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Local Minnesota Columnist Exposes African Massacre

“By breaking local news, we broke global news.”

The story below is an extreme example of how the local can have global effects. But it reminds me of what Chris Waddle of the Anniston Alabama Star told a panel entitled: “The Angry World: International News Coverage in America.” He said every town and city in America has an international connection. And how much, he asked, does it really cost to send a reporter aboard for two weeks? Maybe a couple thousand dollars. Of course, when they go, they would go to places with hometown connections here. Now what if small papers around the country pooled their stories? Suddenly we would have several hundred new correspondents aboard.

Just reporting home what the rest of the world thought of the U.S. would be enlightening.

Anyway, that is a very long introduction to a local story with real impact.

How an African Genocide Came to Light in Minnesota

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report (Click here to see more about McGill’s making the local global.)

Rochester, MN — The response to my column three weeks ago, in which I
reported on a genocide occurring in Ethiopia, has been so extraordinary I’d
like to share it.
I got 55 e-mails and more than a dozen phone calls from such places as
The Hague, New Dehli, Cape Town, Melbourne, Geneva, and Washington, D.C., as
well as from southern Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin was the first newspaper anywhere to
report on a new genocide occurring on the other side of the planet. I wrote
the column because more Anuak refugees live in Minnesota than any other
state, and they have been thrown into a panic about family and friends back

My account of the massacre was based on interviews with two dozen
Anuak in St. Paul and Minneapolis who had spoken by telephone with
eyewitnesses in Ethiopia on the day of the massacre and in the days
immediately after.

“You were the first to report on this and we’re very grateful,” wrote
Greg Stanton, president of Genocide Watch in Washington, DC, in an e-mail.
On Jan. 8, after having done its own research in Ethiopia to corroborate the
Post-Bulletin report, Genocide Watch put the Anuak killings on its genocide
alert list and published an article filled with damning new evidence.

By breaking local news, we broke global news. Anuak refugees all over
the world, desperate for news of friends and relatives from home, sent the
Post-Bulletin column zipping around the Internet.

Deep Gratitude

Most meaningful of all to me were two dozen e-mails from Anuak
refugees around the world who wrote to say — often in these very words –
“God bless you and thank you.” These letters were filled with a heavy grief
but also with a great dignity and a profoundly touching gratitude.

The fact that someone had listened to them had moved many Anuak

“Sir, I would like to thank you for being a real friend of this small
and defenseless tribe,” wrote Ujulu Goch, from Washington, D.C. “God has
always worked through someone to help needy people like the Anuak. But Sir,
this is not the end of the tragedy. It’s the beginning of the extinction of
my tribe from the face of the Earth.”

Obang Metho, from Saskatchewan, Canada, sent me six attachments in his
e-mail — letters he had written to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell,
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and other diplomats and aid groups.

He also sent a poem called “Why Do I Rebel?” that captured a note of
inspired defiance:

I rebel because honor

And justice are the work of duty and destiny.

I fight because honor and justice

Are the fixed demands of duty and beauty.

I speak up because love of liberty

And the well-being of every human

Are the splendid ornament of the moral life.

Here in Rochester, we can be an early warning system for human rights
crimes committed all over the world, which would never receive the cleansing
light of international attention if not for us. We are free; most of the
world is not; therefore, it’s our opportunity and our responsibility.

We can do this simply by being open to what our immigrant neighbors
have to say.

Gentle Pastor

The Rev. LeRoy Christoffels, pastor of the Worthington Christian
Reformed Church, which has many Anuak refugees as parishioners, said his
church is raising money for an Anuak relief effort.

John Frankhauser of Spokane e-mailed to say he had brought an Anuak
pastor, the Rev. Okwier Othello, to their church last summer to meet with
Anuak members. “He spoke of the danger he faced when he returned to
Gambella,” Frankhauser wrote. “We were impressed with his gentle spirit and
the way the other Anuaks respect him as their pastor.”

The Rev. Othello is the first name on the list I have of the dead.
Frankhauser received eyewitness accounts of Othello’s murder and gave
details of his death too grisly to recount here.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day when I wrote this column, so I went
to his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” to find some lines that seemed

There are parallels between the way King encircled Birmingham and
Atlanta within a single moral sphere, and the way the ripples of grief and
outrage from the Anuak massacre had so quickly spread around the world.

“I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what
happens in Birmingham,” King wrote in his jail cell. “Injustice anywhere is
a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of
mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one
directly, affects all indirectly.”


Copyright @ 2004 The McGill Report

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