March 2016 will be remembered as the first time – ever – that Congolese media met as a national group.
The team responsible? Freddy Mata, Munor Kabondo, Doudou Nziou and Papy Andonge of Journalists for Human Rights DRC.
It is extraordinary to think that this this is the first time Congolese journalists have met as a national sector.
Yet it becomes not so extraordinary when you sit down with the average journalist in the DRC, and hear what they have to contend with on a daily basis.
Media houses closed. Journalists “disappeared.” Corruption rampant.
With at least one major opposition news network currently shut down, the DR Congo remains a full 25 points south of South Sudan on the international press freedom index managed by Reporters without Borders.
But the JHR DRC team engaged strategic support from the lead media regulator, a former JHR trainer named Tito Ndombi, as well as the Canadian ambassador Ginette Martin. They screened out the negative environment. And they worked around the clock, making every dollar from the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Flatley Family Foundation and National Endownment for Democracy count, in order to bring together journalists from across the country.
The result: three days of powerful discussions on how best to help Congolese media help themselves through the coming months, as the country’s elections heat up.
The week was capped by Night for Rights Kinshasa-styles – a glitzy awards ceremony at Kinshasa’s Hotel Royal, celebrating two giants of Congolese journalism, Zaina Kere-Kere of Numerica TV Kinshasa and Bertin Mungombe of 3TAmis Bukavu. The night was emceed by national TV news anchor Julie Sefu, aka the Lisa LaFlamme of the DRCongo, and covered by all major national media.
In light of the tense political environment and narrowing window for press freedom, organizers anticipated that antsy security services might come in and shut down proceedings at any moment. But journalists at the forum were left alone to do their work, and the event culminated in The Declaration of Kinshasa: a short tract that lays out how the Congolese media intends to work together and govern itself through the election period… as well as the role that it wants JHR DRC to play in order to help it do that.
Now, of course, the real work starts, as journalists across the DRC find themselves in the cross-hairs of an increasingly tense national conversation about the country’s political future. But armed with a national network, and the JHR team to back it up, the sector is in a much stronger position to contend with what’s coming than ever before.
As for JHR DRC, they deserve all our applause, for pulling off what no other media development initiative in the DRC has yet been able to manage – and all our support, in order to capture and build on the momentum they have generated.
– Rachel Pulfer, Executive Director, Journalists for Human Rights