Talk through Photography

Be the Citizen Journalist, report and reveal the truths.

Voting is a Duty

Practice Democracy and Get Involved

Peace In Peace Out

Peace starts within ourseleves

Speak Out Tunisia

Tunisian and Proud of it

Child of Today is Man of Tomorrow

Life is not worth living without the Smile of a child

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Speech at UN Women’s celebratory event for the 20th anniversary of the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing

Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality, celebratory commemoration brings together top political actors, celebrities with musical performances, high-powered speakers and celebrities including President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette, Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, global philanthropist Melinda Gates, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and actor-director from India Farhan Akhtar, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and luminaries from politics, the arts, activism and philanthropy.#‎IWD2015 ‪#‎Beijing20‬ 

I had the honor to be invited to be the voice of the youth and speak among these strong women. My intervention is below :

My speech was published at WLUMLAWID and A World At School
Quoted among the 12 powerful quotes of this year UN Commission on the Status of Women 

Honoured Guests,
Marhaba as we greet in Arabic.

I come from a region that is considered the most dangerous in the world; yet, in Tunisia we have successfully achieved considerable milestones in democracy and stability.

In 2010, we revolted for dignity and freedom.  We were the spark of an uprising the world propagated as the Arab Spring.  But we call it “the revolution of Dignity”. Young women like me took to the streets, unafraid to die.  When I reflect on the past 4 years, I recognize the boldness of my generation to shape our destiny and that of future generations.

But who was behind our victory? It was the Tunisian people including Tunisian women who chose to be part of History…  the history that had been steered towards depriving women equal opportunities and marginalizing the youth.  We decided to re-write this history and make it right for the generations to come. 

But there still are challenges.   In Egypt, virginity tests are performed on female ‘protest’ detainees, a humiliating and terrorizing practice. In Syria, over 15,000 women have been killed by the Syrian regime to date and over 8,000 others subjected to sexual violence. 

However, this is not our first struggle… it’s not our first victory. Women where I come from have been fighting patriarchy for more than a century, fighting for social change, equality and democracy for decades.

So, the world must respect our right to define our own struggles, in our own contexts, a context that has been affected by post-colonialism, Orientalism and Islamophobia.

Through the efforts and sacrifice of young women, our mark upon dignity and equality shall not go unrecognized; our experiences shall not go unnoticed.

Article 46 of Tunisia’s Constitution stands as an embodiment of the gains we have attained as women through civil action. We have conquered repressive laws and set our country upon the transformative values of equality and dignity.

Our generation of feminist movements in Africa and the Middle East, in conflict zones, and all parts of the world going through hard times, shall continue to be in the frontline. Even when we are set backward… even when many of our counterparts have fallen… we must set our countries upon a constitutional path of maturation and societal awareness of gender equality. Let’s continue the flight.

Thank you

I have also been a panelist speaker at ECOSOC on the 13th and was quoted at All Africa & UN News


Monday, March 9, 2015

Revolution Tourism

Published at D+C German Magazine 

Tourism is an important pillar of Tunisia’s economy, but it has been declining because of revolutionary turmoil in recent years. Unlike in other North African countries, the transition to democracy has been successful. Job creation must now underpin the new constitutional order. The new government should devise a strategy to attract visitors to the country.
The National Geographic recently put Tunisia on the list of the “top destinations of 2015”. It was also the “country of the year 2014”, according to The Economist. These are great achievements for a country that has gone through a revolution, a  democratic transition and four parliamentary and presidential elections in four years.
One must bear in mind, moreover, that Tunisia is facing huge economic and security issues. Both affect tourism, which has long been a vital sector of the national economy. Positive coverage in international magazines can prove quite helpful in this context. 
Tourism has long offered Tunisia opportunities. In the year 2010, the sector accounted for seven percent of GDP and more than 20 % of Tunisia’s revenues in foreign currencies. Tourists spent so much money in the country, that they plugged  56 % of its trade deficit. Moreover, the tourism industry employed about 85,000 people and indirectly kept another 315,000 in their jobs. Some 14 million visitors came to Tunisia in 2010, and the industry generated revenues worth $ 12.5 billion.
Among Tunisia’s tourist attractions are its cosmopolitan capital city of Tunis, the ancient ruins of Carthage, the Muslim and Jewish quarters of Djerba and many beach resorts. About 95 % of the hotel beds are near the eastern coast. Europeans appreciate the country as a sunny summer getaway. Tunisia benefits from its location on the Mediterranean Sea.
Tourism money matters to the hotel, airline, restaurant and retail-shopping industries. Tourists mean jobs for tour operators, drivers, porters, guides at cultural and nature sights, travel agents, market traders and others. The sector provides opportunities to entrepreneurs and allows other industries to grow.

Tunisia’s tourism has encountered numerous devastating obstacles in recent years however. Tourist numbers dropped because of the Gulf War of 1990, and again after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The bombing of a synagogue in Djerba in 2002 was a problem, and so was the US-led Iraq war. Nonetheless, tourism always recovered.
The revolution in 2011, however, proved to be an even greater challenge. In view of the popular uprising and the fall of dicator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, a number of foreign governments issued travel warnings. Tour operators rerouted their customers and cancelled pre-booked trips. Hotel-occupancy in major tourism areas dropped to very low levels, leaving small tourism entrepreneurs with little to no income.
After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, 210,000 tourists left the country in the last week of January alone, causing revenues to drop by $ 178 million. All in all, Tunisia counted only 4.7 million tourists in 2011, a mere third of the comparative figure for 2010. 
By April 2011, with some travel warnings lifted, tourists slowly began to return to Tunisia. But following the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Tunis and the American Cooperative School, the sector declined again. Terrorism and Islamist agitation have had a tremendously negative impact.
Political instability added to the problems. The Ministry of Tourism did not even manage to respond to negative messages the media spread after terror events. The cabinet kept changing. Since January 2011, six different ministers have been in charge of tourism. In such circumstances, it was impossible to sustain any public-relations strategy. The Ministry only began to get a grip on things again last year.
All in all, the sector employs about 22,000 less people today than it did in early 2011. Seasonal employment has suffered in particular.
Brighter future
However, things have begun to improve again. Unlike Egypt and Libya, Tunisia has embarked on a journey to democracy. The country now has a new constitution, on the basis of which the new parliament and the new president were elected. The successful transition to a new order can help to regain foreigners’ interest.
Tunisia can now market itself as a “start-up democracy”, a term first used by Amal Karboul, who was tourism minister from early 2014 to early 2015. Karboul devised a marketing strategy that stressed Tunisia’s progressive achievements. Her social-media approach was very popular, and her obsession with selfies resonated with the public. She insisted that using social media could be a very cost-effective alternative to conventional advertising.
She made other steps in the right direction too. In close cooperation, the Ministries of Tourism and Culture organised the Electronic Dunes Music Festival last year. The event took place in the landscape were a Star Wars movie was made. The Electronic Revolution Festival followed on the beach of Korbous. In Februray, the Second Electronic Dunes attracted an audience of 8.000 paying participants from Tunisia and Europe.
Of course, tourism is not only about the Sahara, the coastal areas and  archaeological sites. Inland cities, where jobs are needed badly, can benefit too. So far, however, cultural tourism has not been developed properly. The attractions of many towns should be made better known, and the government would be well advised to draft a strategy accordingly.
There is untapped potential. For instance, the Capsian people were the first human civilisation in Tunisia. They settled 12,000 years ago in what is now the town of Gasfa. The town’s region has a great cultural heritage, but it remains, like other central and southern cities, marginalised in economic and social terms. Tourism could make a difference.
Moreover, Tunisia should develop something like a revolution tourism. Many people are angry because it has not been documented properly how they toppled the dictatorship. By tackling the country’s recent history, museums, exhibitions and high-level events could attract many visitors.
Tourism accounts for about 12 % of Tunisia’s total employment. The sector needs a strong strategy. Its success is vital for economic recovery, but is affected by travellers’ security concerns. Related issues must be addressed fast and effectively. Since the formation of the new government, there still have been delays in passing a new terrorism law. The law is urgently needed.
The entire Tunisian economy needs a complete overhaul and a comprehensive vision moreover. Attracting more tourists is part of the solution, but it is not the solution in itself. Tunisia must get solid government budgeting, good macroeconomic management and policies that promote investment. 
It is the collective responsibility of the government, the media, the entrepreneurs and Tunisian citizens to draw the country’s tourism sector into a profitable direction. The image of the culturally diverse, geographically stunning and historically rich country needs to be promoted. It would be helpful, moreover, if Europeans understood that spending holiday money here is a contribution  to stabilising Tunisia as the Arab region’s  first constitutional democracy. 
*All the figures in the essay are from Tunisia’s statistics bureau.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Interview with NKIRUKA NNAEMEGO about Green Economy

Nkiruka Nnaemego has over fifteen years of experience working directly with children and youth focusing on green entrepreneurship, policy advocacy, research and training on volunteerism, peer mentoring and community development. Nkiru is a lawyer, an agricultural and livelihood, environmental activist, customer service and development practitioner who has passion for Volunteerism and Mentoring. In 2008, she founded and currently runs a youth organization – Fresh & Young Brains Development Initiative. She also founded Alexijan Consults in 2013 as a Consulting Firm aimed to promote social, green and business entrepreneurship among youth and professionals. Through her leadership and commitment, Nigeria currently has the National Youth Manifesto on Agriculture, Youth Advocacy Toolkit on increased investments in Small Scale Agriculture, Handbook for children on Clean Energy, Sustainable Agriculture and Peak Oil, Green Entrepreneurship Workbook for youth and community volunteers, among others.

As the CEO and founder of Fresh & Young Brains Development initiative, what is your main mission and how did you end up advocating for environmental responsibility? 

I founded Fresh & Young Brains Development Initiative (FBIN) on November 27, 2008 as a non-political, non-profit and non-governmental organization that aims to stimulate positive change, promote social responsibility, environmental sustainability and spirit of volunteerism in our society as well as facilitate intergenerational relationships.

Our mission is to advance attitudes, policies and actions that promote justice, social inclusion, social responsibility and meaningful participation for children and young people in Nigeria and beyond, and encourages a more positive children/youth/adult exchange.

I got actively involved in environmental sustainability cam‎paigns in 2004 during my study of Environmental Law at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. I read about the work of the late Prof. Wangari Mathai and was really motivated to join the environmental campaign. Also, my lecturer, Mrs Ilegbune was a great mentor to me. These great women got me interested in environmental conservation. From my study of environmental law and with my background in Civil Society, I started conducting research and advocacy on climate change to the point that I was invited to join and lead various youth networks on climate change across Nigeria and Africa. I joined the Youth Working Group of NigeriaCAN which later became the NigeriaYouthCAN. I was the projects coordinator. From there, I got involved with African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) when there was crisis in the National Leadership. As a result of my role in resolving the crisis and re-activating the National chapter of AYICC, the Continental Leadership encouraged me to contest elections as the regional coordinator. I contested with nine other youth across West Africa and emerged the winner. To date, I am still the West African Regional Coordinator of AYICC and hope to hand over soon. The experience in climate change advocacy has been exciting. I have been actively involved in climate change advocacy across the globe. In 2012, during COP 19 in Durban, I hosted a youth side event under our organization - Fresh & Young Brains Development Initiative with support from AYICC. I am also a member of the Global Young Greens - a movement of youth across the globe that promotes the green principles of gender, equity and environmental conservation.

Why is there a need for a new concept like green economy? And how can Africa actually benefit from it in an inclusive and equitable fashion, while taking into account Africa’s specific conditions? 

Green economy ‎is an economy that results in the improved well-being of human beings and their social equity while reducing their risks and vulnerabilities. I support green economy because it focuses on transforming economic activities and economies. Green economy is very important for us as a developing nation because it helps us to think of creative ways to promote inclusive growth without degrading our natural environment. We need to imbibe the principles of green economy so that we can successfully manage our ecosystems in a sustainable manner; reduce our vulnerabilities to climate change and increase our adaptive capacities. For Africa to benefit from green economy, there is a need to understand our peculiar needs and aspirations as a continent; review our country level National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAS); and promote a low-carbon based economic growth and social justice. For countries who are reliant on oil and fossil fuels, we need to adopt renewable and alternative sources of energy; stop gas flaring; promote biodiversity through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+); and promote green entrepreneurship especially for youth and actors in the informal sector3.

What are the major impediments in Africa to date in mobilizing and accessing financial and other resources for sustainable development at the national, regional and global level, including for green growth? 

Our cultural and religious diversities play a key role in ‎Africa's mobilization of resources. Also, clarity on the definition and importance of green economy affects Africa. The concept of green growth has been a major source of debate among researchers and policy makers in Africa. Until the concept of green economy is well defined and adapted to suit Africa's peculiar needs, many countries may find it difficult to promote its principles, especially on the premise that we do not emit like the Annex 1 Countries. Thus, the issue of climate justice needs to be addressed and easy access to the Green Fund should be encouraged.

Can building a green economy enable countries to close the implementation gap on commitments made in Agenda 21, and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation? What are the opportunities for the continent? 

Yes, it can. Africa has huge potentials for inclusive growth if the principles of green economy are promoted. For instance, in the Agricultural Sector, value addition can be introduced through the use ‎of simple recycling and agro-waste management. We have great natural resources that can be used as alternative sources of energy (hydro and solar power) for electricity generation.

Tell us about the impact of your work and your future initiatives and actions towards green growth in Nigeria and Africa at large. 

My organization has been at the forefront of climate change and green entrepreneurship initiatives across Africa. We conduct green entrepreneurship and agribusiness boot camps which we hope to further expand across Africa. We are currently working on establishing a Youth Farm (YFarm) Incubation Centre for African Youth in Agribusiness to provide a training centre (online/onsite trainings on green entrepreneurship and agribusiness), an integrated farm and agro-processing plant that adopts sustainable agricultural and environmental practices). We have a seed grant approval from the African Union Commission, UNDP and Federal Ministry of Agriculture (under her YEAP Grant) to start the Centre in Abuja.

You are a fierce advocate of youth participation in decision-making, what is your message to young Africans in order to engage in promoting green economy?

I encourage African youth to join AYICC and Global Young Greens to actively engage with our ‎leaders in promoting green entrepreneurship in order to address employment and environmental conservation issues. I also encourage everyone to adopt my GDP - God, Determination to make a positive change, and Passion to succeed.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Water as a tool of War #Yarmouk #Syria

Published at Aljazeera English 

Yarmouk camp victim of water wars in Syria

The Syrian regime is using water as a tool of war in the Yarmouk camp, according to a recent report issued by the Palestinian League for Human Rights (PLHR).

According to PLHR, a diaspora network established in 2012 with contacts all over the Palestinian camps, the camp's water supply was entirely cut off with no justification provided, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe.

"We live an atrocious tragedy and all forms of death are available here," Abdullah al-Khateeb, a Palestinian activist living in Yarmouk, told Al Jazeera over the phone.

Caught up in the war between rebel armed groups and the Syrian army, the camp paid a high price. Of the 160,000 Palestinians who used to live in the camp, only 18,000 remain. Established in 1957, Yarmouk camp is one of nine camps hosting Palestinian refugees in Syria; the number of registered Palestinian refugees, according to UN figures, is 517,255.

Since December 2012, fighting from the Syrian civil war, which followed the popular uprising in March 2011, spilled over into the camp when some rebel groups moved there. The regime claims it was fighting "extremist groups" inside the camp.

In July 2013, the camp came under siege by regime forces, leaving at least 200 people dead from starvation, accelerated by dehydration and water-related diseases. Since the blockade began, food and medical aid were prevented from entering Yarmouk, and the drinking water was cut off.

A relief activist in Tadamon, a close neighbourhood east of Yarmouk, told Al Jazeera over the phone that one of the relief agencies gave activists a few hundred dollars to buy and provide water for both Tadamon and Yarmouk.

However, the amount of water  "was barely enough for one of their streets". Tadamon is home to over 65 families as well as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters and their families.

The first day we went to distribute the water from the tank, I was threatened with arrest, then a group of fighters from FSA attacked me.
Relief activist in Tadamon
"The first day we went to distribute the water, I was threatened with arrest, then a group of fighters from FSA attacked me," the activist said.
The lack of water supplies is also threatening agricultural projects that some organisations carry out to ease the food shortage.
Ansar Hevi, an activist with the 15th Garden, a farmers' solidarity network supporting besieged areas in Syria to grow their own food, expressed fears of drought, recalling the 2005 drought and its grave consequences on plantation.

As a survival tactic, people were encouraged to plant gardens in their own houses, on their rooftops or in between buildings to stave off starvation.
But in light of the current water crisis, tending for these farming projects is becoming costly as the price for an hour's fuel (needed to pull water from wells) has risen to $30.

Eventually, "the water cut will not only affect the gardens, but the whole economic structure that developed under siege because these projects helped reduce prices of food commodities sold in the black market".

A board member of the PLHR who gave her name as Selena Mohamed told Al Jazeera: "Even if the regime will allow some food shipments into the camp once in a while through its own organisations, this move will do little to ease the immense suffering. The water crisis will remain the most humiliating weapon of war."

Death and brutality, Mohamed said, have many faces in Yarmouk. Besides starvation, diseases and blockades of aid, daily indiscriminate bombing with mortars, snipers and ammunition continue to kill civilians and children. 

"Yarmouk reached 540 days of siege and 110 days without drinking water."

Between 2013 and 2014,  there were - at least - 26 ceasefire initiatives between regime forces and armed opposition groups. Many of these initiatives were discussed in Yarmouk as a possible exit since neither regime forces nor the opposition could achieve any military breakthroughs on the ground.
The talks involved the Syrian regime, rebel fighters based in the camp and Islamist groups. Most of the truces ensured that the main entrances to the camp would be opened and basic services restored. However, UNRWA is still unable to carry out humanitarian operations in the camp. 

The UN intervened in other areas in Syria, such as backing up the truce in Homsto allow besieged and starving opposition fighters to evacuate the Old City. "But it did not intervene for Palestinian camps, " said Ala Aboud, a PLHR board member.

The PLHR report states: "Despite the regime agreement and promises that civilians would be unmolested during food deliveries, dozens were arrested by regime forces that were present in the delivery area at the camp's entrance, and dozens more were killed during delivery operations, either by snipers or in clashes between regime and opposition forces, both parties are indifferent to the presence of civilians."
The evacuation, however,  and according to activists, can put them at the risk of being detained by regime forces. 

Recently, several activists have been assassinated in the camp, although they say they do not know who is behind such assassinations since activists are being targeted by all parties.

The PLHR report recommendations hold several parties responsible for the deterioration of the situation in Yarmouk and demand an urgent humanitarian operation.

The PLHR report stated that the Assad regime was primarily responsible for the "genocidal war crimes" against Yarmouk camp, while it calls for putting pressure on the Syrian regime to reopen water supplies and urge all parties to resume aid to the area.

A member of the board quotes Article 6 of the Rome Statute, noting: "For the purpose of this statute, 'genocide' means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group... "

According to camp activists, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operates with limited deliveries of assistance. Locals confirm that emergency sections and all medical centres are closed. Only a few doctors are available but with hardly any equipment.

Locals' testimonies seem to match that of Daphnee Maret, the deputy head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, who admits that it is "the first time in over a year that we have been able to deliver aid to the people in the camp. We hope to do more."

The PLHR report cites the failure of the ICRC to address the situation in Yarmouk camp, pointing to their previous work in Iraq and Yemen, where they "distributed water to many areas that were damaged during the then-ongoing war. It also repaired water supply networks, re-operated water pumping stations and ensured water supply to the various Iraqi cities."

UNRWA, considered responsible for the protection and assistance of Palestinian refugees, announced that it only managed to distribute fewer than 700 parcels over the course of the entire month of December, which does not meet the minimum needs.

"Between asylum seekers, refugees and under siege, the Palestinians of Syria remain today's most untold story in the Syrian conflict," Aboud said.

Keeping momentum in reporting on the tormented Yarmouk, according to analysts, remains crucial in helping solve the crisis.

"It's not a coincidence that aid began to enter Yarmouk slowly when the siege became a prominent subject for a brief period within the diaspora," said Talal Alyan, a Palestinian-American commentator.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The future of Climate Change in Africa


I interviewed Rose Wachuka, a dear friend and a climate activist. 

Rose is a Steering Committee member of the Global Young Greens (GYG). She is also the Strategic Advisor on Programsand Partner Relations at Kenya Young Greens. Rose prides herself in the fact that the Green principles are focused on ensuring that women and minority rights are protected. Rose is the co-founder of the Voice of Women Initiative and a blogger, building a platform that would inform the world about African values, democracy, green principles and the value of peace. Her blog is called Green Background.

1.Tell us about your "climate awakening moment", the moment where you decided to dedicate your efforts in climate activism and why you think everyone has to have that “awakening moment" to save our nations and continent?

I was asked to present a paper on Climate Change Farmer Related Suicides in Makueni County in Kenya at an East African Climate Change and Reproductive Rights Conference in Munyonyo, Uganda in 2010. At first, the topic seemed surreal. Then I embarked on the data collection and discovered that not only were desperate farmers in dire need of government assistance, but that some of them had become suicidal as a result of the change in weather patterns, reduced productivity and increased poverty. The link between psychology and the effects of climate change reinforced my zeal to continue pushing for climate responsibility. Over the years, I have learnt that the understanding and comprehension of impacts and the long term effects are different in different parts of the world.

This differentiated approach is worrying because most policy makers react to the problem of climate change based on their national state identity. Most nations focus on their national security, economic prosperity and self survival. This approach cannot work where the global commons are concerned. Climate change threatens the existence of the present and future generations. So, I have been focusing more on this policy aspect. If we are to achieve any meaningful impact on this issue, we must reorganize our global priorities and economic model. We must realize that millions of people in little villages around the world and who neither understand why their lives seem so bleak, nor have the opportunity to attend international climate conferences, face the worst threats. We must realize that our global future is interlinked and that realism as far as climate justice is concerned can no longer hold. Everybody is threatened and everyone needs to realize that the future of development has to have a sustainable matrix.

2. Following your passion and vision what did you concretely achieve with Global Young Greens and other initiatives in East Africa and Africa in general?

Information and an avenue to talk about the environment have been the greatest avenue the Global Greens and the Global Young Greens have offered, particularly for Africans. In Europe for instance, where the movement is strongest, this dialogue has traversed into the political sphere with young Greens getting elected on the basis on a conscious ideology into the European Parliament.

As a member of the Steering Committee of the Global Young Greens and strategic adviser to the Kenya Young Greens, I have been involved in national and continental climate and environmental awareness and policy and law making. The African Civil Society is very climate change attuned with the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYIIC) and PACJA among the internationally recognized pressure groups for climate justice. The gap and the area that I continue to engage in is policy and law: Commenting on bills and laws relating to the environment such as the Biosafety Bill in Kenya and ensuring that the constitutional imperative of sustainable development is upheld.

3. Where do you think the real problem lies; in companies, governments or communities?

Africa is in the age of industrialization. The narrative has been that 'Africa is Rising' and this is the problem. African governments are economic oriented but pursuing the same model as other industrialised nations around the world. While indeed, the continent is putting in a lot of hard work both in its manufacturing industries, infrastructure and production, the formula for development must incorporate sustainability.

Governments must consider the impact of external extraction and particularly, the impact of oil and gas exploration upon the environment. While most African countries are resource rich, the productive use of those resources continues to be elusive. Our model for development has to be different. We must incorporate human and environmental considerations into that model.

4. What do you think about the future of climate change policy plans and implementation in Kenya and Africa?

Climate change cannot be averted using the tactic of veto and political power. Climate diplomacy must be level and it must be directional. The Kenyan Foreign Policy incorporates environmental diplomacy as one of its key pillars. As a country dependent on agriculture, the government has dedicated a part of the national budget to enhancing food security. Sustainable development is also one of the constitutional values under Article 10 of the Constitution. The approach of involving the private sector and civil society on national climate and environmental dialogue is very effective. Unlike in the past, the government of Kenya, the private sector and civil society have an agreed position on the future of climate dialogue. The current model is not working and an immediate and most urgent shift ought to be engaged.

We must realize that no single continent can tackle climate change. It is a phenomenal problem that affects various parts of the world in different ways. The world must move beyond trial and error. It must move beyond tiring, verbose climate summits. Governments must allow scientists, geologists, farmers, fishermen, industrialists, financiers, children and women and all those concerned, to find solutions. It must be about compromise and sacrifice. Production and the economic model must move from the individualistic capitalist sense to a more conscious Green model. This newer model should not be a single ideology. It has to be a combination of various ideologies and considerations. It must be a system of global cooperation.

5. What message would you want to leave for young people? How can they meaningfully contribute to solving climate change?

Young people have the minds to innovate and the spirit of selflessness. Innovation and technology will arm our generation with some of the tools we need to survive and help others to do the same. Selflessness will allow us to remodel the economic model even to the seeming economic detriment of our countries. It will allow us to enforce true global cooperation.

Stay engaged and keep yourselves informed.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Life of an American Freelancer in the Middle East

Published at OpenDemocracy 

“What’s more appealing to me as a freelancer is having the autonomy to go and create my own stories… without losing part of my freedom, or having to uphold any editorial line" - Eric Reidy 

 I met Eric Reidy last April in San Francisco, where we both spoke at Stanford University. We quickly bonded through our passion for writing, photography, listening to and telling people’s stories, a combination of what he defines as the package for freelancing.

Knowing him for a short period of time and understanding his motivation when he delivered his speech gave me the impression of him not being a typical American freelance journalist.

 In mid October, I received a message from Eric telling me that he was coming to Tunisia in two weeks time, with no plans whatsoever on where he will be staying, for how long or what will he be doing. A few days later, to my surprise, I met him there. 

Eric’s life appears to be unplanned, as probably most freelancers’ lives are. What distinguishes him is his clear vision, once he connects with the place and the people, of the kind of story he wants to deliver to an international audience. He has an interesting approach to freelancing; he sees it as a choice, an opportunity, an excuse and a challenge. For him, journalism is “an excuse to ask people the questions that you would want to ask them anyway but don’t have a pretext to do so”.

His journey started when he was 17 years old as a “news junky”, particularly with respect to the Middle East. “During the worst period of the Iraq War in 2006/2007, I started being exposed to more critical perspectives of what life is actually like in the region… a chasm opened up between the story that I had been presented with since I was a young adolescent, and reality”, he said. Eric was fascinated with how big a gap that was. 

He is an adventurous freelancer who is willing to take risks to get important stories but “being a freelancer can also be an obstacle as much as an opportunity”, he adds. “Unfortunately Iraq is a bit less accessible, particularly to American freelancers. Without training in reporting in danger zones, without financial backing from a major channel, without a strong network of connections, it is pretty foolish and dangerous to go there”. As much as he believes in taking risks, he also cultivates the personal safety to be able to tell these stories.

Eric’s first stop was Lebanon, where he went to study Arabic for two months as a fresh graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, but ended up staying for eight months. Lebanon was his first choice because of its reputation as a “cosmopolitan, relatively free cultural space in the Middle East, a region that is tightly controlled by governments and censorship”.  

He was lucky to find a job within a couple of weeks with a Lebanese foundation called the Samir Kassir Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes). “I thought it would be great to have an excuse to interview artists, to sit down and talk to them about their work and their life experiences with social and cultural censorship.” He interviewed 25 artists about the role of art in public life in Beirut as part of his project. His work resulted in the publication of a book titled, “A Fractured Mirror: Beirut’s Cultural Scene and the Search for Identity”.

The next stop was Palestine, which might seem as dangerous as Iraq to outsiders. However, Eric argues that, “to be a foreign journalist in Palestine is safer than Iraq”. He lived in Palestine for five months.

He has been writing for Wamda, which is a platform designed to empower entrepreneurs in the MENA region by covering stories of small businesses and growth trends. Eric was the only journalist covering the Palestinian entrepreneurial scene full time. “I found entrepreneurship to be a fascinating lens into Palestinian society”. He observed that “as a consequence of the occupation, a lot of people have understandable limitations to what they think is possible. There is a real sense that there isn’t very much possible in the West Bank because everything is really tightly controlled…”

So he looked for stories that would show Palestinians that there are those who have some agency to act on their own. “They are usually portrayed to the west as people who are either oppressed by a controlling system or people who are exercising violence”. He chose not to fall into that dichotomy but instead to open up more space to understand what he had come to see “as a much more nuanced existence”. 

This falls into his broader vision of “using the power of personal stories to break people’s pre-existing understandings and open up a little space within people’s preconceptions about a place or people or an experience…to have them start to be self-critical and question whatever they think is true or certain”.

Eric had to leave the Middle East in early February this year, after being deported from Israel, but he considers this as “a minor bump on the road”.

He has now been in Tunisia for five weeks, refreshing his Arabic and studying the Tunisian dialect, while exploring new stories. “Other than transparent free elections and the transition of power, I think the story that should be coming out of Tunisia is the longer ongoing process of what is actually taking place here, on how to build a new type of society out of the society that was previously governed by an authoritarian dictatorship. To me, that’s the story of Tunisia.”

So far, Eric has written three pieces on Tunisia claiming that “If we promote Tunisia’s model, by following its democratic transition, then we owe it to ourselves to actually understand what that means…People do not have to be dying for that to be an important story, and I hope I can convince editors of that while I’m here”.

As a totally new context from Palestine or Lebanon, he is finding his way in Tunis while “There is a bit of nostalgia and longing for the comfort I was able to build for myself where I was last”, he confsses.

He undoubtedly confirms the stereotypical image of the maddening life of a freelancer as “a hassle, you have to always keep coming up with story ideas, keep pitching, developing relationships with editors, with contacts, with people who can help translate things for you… Everything somehow is related to work. It’s kind of a consuming lifestyle as your livelihood basically depends on the network you develop…I always feel I should be working when I’m not, I have no sense of security”.

He has lived in three different places covering stories for AlJazeeraAl-Monitor, and the Middle East Eye among other international media outlets, yet he says he is new in the freelance space. “Everyday I sit down to write an article or do an interview I ask myself ‘am I good enough to be doing this?’ Do I understand well enough to put the stuff that I’m creating out there for other people to use as a source of information? Still something I have to prove to myself”.

This self-reflection is surely a mainstay of journalistic ethics and integrity and something that today’s journalists should be asking themselves as they report stories from the Middle East.

Over the past years, I have met many freelancers in Tunisia and Egypt who moved to the region to be journalists thinking that there were “a lot of violent, bloody stories they could cover to make a name for themselves.” Eric, however, has a different approach; he wanted to “correct” the media narratives that he grew up consuming. 

There is an urgent need to change the narrative of the region and shift focus from bloodshed, terrorism, religious, sectarian and tribal threats to more in-depth stories. How did a revolution turn into a proxy war in Syria? How are the elections shaping Tunisian’s lives? How does the Lebanese multifaceted identity manifest itself? Here's to more and better stories!

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