Elbagir: We have lots of stories to tell in Africa

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Nima Elbagir is a Sudanese journalist and an award-winning international television correspondent. She began her journalism career with Reuters in December 2002 reporting for them from Sudan, covering the simmering conflict in the country’s Darfur region.

She moved into broadcast journalism in 2005, joining the launch of More4 News, where her exclusives included, exposing rape allegations against the African Union in Darfur, getting the first interview with the Aegis security company whistleblower on the Iraq ‘Trophy Videos’, interviewing Jacob Zuma in the run-up to his 2006 rape trial and reported from Mogadishu during the US bombing of Somalia in January 2007.

A senior correspondent with the CNN, she recounts her experience hunting for stories, especially her exposé on modern slave trade in Libya, which resulted in a huge outcry globally.

To what extent did Nima anticipate a reception of this magnitude?
“Not at all. I feel that we, as journalists, do the story, and then, put it out there and you can never predict how people are going to respond. We have been so incredibly fortunate that it has struck a chord with people. That’s what has allowed it to have impact. It resonated with people and they voiced their upset and their horror, which forced leaders around the world to act. So, I don’t think that we could have predicted it, because we weren’t the reason this work has had impact, it’s the people out there, who took the work and acted on it,” she said.

Why would Nima become so interested in the modern-day slavery, Libya’s case specifically? The broadcaster had this to say: “When I first heard a refugee describing to me what had happened to him, I found it hard to believe. It was unbelievable that this kind of thing was still happening. I had to go and find out more about it. I spoke to legal experts about it: Is it involuntary servitude? Is it modern-day slavery? Is it slavery? Legally, these people came back to us and said this is slavery in the most ancient sense, and when we realised that, all of us, whether it is me or the rest of the team, or our managers, who commissioned and supported this, all of us felt that we couldn’t, but do this story.”

In her first documentary with Unreported World entitled, ‘Meet the Janjaweed’, she gained unprecedented access to Mohammed Hamdan Dogolo, aka ‘Hemeti’, one of the main Arab Janjaweed Commanders at the heart of the fighting in Darfur. Nima and her director Andrew Carter filmed the fighters’ Sudanese Army ID cards and Chinese manufactured weaponry – broadcasting the first documentary evidence of the Sudanese government’s direct involvement with the Janjaweed and the role China’s arms sale to Darfur was playing in the conflict.

You’ll wonder, especially when going undercover to unravel secrets. How she has been able to stay safe despite the obvious hostile environments she had to work in.“We have a great team, we have a great security infrastructure, we have experienced managers and it’s that support that makes the risks manageable. I’m lucky in that sense that I operate with the resources and support of the biggest platform in the world and that’s a huge privilege. I don’t take that for granted and that’s why I continue to do these stories, because I am enabled by the infrastructure that is around me to do them,” she answered.

Recently Nima spoke at the African Women in Media Conference, where she talked about the challenges of being a journalist. For the lady, the major challenge she has faced in this industry, as a woman is access. “Access to the people that can commission my stories was a huge thing that I faced as an African woman. You are out there in the field; you don’t know any of these commissioning editors in any of these international media that you’re pitching to, I think it’s just that geographical distance,” she said.

Nima added, “I was lucky that I had a story to tell that other people could not do. I say lucky, but it was horrible, as it was a story that unfolded around me back home in Sudan, Darfur, but in a sense, it meant that the commissioners needed me, so, that allowed me to overcome that obstacle, but I think that it is the biggest obstacle that you face as someone out there in the middle of the field, it’s not like London or New York or DC, where freelancers can walk into the offices of commissioning editors. That is probably the biggest challenge I faced.”

With the increasing campaigns in support of gender parity across the world, she thinks women in journalism will suffer less discrimination.“I hope this will change things. The difference that I have seen is that people are now willing to acknowledge the existence of bias whether that bias is conscious or unconscious and we are now actually having a conversation. Whether that conversation leads to tangible change remains to be seen, but I always find that when the genie is out of the bottle, it’s very hard to put it back in,” Nima explained.

Her advice to young ladies across Africa looking up to her and aspiring to become world-renowned journalists is: “Just do it. Just go out there and do it. We have such a wealth of stories in Africa that need to be told and are fascinating and that people from outside of those communities or countries find very difficult to access. So just get out there and tell those stories and you will be amazed by how people respond to them.”

Her father, Ahmed Abdullah Elbagir, was a journalist who was jailed before her birth, and her mother, Ibtisam Affan, was the first publisher in Sudan. You won’t be surprised at her response when you ask, if you were not a journalist, which other career would you have pursued?.“I come from a family of journalists. I have only ever wanted to be a journalist. I truly couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

What is the thing that keeps her going when she faces challenges on the job?
“The people who are so brave and are willing to tell their stories, every trip that we do, I come back thinking about how we do justice to that,” she retorted.Born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1978, Nima, of Northern Sudan origin, moved to the United Kingdom at the age of three. And when she was eight years old, she moved back home. After six years, she returned to the United Kingdom.Educated in Sudan and in Britain, she holds a BSc in Philosophy from The London School of Economics.