Taylor Krauss is a producer, video journalist and the founder of Voices of Rwanda. He traveled to Congo with reporter Michael kavanagh to capture footage for the Worldfocus report on the Congo: The story of Pascal and Vestine. Here, he writes about their harrowing detention by Congo’s notorious secret police.
Read Michael Kavanagh’s account of their experience here.
I wasn’t surprised when the secret police stopped me and Michael Kavanagh as we headed out to film in Rutshuru [a town in North Kivu] in October. After all, it wasn’t the first time I had been taken in by Congolese police for “carrying a camera,” and “not having my paperwork in order.”
I knew a padded handshake could solve things in a country where [former president] Mobutu used to tell his citizens to “fend for themselves.” But I also knew that when working with NGOs in Congo, you follow their lead — because without them, you’ve got nothing. On that morning, the International Rescue Committee refused to allow us to bribe the officers, and the officers were furious.
First, they demanded my camera. When it became clear to them that they’d first need to buy a saw to cut off my arm in order to get my camera, they decided to settle for my passport. I never let that out of my grip, either, so they decided they would settle for my tapes.
When I refused, they told us to follow them in the car to headquarters. I was already frustrated we had missed our dawn shots at the IDP [internally displaced persons] camp and had hoped we wouldn’t lose any more time, but knew we potentially had a lot more to lose.
After several grueling hours of questioning, the head of security still wasn’t satisfied. The underlings told him we’d filmed critical military targets and that we were in fact spies from Rwanda.
Of course, they demanded to review my tapes. Not wanting to spend a night in a Congolese jail on the eve of the outbreak of war, I’d already cued up my b-roll [supplemental footage] tape of a sunrise and children playing. They scratched their chins as they watched my recordings of children dancing in front of my camera, but I think they were actually enjoying it.
Ultimately, they decided to take all the tapes. Michael was devastated.
Later that day, I crossed over the border into Rwanda and called Michael. On the way to headquarters, I had hidden the “money” tape — with footage of the United Nations jungle patrols — deep in my bag’s “secret pocket,” and I had just reviewed it.
“Fend for yourself,” the Congolese creed, had come in handy. We were lucky. Since that time, reporting has become even more difficult and dangerous.
Sorry – there are no sunrises.
– Taylor Krauss