Travelling as a war correspondent
Tim Butcher is one courageous man. If you are not familiar with his name from when he was on the staff at the Daily Telegraph - serving as a Chief War Reporter, Africa Bureau Chief and Middle East correspondent - then you will certainly recognise him from his award-winning book ‘Blood River’.
In 2004, he set off on a journey across the Congo – an arduous and testing time that would enable him to describe honestly and faithfully the reality of the country today. Tim wanted to give readers an opportunity to make up their own minds about the problems that the country faced, letting the Congo’s reality speak for itself.
Tim shared with me his tales of travelling to some of the world’s most dangerous countries, as well as his advice on how best to tackle troublesome situations.
“I have spent my career reporting from awkward places at awkward times” says Tim. “From Saddam Hussein’s 1991 attack on the Kurds in northern Iraq, the 1992-95 Bosnian war, NATO’s first major bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, to the 2003 collapse of Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia, as well as many others – for me the key was always getting good, reliable local advice”.
As Tim explains, outsiders often think they know best when venturing into dangerous or unstable countries, but what is vital is to avoid such arrogance. “Modesty goes a long way in the war zone. Do as the locals do and you have a good chance of getting through”. Finding local and trustworthy guides is the key – not only will they act as a general fixer and translator, but they will be your gatekeeper “allowing you to enjoy your travel experience by pushing you in the direction of clean water, food, accommodation and communications”. As we all know, finding a source that can be trusted is not often easy, but making that judgement “is something that comes with experience, instinct and, almost always, luck”.
When Tim decided to embark upon his trip across the Congo researching for his first book ‘Blood River’ - following in the footsteps of great Victorian adventurer Sir Henry Morton Stanley - everyone advised him against his expedition. Tim admits that for the entirety of his 700km journey, he feared for his life.
However, what made it all possible was a group of local guides – pygmies with motorbikes and river paddlers with hollowed-out tree trunk canoes - as well as luck. “I found saints, not sinners” recalls Tim.
“It was partly the desire to tell the story of these good people, which made me take the great risks involved in travelling the Congo. The life these people endure, a cycle of suffering and heartbreak that I regard as the greatest human drama on the planet, deserves to be understood by the outside world and I felt I paid them back a little for their efforts and integrity by writing about them”.
Tim’s second book ‘Chasing the Devil: The Search for Africa’s Fighting Spirit’ was released in 2010, and was also long listed for the 2011 Orwell Prize. He has also been published by a range of titles including The Spectator, Prospect, Tatler, The New Statesman, The Economist, The International Herald Tribune and the Sunday Times, and in 2010 he received an Honorary Doctorate for service as a journalist and author. Born in Britain in 1967, he is now based in Cape Town.
For Tim’s latest news – including updates on his new book project on the Balkans please follow here - www.facebook.com/timbobutcher