Amid the militia fighting, struggle over resources, and mass displacement of civilians in eastern Congo, there are many heroes whose names we in the West rarely hear. They are the teachers, the nurses, aid workers, and advocates who work thanklessly for peace in the midst of communities that have been ravaged by violence.
Among some of the bravest on the front lines of the conflict are those who write the headlines and read the radio dispatches: the Congolese journalists, many of whom display both moral and physical courage in shining a light on the atrocities and gross human rights violations of the region’s conflict. While they often toil in personal obscurity, it is their stories and photographs that document the developments – day in and day out – on the ground. And it is often this initial reporting, sometimes amplified by other journalists or by aid organizations, that catches the attention of the wider international community and galvanizes activists and policymakers to demand change.
A functioning democracy requires open forums for dialogue, in which citizens can express their views without fear of retaliation. This is exactly what Kambale Musonia sought to provide through his daily talk show on Radio Communautaire de Lubero Sud. Musonia has reported on such sensitive issues as the trafficking of weapons. In June he hosted a show entitled “Kirumba Rise Up,” in which guests charged that militias who perpetrated recent violence in the North Kivu province received backing from local police forces. Four days after the broadcast, Musonia was shot and killed outside of his home. Although the culprits remain unknown, they "apparently waited for his return not far from his house," according to a statement from Journaliste En Danger.
JED and other advocacy organizations like Reporters Without Borders are urging Congo to take decisive measures to ensure accountability when journalists are targeted. According to analysis from the Committee to Protect Journalists, authorities in the eastern Congo have exhibited a disturbing pattern of failing to investigate and prosecute the murders of journalists – of which there have been many. Six journalists have been killed in North and South Kivu alone over the past four years.
There remains considerable room for improvement in the objectivity of journalism in the Congo – a cause that will see little progress as long as violence against independent minded journalists is condoned. While there is widespread acknowledgement of the acute need for economic development projects like road and water infrastructure eastern Congo, it is a challenge in a population with a high rate of illiteracy to make the case that a free and objective media is a crucial institution, one that is as important to a functioning democracy as a judiciary or legislature. This is an especially critical lesson as Congo gears up for the presidential election in November.
In order for voters to exercise their rights and make informed decisions about the direction in which to take the country, they are now counting upon the public service of those who called Musonia a colleague.
Photo (Creative Commons)