For years the Sudanese government has been waging a bombing campaign against civilians in Nuba, a region in the country's South. The conflict has gone unreported by most media outlets, except one: Nuba Reports. Brooke talks with the site's founder, Ryan Boyette, about his efforts to bring global attention to the crisis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last weekend, the Sudanese government dropped nearly 40 bombs on its own civilians in the Nuba Mountains in the country’s south. The previous week it dropped more than 50. You probably haven't heard about it, until just now. You probably haven't heard of Nuba either or the war raging there since South Sudan separated in 2011. A local rebel army, left over from the war, remained in those mountains, so in an effort to weed them out the Sudanese government has been waging a brutal bombing campaign on everyone in the region, creating a humanitarian crisis that has received virtually no media coverage, except from one outlet, Nuba Reports, a news website rich with on-the-ground video, background briefs and a growing social reach. It was founded by an American, Ryan Boyette. Boyette moved to Sudan in 2003 to do aid work almost on a whim, after he read an article about the Sudanese civil war and was stunned that he’d never heard of it. But in 2011, when the government started bombing Nuba, his aid group evacuated. Boyette stayed behind. He’s now married to a Nuban woman and calls Sudan his home. He says that even amid the falling bombs, he knew he couldn’t let this war go unreported.
RYAN BOYETTE: Immediately, my mind thought of what brought me to Sudan in the first place, that one article. In the last war, no one heard about what was happening because there was no way for reporters to get in. I organized some friends of mine in Nuba. Another organization gave us very small point-and-shoot cameras. And the guys took the cameras, they went out. They would get reports, bring them back.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to direct attention to the quality of the videos on your site. They’re wonderful and they’re also geo-located, right?
RYAN BOYETTE: Every report that our guys do, every interview they do, they also take a photo that is tagged with GPS coordinates through the camera. Sometimes we’ll share stuff with international media and they say, well, how do we verify this information you’re giving us? As soon as we say these are GPS-tagged photos, immediately international media are much more willing and able to use the information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you function as a website for the rest of the world and as a kind of news service for various media operations within Sudan.
RYAN BOYETTE: That’s right. We’re trying to develop a new way for Sudanese to look at media. Most of the news that you see in Sudan, whether it's television or print or radio, is opinion. It’s very hard to get information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about the problem of balance? Is the issue so essentially black and white, you know, innocent people are getting bombed, end of story? Or do you ever bump up against some ethical conundrum?
RYAN BOYETTE: Yeah, that – that’s always a difficult step for us because we can't approach the government. The government has bombed my house because of the work that we’re doing. Some of our reporters have been threatened. I realize that it's a very hard balance, and we’ve tried to give as much of the other side as we can. But we’re always very honest with the organizations and media that we are providing a perspective, and if media uses us as a source then they have the ability to get the other side of the story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you confront Africa empathy fatigue in the United States?
RYAN BOYETTE: Yeah, there’s a lot of Sudan fatigue. My response is: organizations, governments have always looked at Sudan in ways of what could be fixed right now? Don't think about it in that way. I used to think about Sudan that way when I first got there. My first year in Sudan, I, I used to think, okay, what's the most I can do this year to make the most difference, because maybe I’ll go back to America? After my third year there, I knew that Sudan was gonna be my home. After I made that decision, I thought about Sudan in a completely different way. I thought about how will my life help people that have been going through this situation for so many years? There’s not necessarily huge initiatives that need to happen right away, but small steps.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you think people are more open to small steps.
RYAN BOYETTE: I think, especially here in America, we are more open to the quick response, what can fix the problem right now. And I think a lot of times when we do that, we might fix the surface problem but under that the issues are still boiling and it’s just gonna break through that surface.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You seem to have been motivated from the beginning by a news story, and I wonder whether you think your stories are actually making a difference.
RYAN BOYETTE: Yeah, exactly what you said is something I think about quite a bit. And the thing that allows us, I think, to have started this team is the Sudanese. It’s the Sudanese reporters, it’s the Sudanese editors that are taking a risk. They’re the first one on the scenes if a village is burned down and people are displaced. They go inside the caves when they see people who have run to the caves with no food. They go to the refugee camps. They’re the real heroes in this. And as they do that, that encourages me to work harder to come to the US, have meetings, talk to NGOs, talk to policymakers and reveal to them what is actually happening on the ground.
I'm yet to see the results, so that’s very hard. But the first step is getting the information out. Before, in the last war, that information was not there. Well, no one has that excuse this war. We have all the evidence with us that we’re presenting to the world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said that you've yet to see any direct impact from your work.
RYAN BOYETTE: Let me explain that a little bit. I think that our partnerships with some of these other organizations within Sudan, to me that’s the most important thing, to get people in Sudan to know what’s happening in their own country, and they’re the ones that can decide if changes need to be made or not. It's not gonna happen tomorrow or even a year or maybe even two years away. This is something that would take a very long time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I understand you’re building a network, you’re informing the people. You're creating the beginnings of a structure that might ultimately create a government more responsive to the people. That said, you've also launched this website for the outside world. So do you want outsiders to come in with some guns and some money or some monitors? What would that mean?
RYAN BOYETTE: I think as the Sudanese people know what's happening in their own country, if someone in Khartoum sees how someone in the Nuba Mountains is affected by the war and their economic situation, not being able to provide for the family, suddenly bridges are made between these different groups. Once people start making those bridges, then the international community can help dialogue between the different groups that traditionally have been divided, and through that, the Sudanese can make the decisions on their own on how to move forward. So to me, that would be success, that will have lasting change, instead of American soldiers are stopping - I don't think that’s the answer at all. So it's very difficult. But the thing that gives me hope is there are people that have been fighting their government for years, longer than I've been alive, and they're still fighting. There's even a song in my wife's language, in the Toro language, that says “We’re gonna fight for peace. Look at my arms. They’re strong from planting my ground and building my house. Look at my legs. They’re strong from climbing mountains. Look at my eyes. I've seen everything that you could possibly see”. And then the song ends by saying, “I will continue fighting until the end of my days just so my next generation can have peace.” They don't get tired.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ryan, thank you very much.
RYAN BOYETTE: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ryan Boyette is the founder and director of Nuba Reports.