a waterfall. I named it Carlos.

That's not to say that Rwanda isn't making strides. There's income inequality now, but Rwanda's upper class has only relatively recently emerged. Rwandans are very optimistic towards their future, and there are many NGOs that work to lift these people up. Also, the Kagame government seems to genuinely care about its less fortunate.

It's safe to say that I won't be replicating Che Guevara's subsequent journey.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dawod Visit Offers Students Global Perspective

By Alena Klimas, IIJ Programs Coordinator

This past week, Nivette Dawod visited Ohio University in the midst of election season and talked to students about reporting from a global perspective. Nivette came to Ohio after reporting directly from the first Presidential debate. Her articles on the election as a Swedish foreign correspondent have been featured in the magazine Aftonbladet. During her visit, I sat down with Nivette to talk about her experience as a journalist and her visit to the United States.

From the start, Nivette always knew she wanted to be a journalist but didn’t know how to go about doing so. She did her bachelors in Political science and after graduation found a magazine that Nivette felt very connected to. The magazine was founded by second generation immigrants in Sweden. Nivette submitted a sample story and before long she was working for the magazine full time. Ever since then, she has been in the journalism field.

Nivette’s passion for international reporting is in the Middle East. When she was growing up, Nivette did not feel like she could express her background. Nivette comes from Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. When she was younger she would hear the stories of their countries. However, she grew up in Sweden in Scandanavia far from these connections. When she was 18 she visited Lebanon for the first time. She felt like she “home for the first time” even though she had never been there before. The Lebanese culture embraces immigration and so for the first time ever didn’t feel like the odd one out. No one questioned her nationality and asked her where she was really from, common in Sweden. The feeling of home in the Middle East has stuck with Nivette and has shaped her career in journalism.

It was a “long ride” to report on the Middle East and Nivette had to push for the spot in foreign news. She always said “we should cover this, we should write about this”. Finally, her bosses decided this is good. Her work became bigger and bigger. She then received a fellowship from a Swedish radio. Nivette has since been to the Kurdish region of Iraq, working with the foreign correspondence Cairo, conflict in Israel/Palestine, and Saudi Arabia to cover the first women’s vote in municipal election.

However, for now, Nivette is covering the 2016 election in the United States. Athens, Ohio was one of her first stops in the US. She was happy to be in her first “college town”. Nivette also saw her first sorority house while walking on campus. She was so thankful to have visited our “nice little world”. Nivette was able to speak to an array of “inspiring” students and professors. She did a more extensive interview with WOUB with Professor Hodson. Over the weekend, Nivette visited the more rural part of Ohio. She drove to Amish country which was quite interesting for her. Then on her last day in Ohio, Nivette drove to Columbus to explore the Somali community there. She spent time with some of the community members and visited the more Somali places like the “Global Mall”. She was interested in seeing how the refugees had been integrated life in Ohio.
Ms. Nivette Dawod and Dr. Kalyango at dinner/reception with IIJ faculty and students.

Ms. Nivette Dawod is a 2016 fall fellow from the Washington-based Transatlantic Media Network and sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in partnership with the Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) for the portion of the Ohio University campus visit.  Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, IIJ Director, says is very grateful to CSIS for their continued partnership over the past five years and the sponsorship of the fellows to explore important issues in the United States. Having Nivette Dawod on the OU campus gave students a more global perspective on the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. “We were so happy to have such a talented, interesting journalist on campus,” said some students. Nivette will continue on to other states and universities for her reporting on the U.S. presidential election. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Vietnam’s Regional Tensions & Growing Pains


By: Lucas Hakes-Rodriguez
Produced and Edited By: Sam Campbell

Workers at a site in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo via World Bank/Flickr.
The relationship between China and Vietnam is decidedly difficult. That’s putting it lightly.
In 2014, tensions between the two countries over a Chinese national oil company moving a platform into the South China Sea resulted in protests, and then riots, in Vietnam. This conflict in the hotly disputed waters has been ongoing, but it’s recently grown inflamed as China flexes superiority in the South China Sea, and thereby, in many countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.

But Vietnam is also developing because of China, as much as it would like to think it’s doing so in spite of its hefty neighbor to the North, who consistently provides official development assistance (ODAs) to Vietnam. This assistance is multifaceted, be it in the form of building factories, setting up company branches in-country, or mining its natural resources.

“I do hate what China has done to Vietnam.”

China is investing money in Vietnam so that Vietnam can help grease the big Chinese machine, which has been losing momentum as of recent. 

But the ongoing rout in disputed waters is dampening China’s scarcely-perceived good will towards the people of Vietnam. Many laypersons in Vietnam take issue with the Chinese government’s behavior. 

Phuong Do, a junior majoring in English language teaching methodology in Ho Chi Minh City, said, “One of the most strictly illegal actions that China has carried out in Vietnam may be the violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelago."

“I personally think illegal actions of China are morally unacceptable as they cause [sic] bad impact on Vietnam and China as well.”

This conflict between the two governments is unfortunate, in that the Vietnamese people typically don’t have hang-ups over the Chinese people themselves. “I do hate what China has done to Vietnam,” read a comment from Maily Dao, a software engineer from Hanoi, on the answer crowdsourcing website Quora.

“To be exact, [I hate the actions of] the Chinese government. However, as a person, I don’t hate the Chinese people, [because] most of them seem [sic] to be oblivious to what their government has done to neighboring countries.”

Indeed, China’s campaign of swallowing up nearby resources has relationship statuses set to “complicated.”

The Chinese government’s move toward corralling auxiliary income streams in international waters wouldn’t be so difficult to abhor in the minds and hearts of the Vietnamese if relations with China weren’t so beneficial to their development. 

Vietnam News reported that Chinese investment increased dramatically as of recent, from “$312 million in 2012 . . . [to] $7.9 billion in 2014.” In other words, many Vietnamese people see these money showers as Beijing trying to rub salve on the wound as it tears the skin.

The leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.

The rush to modernize Vietnam through foreign investment isn’t just a violation of sovereignty, argued Lee, a 21 year-old from Ho Chi Minh City who requested to have his surname and occupation withheld. 

The Taiwanese materials production company Formosa Plastics caused an uproar in April of 2016, when it illegally released toxic waste into the ocean in central Vietnam. “[The Formosa Company] used [the] sea for discharge.... the sea [became] very [polluted] ... [many] fish ... died … and [the] air [and] land [were polluted as well].”

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (Vietnam) called Formosa’s 2016 toxic waste dump “the most serious environmental incident Vietnam has faced.” The result of the Taiwanese company’s gross negligence was widespread protest of foreign investment. 

This outrage is a sliver of an ongoing trend across the globe: nationalist sentiments causing people to recoil at the destabilizing potential of globalization. Make no mistake. The Formosa Company’s ecological disaster was not a product of China. But the leniency of the Vietnamese government toward foreign investment in the name of rapid growth is allowing exploitative practices to slip through the cracks.

The tumultuous economic environment in Vietnam is not an easily mendable situation. While it’s unique in that it’s growing and developing, in the already globalized age (and at the heart of a region hotly debated over thanks to globalization), Vietnam has its limitations. 

Oil rig in the South China Sea. Photo via Chris/Flickr.
While the Government of Vietnam has a voice over what happens on land, its presence on sea has been riddled with issues as it emerges as a semi-developed state. In 2014, from May to August, Vietnam had conflicts with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, which built oilplatforms in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone proper.

While China played the role of earnest adventurer in its own economic region, many countries decried its actions. Vietnamese citizens were particularly livid while the Vietnamese government sent envoys to disrupt China’s unwelcome harvest. 

As China continues to apply pressure, the Vietnamese people’s sense of entrapment will only rise.

Lee claimed the situation caused his country much “stress,” and the talks with China in the aftermath were “meaningless,” as they did not convince China to do much of anything.

Ultimately, these growing pains are a sign that when relying on a regional power for support, expecting them to stop with the coddling when it’s time to “spread one’s wings” is fanciful thinking. 

In response, Vietnam is looking across the Pacific to Washington, which has been opening up to Hanoi thanks to President Obama’s “Pivot to Asia.” The Obama Administration’s increased challenges towards Chinese claims of regional control has manifested itself across Southeast Asia, as the President just concluded a tour of countries ranging from Laos to Thailand. According to NPR reporter Michael Sullivan, he skipped the Philippines, after Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, called Obama a “son of a whore."

The region in the South China Sea is volatile, as a myriad of nations claim ownership over islands and waters. Vietnam, though still developing, has barriers to break if it hopes to attain economic stability, independence, and congeniality comparable to real players in the global market. 

As China continues to apply pressure, the Vietnamese people’s sense of entrapment will only rise. And as the government continues to allow Chinese money to influence its decisions, it will continue to lose its grasp on an increasingly impatient population and a worldwide economic system that’s indifferent to leaving it behind.