Reporting on extreme violence taking toll on African journalists

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Journalist, James Owich

By James Owich

African journalists working in areas where extremists and terrorists are active have complained of the negative effects of the violence on their lives and work.

The journalists, speaking from the African Investigative Journalism Conference which took place at Witwatersrand University, South Africa, said the violence they witness in some parts of Africa in the course of their work, is taking a psychological toll on them.

The three-day conference which took place from November 7- 9  drew 280 journalists from 28 countries across the world.

Idris Hamza, a Nigerian freelance reporter, who has covered the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria for years, said he breaks down every time he witnesses violence in the field.

Hamza works mostly in Maiduguri, Kanu State where Boko Haram is active. He was the first to break the news of the abduction of 200 school girls by the Boko Haram in Chibok, northern Nigeria.

Muhamad Ali, a Television journalist in Kenya narrated how he witnessed children unaccompanied by adults suffering, men wielding machetes and survivors in blood-soaked clothes during the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya.

Ali said he finds himself withdrawing from people whenever he remembers the violence he witnessed, adding that he has seen journalists resorting to smoking and drinking to relieve work-related stress.

Ali has been covering attacks by al-Shabaab on Kenyan soil including the 2014 West Gate Mall and Garissa University attacks that left hundreds of people dead and injured.

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Idris Hamza (right), Muhamad Kassim (center), looks on as Michael Obert, a German journalist gestures during the recent African Investigative Journalism Conference held in Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Kassim Mohamad, a Kenyan TV producer, says crying has helped him cope as advice by medical experts hardly helped.

A 2015 research by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Canada, conducted on 90 Kenyan journalists who cover conflict, indicates that more than half of them are exposed to a host of stressors that can exert a deleterious effect on their emotional well-being.

The report explains that intimidation, assault, mock execution and witnessing death and suffering are just some of the occupational hazards that come with the work of journalists.

It further says that replicate findings from Western media notes that journalists who cover life-threatening events may develop significant symptoms of emotional difficulties and fail to receive therapy for
them.

James Owich, a Gulu- based freelance journalist and a member of the Northern Uganda Media Club  recently attended the African  Investigative  Journalism Conference in South Africa

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