Africa-based correspondent influences the Ebola story beyond his coverage Date: 02/06/20
By Bara Vaida
In August 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo declared its 10th outbreak of Ebola in 40 years. The number of cases has now surpassed 3,000 and more than 2,000 have died, making it the second biggest and deadliest Ebola epidemic behind the West Africa outbreak of 2014-2016.
One of the local journalists on the ground is Al-hadji Kudra Maliro. He is the eastern Congo correspondent for the Associated Press and has also contributed stories published in the Christian Science Monitor, Daily Mail, Le Monde, France 24, Yahoo and Stars and Stripes. On his Facebook page, Maliro describes himself as a photojournalist, fixer, reporter, activist, writer and video producer.
He grew up in Beni, Congo, and Kampala, Uganda, and lives in Goma, a city of 2 million, close to the border of Rwanda. Goma is in the North Kivu region of the country, an epicenter of the outbreak and the site of ethnic and civil conflict.
Maliro has been covering the Ebola outbreak since September 2018. Since there are few journalists on the ground there, his perspective has played a role in shaping how the international community gets information about the ongoing outbreak. He frequently posts on his Twitter and Facebook page about stories he is covering and the people who he is with.
Here Maliro talks with AHCJ’s Bara Vaida about what it is like to be a local correspondent on this international story.
Q: How did you become a journalist for the AP?
A: When I was in secondary school, I liked to write stories. So, I started to work with the AP when I was getting my journalism degree. It was 2016 and I was studying communications in Uganda. I was freelancing for the [AP] and Agence France-Presse and Thomson Reuters. I would send them photos and videos and then I was writing text for them.
Q: What do you like about being a journalist? It must be hard to see your country dealing with such a frightening epidemic.
A: I am proud to be a journalist. When you are a journalist, you deal with a lot of people and I like that. As a journalist, you can go on the aircraft and travel. You talk to people and they say, “Kudra! I read your story.” On the computer accounts, I have many followers and many contacts. When I travel, I can find so many people that say, “You are from Congo, we can take you to coffee.: I am proud to have so many relationships with so many people.
Q: One of the things that you said is that not only are you a journalist, but you are also a ‘fixer.’ What does that mean?
A: I am like a security adviser, a health adviser and a translator. French is my first language, my mother language. Then I speak English, Arabic and Swahili. When journalists come here, I am like a security adviser and explain the security protocols and the health protocols here so that they can be safe in this region. We go to an Ebola treatment center and I make sure that they don’t touch things. If they have a camera, I tell them when to hide it or when not to move. I help them to be safe. I translate for them too.
Q: In October 2019, one of the stories you wrote for the AP was “In Congo, an Ebola Survivor With a Motorbike Helps Ease Fear,” about an Ebola survivor helping fellow citizens by driving them to Ebola treatment centers on his motorcycle. How did you get that story?
A: There were rumors in town about someone on a motorbike taking people to the Ebola treatment center. They said people weren’t using an ambulance, they were using a motorbike and that it was someone who was a [Ebola] survivor. It was interesting to me and I wanted to write a story about an Ebola survivor after he was cured, going to help others.
Q: What else was important to you about this story about the Ebola survivor and his motorbike?
A: Many journalists come here to write about how many people were cured of Ebola or how many were killed by Ebola, but that isn’t the only story. I am proud to be Congolese and I want to show the world the good Congo. I can show that Congo is a beautiful country and that Congo isn’t just about Ebola. I want to show that other Ebola survivors can help. I was happy that I was able to show something happy, to show something to be grateful for.
Q: In your story, you said that people are afraid to take an ambulance when they got sick? Can you talk more about that?
A: Many people from this area, they are just afraid. When they see foreigners coming, they have fear. If someone is running a fever, or the World Health Organization comes by, they are afraid. Many people refused to go on an ambulance because they were told it would be toxic and you will die if you go to the hospital. People say that the doctors that come from Cameroon or America, that they are coming just to get money.
Q: So, there is very little trust in the doctors that are from other countries who are coming to Congo to help stop the outbreak?
A: They see the Cameroonian doctors in the bar drinking alcohol, and they think that they are just here to kill us and to get money and that they don’t care about the local population. If it were local people who were trying to help stop the epidemic, it would help contain this outbreak. Many people in this region are poor and when they see Ebola doctors come with a car and spend money, then the local civilians, they don’t trust you. If you don’t speak the same language, they don’t trust you. But if you come with local doctors and go door to door, and contact them in Swahili, then they may tell you if there is a sick person in the house. If it is not a local person, they may not tell the truth.
Q: What advice do you have for a foreign journalist who may come to the Congo to cover the outbreak?
A: This region is dangerous. If you are a journalist, you have to know that anything can happen. You have to have your bullet-proof jacket and your gas mask and have to follow Ebola safety training to come here. Most journalists who come here don’t know how to wash their hands, so they have to have training about this outbreak. If possible, you should be in touch with someone who speaks Swahili and some French. Then everything will be good.
Q: What else do foreign journalists need to know?
A: A foreign journalist has to have accreditation to be here. You have to pay $500 to the Ministry of Communication and you have to get the okay from the Ministry of Health. If a journalist wants to go to an Ebola treatment center, you have to get the okay from the Ministry of Health.
Q: What story are you working on right now?
A: I have to get accreditation to write stories from the Ministry of Health. I am waiting for accreditation right now to write a story about an anthropologist who works for the World Health Organization, who is working with the Pygmy community in the Congo. The community eats bush meat and the anthropologist goes to the community to talk to them and tell them, “Don’t eat that bushmeat,” because that is where Ebola is coming from, and I want to follow her. But I am still waiting for accreditation and it can take some time to get.
Al-hadji Kudra Maliro, 27, is a photojournalist, fixer, reporter, activist, writer, video-producer. He is the eastern Congo correspondent for the Associated Press and has contributed stories to the Christian Science Monitor, Daily Mail, Le Monde, France 24, Yahoo and Stars and Stripes.