On the move with Ban Ki-moon

The night before Ban Ki-moon visited Kigali, I dreamed that we gabbed about the United Nations over a few bottles of South Korean Soju.

Well, that didn’t happen.

But I did get to follow him around all day as he was shuffled from place to place in black SUVs, bolstered by a team of aggressive security guards.

The media frenzy begins as Ban Ki-moon arrives.
The media frenzy begins as Ban Ki-moon arrives.

The Secretary General was on a short visit to the region with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. With growing instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was no better time for a UN visit to tout peace as an international priority.

An added bonus — Mary Robinson tagged along. The former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was just appointed special envoy of the Great Lakes Region.

Thanks to my boss at Rwanda News Agency, I was put on the appropriate media lists and given a spot in the press convoy. Brushing shoulders with journalists from the BBC and AFP made me nervous for the day’s events, but I was thankful that I could follow their lead. When in doubt, follow a BBC journalist.

Our convoy arrived at a small brick building on the outskirts of Kigali. Large white tents sheltered the enthusiastic crowds. The building was the home of a rehabilitation organization for former combatants. The UN team would make a pit-stop here, to meet some of the former soldiers and visit their homes.

All we had to do is wait. And wait. And wait.

In the African sun, with no escape from the heat.

Of course, in true Rwandan form, there was an impromptu dance session.

Better to dance while waiting for Ban Ki-moon.
Better to dance while waiting for Ban Ki-moon.

Journalists started to speculate how long the three-hour-late UN team would take to arrive. It turned out they were still in Goma, which meant at least another hour.

In an effort to tightly control the hoards of reporters, journalists were given various locations where they would have to stay for the duration of the visit. Debate ensued over who would get the best spot. I fought for what I thought was the most newsworthy location, where only three journalists were allowed. (As I suspected though, when Ban Ki-moon arrived, journalists abandoned their posts despite the hours of conversation about media control beforehand.)

A portion of the journalists following the UN team.
A portion of the journalists following the UN team.

Utter chaos is the best way to describe the media frenzy that follows Ban Ki-moon.

After snapping a few photos and simultaneously scrawling quotes into a ragged notebook, it was time to move. Ban Ki-moon was packed up into the UN convoy for the next stop.

Over the next few hours, the team stopped at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Museum, a military hospital, the police headquarters and later the president’s office (where I wasn’t on the list to get in.) Every stop required a different media pass and a different security check. Crashing the event at the president’s office would prove to be too difficult because of restricted access.

Some of the media passes for the day.
Some of the media passes for the day.

Overall, the day offered one of the most exciting assignments I’ve had in journalism.

Later that night — tired and hungry in the pouring rain — I headed home.

I guess that bottle of Soju will have to wait until next time, Ban Ki-moon.

Ban Ki-moon, a classy man.
Ban Ki-moon.

One thought on “On the move with Ban Ki-moon

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