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From child soldier to fixer: Alain's story

From child soldier to fixer: Alain's story
From Al Jazeera - March 21, 2018

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.

The fixer from eastern DRC 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 did not want to have a negative image of myself in the community or give a negative image to my family.

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