In 2008, I was living in Sierra Leone training journalists with Journalists for Human Rights, a Toronto-based non-governmental organization. I arrived just before what may well have been the last launch in history of a big-budget, internationally-focused daily newspaper. I started stringing for The National, which is based in Abu Dhabi, with many stories focused on a country coming to terms with one of the most brutal civil wars in recent memory.
Another issue I reported on was a relatively new phenomenon – South American cartels had begun using the West African coast as a staging point to move cocaine into Europe. One night there was a brazen attempt to land a planeload of drugs at the country’s international airport. The case brought six international law enforcement agencies together to work with the Sierra Leone police. By chasing down Sierra Leonean and international officials, I managed to get the inside story.
But the epicentre of the regional drug trade was Guinea-Bissau. The former Portuguese colony achieved independence through a Marxist revolution only to become mired in coups, corruption, poverty and now drugs. I decided to follow the story there and The National sent along a brave and extremely talented photographer, Lauren Lancaster. Our investigation led us from government ministers’ offices to the barred window of a one-room holding cell that served as the country’s only prison, inside an executive jet with plush leather seats, into a crack den in one of the capital’s most impoverished neighbourhoods where we were surrounded by an angry mob, and finally to the police station where our files were erased. In addition to articles for The National, I made a radio documentary about our adventure for CBC.
Guinae Bissau stories are halfway down the page here: http://www.cbc.ca/dispatches/episode/2012/06/20/june-21-24/