the news site for journalists covering development issues


Old media reports deprive Rwandan genocide survivors of the right to be forgotten

Audience at the main Rwandan genocide commemoration event at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali on the 7th of April, 2014. Photo: Sally Hayden.

One of the biggest challenges following the Rwandan genocide was getting it classified as such. As the international community faltered and fiddled and failed to appreciate what was happening, Rwandans shouted their experiences through shrouds of shock, grateful to anyone would listen and believe that such horror was possible.

Now with each anniversary those stories and images reappear throughout the media. And many survivors, once so grateful for a voice, have come to resent this exposure.

This issue first came to my attention in a conference in the Rwandan parliament on the weekend that this year's official period of mourning began. As questions were taken from the floor, a passionate voice piped up. “I'm not asking about what happened because I was there and I have seen it, but there is another issue now. As survivors we all wanted to tell and to say what had happened. There are at least two or three women I know pregnant from rape, they only wanted to talk. But twenty years later you still see your image coming out from BBC, CNN...” Speaking, I learn, is Odette Nyiramilimo, a physician, former government minister and current East African senator. Ethnically a Tutsi, she survived the genocide in the Hotel des Mille Collines, a scene later depicted in the film 'Hotel Rwanda'.

We meet again a few weeks later. Nyiramilimo sits in a bright, airy office, on the fourth floor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A portrait of President Paul Kagame hangs over her head. She's busy; her phone buzzes as we talk.

She tells me story after story.

The story of a girl, aged 15 during the genocide, who was taken by her parents' killers to the DRC and raped. When she escaped she was pregnant, and after she gave birth to a son she handed him to relatives to raise so she could attend university and start her life anew. She met a boy and they got engaged; then he travelled to Canada to finish his schooling. There, on the TV, he saw old footage of her speaking about her rape and called her in shock. With her engagement over, the girl called Nyiramilimo asking “what do I do? I don't want that story to be following me my whole life. Now I am well, I just finished university and I want to be normal.”

Concern Worldwide makes urgent appeal for staff as 'imminent' famine threatens South Sudan

Refugees at Yida refugee camp in South Sudan’s Unity State queue for hours for food and soap. Camps could be overwhelmed if the conflict and food crisis worsen. Photo: Hannah McNeish/IRIN.Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest international humanitarian organisation, has put out an urgent appeal for experienced specialists to help in its response to the rapidly deteriorating food situation in South Sudan.

Back in early December, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) warned that the country faced a potential food crisis this year. Less than two weeks later, several conflict broke out along ethnic lines in the newly independent country between rival groups than in the ruling party. Largely as a result, the situation has deteriorated to the point that FEWS NET, the UN and many others are warning of famine that may be imminent.

The civil war meant that farmers could not plant earlier this year and now they face severe food shortages, say Concern. Food prices are soaring making it impossible for people to meet their daily needs. It is now estimated that 3.8 million people are in need of assistance.

“It is a measure of the seriousness of the very real and imminent threat of famine in the world’s newest country that we are putting out this call for staff,” said Concern’s Regional Director for South Sudan, Carol Morgan. “These are paid positions and will assist us in our existing humanitarian response in the country, which we are already scaling up significantly.”

In 2011, the humanitarian network ALNAP published a major report , which analysed lessons learnt from droughts, many of which could have been applied in this case. One of the major recommendations was timely and appropriate intervention. Concern has been responding to this crisis since January. The international response has been more mixed. A major UN appeal was launched in May but is currently only 45.5% funded even though conditions have subsequently worsened.

Obama's Africa legacy may be judged by what happens in South Sudan

President Obama at a Ministerial Meeting on Sudan on September 24, 2010. Photo: U.S. State Department.The Economist's Matthew Bishop described this as 'an incredibly important week' for Africa. The biggest ever summit between the US president and African leaders concluded on Wednesday (August 6) in Washington DC. During the summit, President Barack Obama announced $33 billion in new investment and trade with Africa.

President George W Bush significantly grew aid to Africa relative to his predecessors, though sometimes controversially, particularly in relation to AIDS prevention. The Obama administration has continued to provide significant funds to tackle global health issues, including new health funding announced Monday (August 4).

However, there have been distinctive policies under the current administration. For example, there appears to have been a significant shift towards focusing on trade and direct investment with Africa, mirroring the shifts that have occurred in government policy in several other countries, such as Ireland and the UK. This week's US-Africa summit is important as a symbolic statement as it is practically. It recognises the continent's emerging economic power and potential over the last 15 years. The summit may be seen as an important part of the Obama administration's Africa legacy, as will its handling of the Arab Spring.

The US has also been heavily involved in the process which led to independence for South Sudan.

'Now people will be more careful when they are brutalizing our girls and our women'

'Through the courts we have removed a bit of the stigma attached to these crimes, the women feel supported. If this project continues, it can be an example to other countries' - Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.It’s early on Saturday in Freetown, Sierra Leone but the courthouse is slowly waking up.

A truck rattles through the large gates, carrying prisoners linked to sexual assault cases. Here ‘Saturday Courts’ hear rape and assault cases in a programme partially funded by Ireland through the UN.

Almost 2,000 cases were recorded in the country’s three rape crisis centres during 2012 alone, so the courts serve a vital function in reassuring girls and women that justice can be done.

UN legal officer Rakel Larsen takes me through the quiet corridors. Funding covers weekend salaries but doesn’t stretch to electricity for the silent fans or even lights.

She says the courts, which were set up in 2011, are slowly changing attitudes:

‘It can be a challenge. The Saturday Courts provides a protective, victim-friendly environment, but it can be busy with family members. I think people didn’t come forward before. Now the women’s groups make a lot of noise. And there is a lot of funding, a lot of support.”

She adds: “We don’t have specific case-processing time statistics but we are working on data. You hear of cases waiting seven years to be heard, but gender-based-violence cases don’t wait. Rapes are also heard during the week”.

Sierra Leone a good fit for Ireland

Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown 'Rainbo' rape crisis centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.Sierra Leone is now one of Ireland’s partner countries under the Irish Aid development programme, a match less surprising than you might think as the two small coastal nations have much in common.

The West African country was riven by a decade of civil war funded by the sale of so-called ‘blood diamonds’. But almost 12 years on from that conflict, an air of optimism is tangible in Freetown’s muddy streets.

In the beachside capital, the Irish flag flies over a walled compound, down an earth-covered road. It’s dwarfed by the nearby British embassy but work done here is injecting a steady drip of progress behind the scenes in the areas of justice and food-security.

Dubliner Sinead Walsh supervises various programmes - mainly on nutrition  and gender issues - from the Irish Aid office, which was upgraded to Embassy status in January.

Ms Walsh works with the Sierra Leone government and in partnership with other NGOs.

She said: ‘The country after the war was destroyed. I was here in 2005 before I moved here in 2011, it’s remarkable the changes even since then.

‘Most of our programmes are about women, and rights. It’s an area that was neglected for a long time, even in Ireland. About 50% of girls by 18 here have either given birth or are pregnant, it’s a huge problem and something the government here is taking on.’

South Sudan in crisis

Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children to reach the MSF camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Photo: Wairimu Gitau, MSF.Sarah John walked hundreds of miles with her four children (pictured) to reach the Medicins Sans Frontier camps on the South Sudanese border with Kenya. Aged between two and seven, the children are among almost one million refugees fleeing conflict in the world’s newest nation.

Almost three years ago the world looked on as South Sudan celebrated independence, and looked to the future. But in December agreement between the main ethnic groups came to a violent end.

An uneasy alliance between the President and Vice-President broke in July when the VP was dismissed. Violence broke out in mid-December, and reports of armed soldiers on the streets signaled an end to peace. A ceasefire declared on January 23rd has not lessened the violence.

UNHCR estimated this month there are “over 739,000 people … internally displaced and a further 196,921 sheltering in neighbouring countries” because of the escalating conflict.

A senior MSF medic told an audience in Dublin earlier this month that the situation can now be described as a crisis.

Retired British surgeon Professor Paul McMaster worked in South Sudan for a month from Christmas, joining over 3,000 local and international staff on the ground.

‘It was just after midnight when they called me to see a young girl of about 12 who had collapsed. Sitting on the floor next to her, was her seven or eight year old brother.

‘She had walked three or four days from the North, without food or water, her father had stayed behind and they had been separated from their mother. Her only carer was her brother. It was Christmas morning,’ he said.

DRC: Analysts cautious about significance of M23 peace delcaration

Congolese refugees board a truck at Bunagana on the Uganda-DRC border. Over 800,000 may been displaced by conflict since it began March 2012. Government forces captured the M23 rebels main base in Bunagana on October 30, 2013. The sides declared an end to hostilities on December 12. Photo:  Samuel Okiror/IRIN, May 2012.The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the former rebel group known as the M23 Movement signed declarations on 12 December formalizing agreements to end hostilities in eastern DRC.

The declarations, together with a Final Communique on the Kampala Dialogue, were released by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community - which together sponsored almost a year of fitful peace talks in the Ugandan capital. The documents articulated each sides’ commitments on a range of issues, including M23’s renunciation of rebellion and transformation into a political party; the government’s limited offer of amnesty to combatants; the release of prisoners; the demobilization and reintegration of former rebels; national reconciliation and justice; and social security and economic reforms.

Kinshasa also committed itself to quickly moving ahead to facilitate the return of refugees, in line with tripartite agreements signed with neighbouring states, and to help internally displaced civilians, who number more than two million in eastern DRC, go back home.

Through his spokesman, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the declarations constituted a “positive step towards ending cycles of deadly conflicts that have caused immense suffering to the Congolese people.”

Yet analysts remain divided on whether political dialogue or military means is best to address the problem of armed rebellion in eastern DRC, even as focus now shifts to the northeastern Orientale Province, after relative success in North Kivu. Some argue for a mix of both: “neutralizing” armed groups while engaging in security sector and institutional reforms.

Irish Aid programme cuts Malaria death rate in Malawi by 95%

Launch of Reducing Hunger, Strengthening Resilience: Irish Aid Annual Report 2012, 12 September 2013. Photo: Irish Aid.Last month, World and Media reported that an Irish Aid supported hospital partnership was associated with an 86 per cent reduction in maternal mortality and a 50 percent drop in stillbirths and early neonatal deaths in the Omdurman Maternity Hospital in Sudan. Today (September 12), the Government’s programme for overseas development, Irish Aid, published its annual report with some even more striking evidence for its effectiveness:

  • Ethiopia: Almost 7 million people protected from hunger in 2012 through an Irish Aid supported programme, which provides cash or food in exchange for work to improve agriculture and protect the environment.
  • Malawi: In Malawi, following the distribution of 263,000 bednets, suspected deaths from malaria among children under 5 have reduced by 95% since 2010.
  • Mozambique: 71% of girls aged 6 in Mozambique are now enrolled in school. This is up from 58% in 2005.
  • Tanzania: Since 2001, the area of agricultural land under irrigation has almost doubled (up from 200,000 hectares to 399,000 hectares), contributing to reduced hunger and increased economic opportunity for families.
  • Vietnam: Two-thirds reduction in rates of mothers dying in childbirth between 1990 and 2009.
  • Zambia: 400,000 people have access to clean and safe drinking water and sanitation facilities thanks to Irish Aid’s programme in Northern Province.
  • Ethiopia: The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 56% in 2000 to 39% in 2012.

Get the World News and Media Diary


Gender-based violence in Sierra Leone

Freetown Rainbo Centre staffRainbo Centre signWorking to prevent violence
Midwife Annie MafindaSafiatu Jalloh, counselorMidwife Many Sowa
Rakel LarsonChief Officer Balogun DixonMadam Julia Sarkodie Mensah
Police Family Support UnitCourtroom posterJoseph Rahall
http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/486867Midwives_counsellors_security_guards_staff_Freetown_Rainbo_Centre_Princeses_Christian_Maternity_Hospital_600x450.jpg

Freetown Rainbo Centre staff

Staff, including midwives, counsellors and security guards, at the Freetown Rainbo Centre, in the Princeses Christian Maternity Hospital, which deals with rape crises. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/827434Rainbo_Centre_sign_Sierra_Leone_600_380.jpg

Rainbo Centre sign

Rainbo Centre sign which hangs in all three centres in Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/206417IRC_run_group_in_Kenema_Sierra_Leone_working_to_change_male_attitudes_to_violence_600_450.jpg

Working to prevent violence

Six members of a men's group in Kenema, Sierra Leone run by IRC. They are working to change men's attitudes and stop violence before it starts. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/908993Midwife_Annie_Mafinda_with_toys_in_the_Freetown_Rainbo_Centre_counselling_room_600_450.jpg

Midwife Annie Mafinda

Midwife Annie Mafinda, with toys in the counselling room at the Freetown Rainbo Centre. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/242101Safiatu_Jalloh_counselor_with_the_Rainbo_Centre_in_Kenema_600_450.jpg

Safiatu Jalloh, counselor

Safiatu Jalloh, counselor with the Rainbo Centre in Kenema. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/601712Many_Sowa_midwife_at_the_Kenema_Rainbo_Centre_Sierra_Leone_600_450.jpg

Midwife Many Sowa

Many Sowa, midwife at the Kenema Rainbo Centre, Sierra Leone. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/866528Rakel_Larson_UN_Displaced_Persons_representative_working_with_Irish_Aid_on_the_Saturday_Courts_project_600x450.jpg

Rakel Larson

Rakel Larson, United Nations Displaced Persons representative, working with Irish Aid on the Saturday Courts project. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/893836Balogun_Dixon_Chief_Officer_Pademba_Road_Prison_at_the_Freetown_Courthouse_600_450.jpg

Chief Officer Balogun Dixon

Balogun Dixon, Chief Officer Pademba Road Prison, at the Freetown Courthouse. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/827415Madam_Julia_Sarkodie_Mensah_Consultant_Master_and_Registrar_of_the_Sierra_Leone_Judiciary_338_450.jpg

Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah

Madam Julia Sarkodie Mensah, Consultant Master and Registrar of the Sierra Leone Judiciary. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/602051The_Family_Support_Unit_in_the_Kenema_Police_Force_600_450.jpg

Police Family Support Unit

The Family Support Unit in the Kenema Police Force, pictured outside their station. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/226639Poster_on_GBV_in_the_Freetown_Courthouse_345_450.jpg

Courtroom poster

Poster on the walls of a courtroom in the Freetown Courthouse building offering socio-legal support for victims of gender-based violence. Photo: Niamh Griffin.

http://worldandmedia.com/components/com_gk3_photoslide/thumbs_big/238581Joseph_Rahall_Executive_Director_Green_Scenery_at_the_offices_in_Freetown_Sierra_Leone_600_450.jpg

Joseph Rahall

Joseph Rahall, Executive Director of eco-NGO 'Green Scenery', at their offices in Freetown, Sierra Leone.