Wednesday 23 July 2008

Zimbabwe on Prime Time, RTE

Itayi Viriri, Zimbabwean-born Irish journalist, & Dr Aki Stavrou, international politics analyst, consider the possible outcomes after the 'run-off' election in Zimbabwe on RTE's Prime Time news and current affairs programme.

Limerick Nostalgia

Back in May 2002, when I arrived in Limerick as an exiled journalist, I wondered with much trepidation and uncertainty what the future had in store for me. After all, here I was in a foreign country, going through a status determination process that only a less than month ago, I knew nothing about and most certainly had not expected to endure. I did not want to be in Ireland

However, when exactly a year later, I left Limerick for Dublin to take up an exciting job offer, it was in a very poignant mood that I did. In the 12 months or so that I spent in the city I had met some great company and made good friends and my horizons were sufficiently expanded thus enabling me to move on.

During those early days, I was not permitted by law to take up paid employment, but since I could not handle ‘sitting on my hands’ and doing nothing, I set out into Limerick daily, looking for volunteering opportunities.

The wonderful folks at Doras Luimni were such a great help and were able to point me towards a few agencies that could be interested in volunteers. I ended up helping out at the Barnados shop, sorting out second hand clothes for resale. It was however, at two other organisations that I spent some of my happier moments in Limerick.

After moving on from Barnados, I went to the Red Ribbon Project (RRP), where I met the manager, Ann and the rest of the team and from day one felt I had met my kindred souls. Coming from a country (Zimbabwe) and region (Southern Africa) plagued by the Aids pandemic, I figured it would be a worthwhile thing to work with a dedicated group of people who were doing a very commendable job providing prevention, care and support services relating to HIV/AIDS and sexual health in the mid-west of Ireland. As a journalist, who once penned a series features on the AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe, I was acutely aware how vital the work of organisations likes the RRP was and therefore I was glad to be of service.

As a journalist, I volunteered my writing skills, drafting media articles and preparing information leaflets. I also participated in some of the exciting events held by the RRP to commemorate important days like the World Aids Day and Irish Aids Day, with music concerts and the ‘Great Red Ribbon Project Ride Out’. I am grateful for the good times I spent with the RRP team as it enabled me to gather my wits and set me on the path to integrate well into local society.

Perhaps having noticed that I was chomping at the bits to get back to practising as a journalist Ann suggested that I approach the local papers and offer to write articles for them. So I did the rounds, going to the Limerick Leader, Limerick Post and the Echo several times, but was unable to literary get a toe through the door.

After dogged persistence, I finally got an audience with the editor of the Limerick Leader, Brendan Halligan, a fine gentleman, if ever there was one. After the meeting during which I brandished my by now well-worn portfolio containing select columns, feature and news articles that I had written in almost 6 years as a journalist in Zimbabwe, I was given an opportunity to prove myself as a journalist. I initially worked from home, writing features on the ethnic minority community and the new-found cultural diversity in Limerick. Soon I was allocated a computer in the newsroom and before I knew it I had been at the Leader for a year. Having come from a very restrictive regime where freedom of press was highly negotiable and routinely disregarded, it was a significantly pleasant experience to be writing about anything even remotely political and not expect the anti-riot section of the local constabulary to come crashing into the newsroom expertly swinging their truncheons and chucking teargas canisters willy-nilly.

I enjoyed my time at the Leader and I must say this was in great part thanks to the editor and the rest of the team, in particular the news editor, Eugene Phelan’s patience and kindness in guiding me through during my first days and Martin Byrnes, with whom I would sometimes spend Friday afternoons discussing a whole range of topical issues including the situation in Zimbabwe as we posted the online edition of the paper. My time at the Leader opened my eyes to the Irish working environment and I am certain that this helped immensely in preparing me for the subsequent career path in the NGO and state sector.

I have to say though that despite my positive experiences in Limerick and later on in Dublin, I have come to realise in many instances the much held notion that integration is supposed to be a two way process is really not what it is cut out to be. In reality, it has been my experience that it is the immigrant that in most cases has to take the initiative and foist themselves on society. You could say it’s a matter of ‘you came to us and so prove yourself first and then we maybe, just maybe we may want to know you and perhaps even welcome you into our circle’. Which is a pity because so many immigrants are eager to know their Irish neighbours, colleagues and not merely looking for the cursory hello, but for friendship based on mutual respect and trust.

No-one should really be surprised when 20 years from now, we have first and second generation citizens from immigrant stock in Ireland stuck in ghettos, who have no affinity all to the country they call home and do not identify with the country.Events in the UK and in Paris, in recent years, show us that such a situation could have tragic consequences.