I heard about Africa Investigatesa few weeks ago and I really needed to share. It’s a new TV series (broadcasted on the Al Jazeera channel), in which journalists risk their lives to expose corruption taking place in their countries. Their goal is to have everyone become accountable for their actions. No matter who the person targeted is: police, minister, scammers…they are reported. These journalists are allowing civil society to find out the truth, giving them proof of what is going on in their societies.
Oftentimes, these journalists venture into forbidden places, experience threats, are arrested, tortured and still strive to bring the truth to light. Their lives are always in danger. Some keep a personal diary of who they suspect is after their life so that if anything should happen to them, people might be able to trace down the culprit. Others have their friends take turns to check up on them and ensure that they are still alive. One journalist said he had a panic button to press when he feels he is under siege. “Most importantly, I never walk alone”. Still, many others don’t have this safety net available to them and are constantly living in fear. Journalists’ families become targets for those who feel they are being attacked or exposed. Some of these journalists can’t spend much time with their own families or even in the same location for more than a few days.
These African journalists are doing such brave work and for most, it is worth the risk. They have been through horrific experiences, some difficult to recount. One journalist who was tortured for years states: “When they torture you, your spirit is being broken down.” But this does not seem to stop them because they have a common purpose: “Acting on behalf of the helpless and getting their stories heard”. “Even if one life is impacted, I am satisfied”, says one journalist. Every day they work hard to change inhabitants’ circumstances for the better and for this they deserve all of our respect.
A few of these episodes are on Youtube. The first one I watched: What Price The Story is an account of what drives people to become investigative journalists. In another episode, Fool’s Gold, a journalist named Anas goes undercover to expose a multi-million dollar scam in Ghana over fake gold. One interesting point that the journalist makes is that such scams in turn damage real investment opportunities and prospects for the country. In this story, there is a wide network of people involved: police, customs officers…some engaged in fraudulent behavior, others on the good guy’s side. The story eventually serves as a warning to all investors.
In another episode, Zimbabwe’s Child Exodus, a journalist examines what motivates children to leave their native Zimbabwe and attempt to cross the dangerous border into South Africa. In one instance an 11 year old boy works for 8 months to be able to save $50 to pay human smugglers (Magumagumas as they call them) to help him cross over to the neighboring country. It’s really sad the risks theses children take for a chance at a better life. But they are not the only ones taking big risks. The journalists also risk their lives each day to tell a story that warns people or sheds light on injustice.
It would be interesting to look into what motivates “the bad guys” to act the way they do: high unemployment rates? Poverty? Also, finding a way to gain more international support for these journalists should be a priority because without international community support, their jobs become all the more difficult and dangerous. Most of these journalists operate alone and that is frightening because if they were to get arrested, held captive or tortured, there is no telling if they’d make it out alive without the international media to help bring to light these injustices. Hopefully this TV series will help start a very crucial dialogue not only about the issues being addressed in the documentaries but also the need for international support.