RNW is in the process of shifting its focus to promoting freedom of speech in regions where this is under threat. So this summer we’re publishing a series of portraits of men and women around the world who have stood up for the right to speak their minds. Congolese blogger Alain Wandimoyi is one of them.
By Passy Mubalama, Goma
Freedom of speech is elusive in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Alain Wandimoyi chooses to make his voice heard in cyberspace. His mission: to denounce the inequalities and injustice he sees in his country. His (French language) blog, Picha Na Mazungumzo, is very popular – not least among Congolese politicians.
The information junkie spends his days at his computer or out on the streets of Goma looking for stories that matter. Wandimoyi says that those who want to speak the truth in the DRC are always silenced.
“Even in the case of newspapers, journalists are not allowed to work freely because editors are often politically biased towards the government or the opposition,” he says. But on his blog, Wandimoyi is his own editor. He says: “I speak my mind without any fear of censorship.”
“Photos that speak”
Wandimoyi started blogging in 2008. The blog has proven very popular and made him famous in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. Even though the medium is not widely used in the DRC, he says he chose blogging as an effective way to reach his target group, namely politicians and humanitarians. He writes to vent his frustrations and worries about the various wars and conflicts in North Kivu and the Great Lakes region.
Also a passionate photographer, Wandimoyi named his blog Picha Na Mazungumzo, which means “photos that speak” in Swahili. He says he originally took up photography because it is a useful means to portray what is wrong in his country.
Being a free speech activist in the DRC is not easy. Wandimoyi has received numerous threats in the past, be it for his blog or his photos.
“I always take pictures that tell a story, stir up feelings and show what is wrong in our country. As a result, I often receive threats,” he says. “In December 2011, for instance, I wanted to write about the bad driving of certain motorists who drive whilst drinking alcohol or talking on the phone.”
He took photos of an accident caused by such conduct. It didn’t take long before he was assaulted. “A strange man took my camera, my recorder and even my passport. On the same day, I received several threats and was verbally abused over the phone,” he recalls. “I don’t really know where these threats come from, but I think it’s only because some people are upset by my blogs.”
Past entries have irritated many, especially politicians. Not long ago, his writing about Congolese soldiers' bad behaviour on the battlefield offended an official from the presidency. “As a form of warning, he sent me the portion of my text he did not appreciate,” explains Wandimoyi.
Despite the risks associated with his activities, Wandimoyi is proud of the impact he has. He is delighted with the many followers he has both in the DRC and abroad. He has no intention of slowing down in his quest for the truth.
Wandimoyi hopes that in the future he will be able to reach more Congolese citizens in the diaspora. He believes these people have a great influence on those back home, and even on the DRC government.
“Even though my job has already got me arrested – most recently, just last month – I love doing it because this blog is me," he says. “I can share my vision and thoughts.”