Monday, December 5, 2016

"As long as there are human beings there are stories"

Head of programme Jenny Wiik, students at MIJ and Afrah Nasser. Pictures and text: Kovuuri G. Reddy

*The media landscape is changing and re-shaping constantly with the internet in our midst. Internet is a platform for publishing and broadcasting not only for journalists but also for citizens (and netiznes). Because everyone is communicating online including the citizen journalists, the need for professional journalists has become acute and sought after. Sought especially by the independent and mainstream media in order to find and narrate stories that matter to the people in a compelling manner, and in the professional fashion that includes ethics and codes of conduct.

The first batch of students studying Master’s in Investigative Journalism(2016-2017) had completed the module ‘Investigative Journalism in Digital Environments’ and have started ‘Investigative Journalism Across Borders’ at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG). On 2ndNovember they had a lecture and Q & A session with Afrah Nasser, Yemeni blogger and journalist.

Afrah Nasser is also a human rights activist and strives to report on unreported aspects of her home-country Yemen (the poorest Arab country in the Middle East, and almost unnoticed by the Western media except briefly during the Arab Spring, and now the Guardian reports 'US Military members could be prosecuted for war crimes in Yemen'). Before seeking refuge in Sweden, she worked as a journalist in Sana’a where she faced in-house censorships on political reporting.

In a 2-hour session, Afrah Nasser focused on how ‘citizen journalism is shaping professional journalism’ by mentioning to the student-journalists from her experiences on Twitter and blogging. She is an alumnus of JMG, and did a thesis under Jenny Wiik the course director of Master’s in Investigative Journalism. From her experiences as reporter in Yemen to working in Sweden as a journalist, she explained the role of political regimes in the Middle East by mentioning Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and what the West can do, and cannot do for the betterment of civic and political freedoms.

In the era of ‘slow journalism’ and ‘fast journalism’ how to come to terms with finding a story and bringing it to the attention of audience?

‘Journalism is a literature in hurry’ and also there are platforms such as Twitter where not only words even ‘space between words and a punctuation mark count as a character’: the size of text or word count is becoming shorter and shorter, then how can one express a complex story in crisply condensed format? For Afrah Nasser, telling a story in few words and often in hurry is an art in itself. It is something that the journalists have to live with, and find ways for expressing.

Internet is bane and boon to the society. For Afrah, it is a boon because it is a platform for citizens in dictatorial regimes to report on censored subjects. She highlighted how internet’s social media websites have becomes source of news for journalists and for users to interact (like, dislike and comment). In spite of the rise in citizen journalism, she stressed that the professional journalists stand out from the crowds because they know (ought to know) the ethics, codes of practice of the craft: truth and accuracy (verification and validation), independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability. She advised the student-journalists to empower themselves by learning the professional codes and techniques of the craft as there are a range of tools (to record, film, photograph and publish and broadcast to bypass filters and censorships) at the disposal of journalists.

With my former MA' thesis supervisor, and the university lecturer, Jenny Wiik.

Everything starts with an idea: so is the case for investigative journalists, Afrah Nasser said. She said the students of Master’s in Investigative Journalism have the potential to make an impact with their stories not only in Sweden, in Nordic countries and in Europe but also in other parts of the world.

Irrespective of citizen journalism, and the infinite content produced on the internet, she said there is always a need for professional journalists: “I am always hopeful for the future when it comes to journalism because I think as long as we have human beings…they are vibrant, and living…there will always be stories to tell and it’s the role of the journalists to tell those stories.”

Photos & text by Kovuuri G. Reddy

*This piece was written and published by Gothenburg Univeristy's Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, following my lecture to 'Investigative Journalism' MA program students.

Castro and Yemen

Two images representing a glimpse of the contradictory path of late Fidel Castro, from a revolutionary to a dictator.

Supporting the dictator. Cuba, 2000 - Castro welcomes former Yemeni prs', Saleh at the Revolutionary Plaza in Havana.

Supporting the revolutionaries. 1970s, Aden, Yemen –Part of supporting pro-Soviet forces, Fidel Castro visits South Yemen's president Salem Rubai Ali.

Love in War

photo courtesy: Saleh Al-Abadi

Spotted in Aden, Yemen. A guy wants his lover to come back, so he makes & hangs a poster in the street that reads, "Wala'a {his girl} I'm dying without you .. I love you.. will you marry me." 💕

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fractured unions new and old: South Yemen independence day

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen. A soldier holding Yemen's Southern flag. Photo courtesy: Ahmed Shihab Al-qadi

*Today marks the 49th anniversary of South Yemen's independence from the British colony.

The anniversary should symbolise a time for rejoicing at the triumph over a colonial rule, but instead, it reflects the growing and contesting realities across Yemen.

Ever since the Southern Movement (Hirak) began in 2007, South Independence Day has become a time where the question of unity versus partition in the country manifests itself profoundly. The tension is all the more present given today's ongoing conflict.

Independence Day is of conflicting significance to the south and the north of Yemen, illustrating the rift between the two regions and the path towards partition the country finds itself on.

On one hand, as a continuation of the same spirit of liberty and the struggle for independence against the Brits, a great deal of the south takes the occasion to continue raising calls for independence from their latest virulent foe, the north; especially in the wake of Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa in September, 2014.

One Adeni blogger writes, "after Ansar Allah's [the Houthis] coup against president Hadi's legitimacy, his detention and forcing him to resign, the southerners - even those who are pro-unity and were anti-secession - are totally convinced that people in the North don't believe in unity as they couldn't tolerate that a Southerner president [Hadi] would rule them.

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen. A man holding Yemen's Southern flag. Photo courtesy: Ahmed Shihab Al-qadi. 

With this magnified support for Hadi, and, as stated by the former colonel and founder of Hirak, and the Yemeni Retired Military Consultative Association, Nasser al-Noubi, "with this coup, unity was over".

Houthi brutality at the beginning of the war in Aden in the name of fighting Islamic State did not leave room for southerners to cling to unity, according to the Adeni blogger. As a result, the bloodshed of Houthis and of Saleh's forces in the South during the ongoing war caused the grievances of southerners to intensify, and demand secession from the "northern" government in Sanaa.

And on the other hand, in a delusional manner, in the north, ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi leaders are taking the opportunity this anniversary - particularly in light of the Saudi-led coalition strikes hitting the country - to mobilise northerners and southerners alike in standing united against the new "coloniser" (the Saudis) and fight back.

Over the two-year war, this is the second time Saleh has addressed the public, calling on them to cherish unity and fight united for victory against "the Saudis' aggression".

Ironically, South Independence Day for the North evokes the desire to win over the Saudis and it fails to evoke a reflection of the North's injustices against the South, at least in the course of the ongoing civil war. Certainly, independence means two totally different things for the North and the South in Yemen today.

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen. Photo courtesy: Saleh al-Obaidi

Fragile unity

Ever since the 1994 civil war in Yemen, the rift between the North and South has been growing ever deeper. Following the north's win over the south, the country has suffered from multifaceted local cleavages.

I remember as a child surviving the almost three-month long fight in Sanaa. In the following months and years, we were taught as part of the curriculum that the 1994 civil war was caused by the "secessionist" "infidels" giving a strong impression that the north was more concerned about unity and the south had perpetrated the betrayal.

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen. A poster reads, 'South Yemen Independence day. Thank you, Salman, thank you, Khalifa, thank you, the Arab coalition."
Photo courtesy: Saleh al-Obaidi

Fast forward to the present, and distrust between the north and the south is at its peak. To justify killing, and stripping them of their "Yemeniness", Houthi-Saleh militiamen have called the southerners IS supporters. Not only did this greatly undermine any sense of unity, but also any sense of a common national identity.

Despite the disappearances and the assassination of many Hirak activists, calls for secession or independence - depending on who you talk to - are still alive.

Unity versus Partition

When I talked with southern activists Rasha Jarhum and Khaled Al-Abbadi, I had a glimpse of their vision for the Hirak, one which has certainly been challenged by the ongoing war.

The fragmentation process is occurring across two dimensions: fighting on the ground, and in the political corridors of diplomacy. In today's conflict, the Hirak in Aden is in the hands of a coalition of separatist militia, jihadis and Salafists, orchestrating their secession.

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen.
Photo courtesy: Ahmed Shihab Al-qadi. 
Meanwhile, at the UN, Hirak activists are making concerted efforts to win the international community's support for their demands. However, southern activists are divided: some demand secession, regardless of ending Yemen's war, and others demand peace first for all Yemen, and then secession.

Nonetheless, the war may serve the Hirak's best interests, considering the latest development that saw Saleh and the Houthis form a cabinet two days ago. Following their formation of The Supreme Political Council and its announcement of a new government, the country is clearly falling under the control of two states.

This chaotic governance is a product of several factors: the stalemate in the battle for Sanaa, the failure of international actors to carry out peacemaking efforts in Yemen and the fact that none of the warring sides has made major gains.

Given the unwinnable nature of Yemen's war, these dynamics stress the growing complexity of not only unity in Yemen, but they also highlight the question of the form of peace war-torn Yemen desperately needs.

Nov 30, 2016 - From the South Yemen Independence day celebration in Aden, Yemen. Photo courtesy: Saleh al-Obaidi.

*This piece was first published on The New Arab, on the 30th November. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

We Have a Dream

Here is some tiny happy news in this $#%& world.

5ish years ago, I was photographed by Swedish photographer, Albert Wiking and interviewed by Oscar Edlund for a project they’ve been cooking for a long time. The project will finally see light next week and it’s called, ‘We Have A Dream’. It’s a photography exhibition of portraits of 114 people who dared to make a difference; the list includes Dalai lama, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, Malala Yousafzai, Timbuktu, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I.

To be among those names blows my mind! I wish to fly right now to 7aret al Raqas, my humble neighbourhood in Sana’a and tell them the news. I hope my hard-working mother who survived an abusive marriage, and had a 5-year-long fight at courts to win divorce and custody of her two daughters, and worked 24/7 to put food on the table and get us a decent education; I hope my mom is proud of her daughter, moi. I wish my teacher in Sana’a who told me, ‘if you want to be a writer, you’ll die alone, unread and poor,’ know how wrong he was.

My dream is that all Yemenis live in dignity and peace, and along with that journey I dream to continue telling their stories.

‘We Have a Dream’ will be exhibited at Fotografiska in Stockholm, 9 Dec - 19 Feb 2017, and will be accompanied by a book of the same name.