A while ago MSF (Doctors Without Borders) Holland approached me, if I were interested in writing about one of their projects. I had been embedded with the Dutch, American and German army, with psychiatric patients, with a “normal” Dutch family, with a Romanian masseur, among other projects, why not with a NGO?
For various reasons we decided that I would go to Congo to see what MSF is doing in the province North Kivu over there. I believe that the choice was between South Sudan and Congo, MSF suggested that Congo would be the perfect place for me.
And to be perfectly honest, after Afghanistan Congo sounded just right for me.
The agreement I had to sign with MSF was rather comprehensive – I cannot remember signing any agreement with the various armies with which I was embedded. The German and US Army even didn’t ask to see my texts before they were published.
But MSF insisted on seeing the text that the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad will publish in a while, in order to protect their staff and patients, in other words for security reasons.
I decided to sign the agreement. If the Dutch army is allowed to see the texts I was writing about my embed with them, this NGO should be allowed to see these texts as well.
Based on conversations with MSF in Amsterdam I thought that the blog posts were exempted from this rule. A bit naïve perhaps because the written agreement stipulates that all texts will have to be shown to MSF before publication.
On Thursday night in Goma I was explicitly informed that also these blog posts had to be read by MSF before I was allowed to post them.
“But what if I’m only going to write about the food MSF is serving in Congo?” I asked. “It was my understanding that no preemptive discussions were needed about these blog posts.”
(“A Foodie in Congo” would be a good title for a play.)
“No,” the deputy chef de mission in Goma - a lovely, intelligent and attractive lady by the way - said, “you cannot judge what is sensitive and what’s not. It’s a security issue. You signed the agreement.”
I did sign the agreement. I guess it’s like getting married in Las Vegas. You get married and only later did you think: what did I do?
Anyhow, this blog post has been read by MSF and 1 change was proposed. (A factual mistake.)