From child soldier to fixer: Alain’s story
In the final part of Al Jazeera’s series profiling fixers, a former child soldier describes his journey into journalism.
For fixers, news stories are often personal.
They are locals, sometimes journalists themselves, who serve as guides for foreign correspondents.
Equipped with intimate local knowledge, they find stories, secure interviews, and translate for correspondents who may have little experience in the country they are reporting from.
Long after those correspondents have left, fixers remain in their communities.
If they become associated with a controversial story, the consequences can be severe – public backlash, imprisonment or worse – regardless of whether the fixer had any influence over how the story was told.
In 2017, 450 fixers and reporters were asked about their relationship for a survey by the Global Reporting Centre.
Most fixers said they felt they were often or always relied upon for logistical guidance; many said they believed their trust had been violated – some in terms of editorial content, for others the violation related to financial matters. Many said they rarely received credit for a story and a small number said they – or their relatives – had been put in future harm.
But the possibility of helping to shape how their countries are represented in the media can be a powerful pull, even if that means risking their lives.
In the final part of Al Jazeera‘s series profiling fixers, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) describes his journey from militia group to media.
|Alain Uaykani Alwak, 28|
The fixer from eastern Congo is able to offer foreign journalists a personal insight into his country‘s conflicts.
“I was recruited [as a soldier] on my way to school when I was 14. I knew that they were recruiting in the city but never imagined that they could recruit a child like me.
A jeep pulled up next to me and they just took me. I was under the leadership of Thomas Lubanga, the first guy ever arrested by the ICC (International Criminal Court). I was fighting for the tribe called the Hema.
I spent more than four years in the rebellion fighting and living as a soldier every day.
[One of the] most violent times of my life [happened when] I was the chief bodyguard of the chief of the rebellion, so I had, like, 150 soldiers under my control, even though I was still young. I was [about] 15 and a captain of the residence in the absence of my chief.
After a few hours of fighting, I came back to see the previous position and I could see the bodies of young boys killed brutally by the enemy, some of them having been [cut by] machetes after being shot dead.
I lost something like 28 soldiers of my group and among them were 25 [people] under 18 [years old]. That was the worst image that I could ever see because I knew the mothers of some of them, the fathers of some of them.
You were fighting in your community where you can see your mum in the morning, you fight during the day, and you can meet your sister, your uncle, your brothers, in the evening.
Sometimes, you have to run home to hide your family or you have to deploy soldiers to go to protect your family while you are fighting in another position. I was divided between defending my own family and thinking about the community.
The family is aware that on that battlefield where the gunshots are coming, their own son is there, their own brother is there fighting. So to get information, you see them along the road asking, ‘Did you see Alain? Did you see him? Is he alive? Do you have any news from Alain?’
I have to go home first to give them assurance that everything is OK. So, I was divided with that exercise every day.
What keeps me motivated is the fact that you can still set up principles for yourself in very difficult times. Being a child soldier, I set up my own disciplines. For example, I said I cannot rape, I cannot take cigarettes, I cannot smoke, I cannot drink beer.
By knowing that this [conflict] will end one day, I didn’t want to have a negative image of myself in the community or give a negative image to my family.
I have nine sisters and I am the only boy. In my culture in Africa, if a mum doesn’t give birth to a boy, you can lose your marriage just because of that. So my life for my mum was a special gift.
I was thinking about my mum and all the hope she has for me, thinking about my sisters hoping that I can be a boy on which they can stand for their future. I told myself to stay there, be respectful, be a good boy until things end, even if I don’t know when or how.
I have anger against the leaders of my community, those who recruited me. I feel that they are guilty people to my future, to our future, to the future of our community. At the same time, I pardon [them].
I do believe that conflict is the nature of the human beings, but I always say that [you must] protect and keep the child away from the conflict.
I still have a thousand mothers and fathers in the Ituri (eastern Congo) region, every time they see me walking as a journalist, they are proud of course, but some of them start crying because they know that some of their kids died under my control as their commander.
I am living with this every day, trying to do more.
When it came to disarm it was really easy for me to reintegrate in my community. I have people willing to help find a job for me, to lobby for me in the community because some people were helped – I saved their lives.
I was taken by the ICC as one of the first witnesses to help show how to investigate what happened in the eastern DRC. The court financed my studies, training, everything. So it was very easy for me with all this help.
If you think about being on the battlefield, you never dream that you will come out alive. But after [this] very difficult time I can count two university diplomas for me.
For more than five years, I have worked as a fixer for different journalists coming to the DRC. I am from eastern DRC, I speak Swahili and I am a former child soldier and have worked with big rebel leaders. I have a good command of the background of conflicts in the DRC and the political situation.
The political situation in the Congo is growing worse so there is pressure sometimes, [or] danger. What’s good for us is that [groups] still respect international media, so I feel a little [more] safe.
It is not my will that people should be just coming to cover conflict or wars.
I would like the international media to show my forest [and] to show how Ituri people are always eating fresh food, fresh fish, fresh milk from the farm.
Since we have ended the war, most of these young people [who were child soldiers] have positively changed their lives today. They went to school, some of them became teachers, some of them are fishing, some of them are creating local initiatives. They are ready to work for their communities.
Even though the government is not doing enough in this area in terms of building roads and electricity, in darkness, in poverty, [with] lack of leadership from the government, young people are running their own businesses.
And of course, when I am working as a fixer, it‘s another positive image that a former child soldier is a journalist today – international journalist – because I am working for the official Chinese media. They come and find someone like me, and it shows a positive image, that it is possible for a child soldier today to become something else tomorrow.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length
Read about other fixers in the series here:
Ukraine: A female fixer on the front lines