Nima Elbagir, a senior correspondent with the CNN recounts her experience hunting for stories, the risks involved, what drives her and what other career choice she would have made.
Your exposé on modern slave trade in Libya resulted in a huge outcry globally. To what extent would you say you anticipated this?
“Not at all, I feel that as journalists we do the story and then we just put it out there and you can never predict how people would respond to your work. We have been so incredibly fortunate that it has struck a chord with people and that has allowed it to have impact, because it resonated with people and people voiced their upset and their horror and it forced leaders around the world to act. So I don’t think that we could have predicted it because we weren’t the ones who are the reason that this work has had the desired impact on the people out there.
Why did you become interested in the modern-day slavery?
It was a story that when I first heard a refugee describing to me what had happened to him, I found it hard to believe that this kind of thing was still happening. I had to go and find out more about it. I had to go as far as speaking to legal experts about the ugly development. is it involuntary servitude? Or is it modern-day slavery?, Is it slavery? and legally these people came back to us and said this is slavery in the most ancient sense.
Going undercover to unravel secrets must be dangerous; how have you been able to stay safe despite the obvious hostile environments you’ve 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. So 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 and 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 these stories”
You recently spoke at the African Women in Media Conference. What would you say are the major challenges you’ve faced in this industry?
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 so I think it’s just that geographical distance. I was also lucky that I had a story to tell that other people could not tell. 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 as to allow me to overcome that obstacle. But I think that 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. So that is probably the biggest challenge I faced”
With the increasing campaigns in support of gender parity across the world, do you think women in journalism will suffer less discrimination?
“I hope so. 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 think that when the genie is out of the bottle, it’s very hard to put it back in”
What is your advice to young ladies across Africa who are aspiring to become world renowned journalists like you?
“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”