Driving Dangerously in the Dominican Republic



JARABACOA, Dominican Republic—The Dominican Republic is the Western hemisphere’s most dangerous place to drive, and 15th worst in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Each year, 29 out of every 100,000 people in this Caribbean nation die in road accidents, according to the2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety.

In 2013, the Dominican Republic saw more roads deaths per capita than any other country in the world, but it has since been eclipsed by nations including Libya, Thailand and several African nations. But that doesn’t mean things are improving: in fact, the death rate is still on the rise, up from 21.6 per 100,000 people in 2010.

The vast majority of the fatalities—63 percent—involved 2 and 3-wheeled vehicles, ie. motorcycles.

Francis Ortiz, a paramedic at the public hospital in the small mountain city of Jarabacoa, says hardly a night goes by that he doesn’t see at least one patient in the hospital for a motorcycle accident, and on the weekends he says the numbers become hard to fathom.

“Just last night a moto driver crashed into an older man,” said Ortiz one day in December. “The driver’s entire face was cut open. He had to have intensive surgery.”

Read the full story at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Paradise Is Overbooked

Foreign Policy Magazine

Claudia Altamimi

In 2013, the Haitian government began seizing land on a picturesque island to construct a $260 million tourism hot spot. Two years later, the country’s opaque land laws have all but sunk the project.

Five years after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and caused some $8 billion in damage, Haiti’s leaders are banking on tourism to help buoy recovery and drag the nation out of poverty. The Île-à-Vache project is ground zero for these hopes. Wooing investors with tax breaks and the promise of internationally funded infrastructure upgrades, the government has developed a plan that includes a new airport, a series of hotels, and an 18-hole golf course.

But just two years after it began, the project has stalled. As of March, not one of the 2,500 hotel rooms anticipated by Haiti’s government has appeared. The Île-à-Vache project has been stymied by conflict between the government and local residents over ownership of the island’s land.

Read: Foreign Policy Magazine

Here and There’s David Marash interviews Jacob Kushner on Haiti


Today on Here and There we talk with reporter Jacob Kushner, who has spent recent months and years in Haiti, where the President now rules by decree…the Parliament has passed its re-elect-by date and gone home, where hundreds of thousands are still homeless, and disputes over who owns land threaten to paralyze economic development.

Listen to the full interview. 

Reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center. 

Five years after the earthquake, Haiti remains on unsteady ground

GlobalPost/GroundTruth, uncategorized

IlE-A-VACHE, Haiti — One day in October, 81-year-old Mascary Mesura was working in his garden of corn and coconut trees when the mayor of this small island off the southern coast of Haiti approached and told him to get out of the way.

“He said ‘the tractors are coming. We are going to build a lake to grow fish,’” says Mesura. “I asked for an explanation. I told him all the things we grow there. I was standing in my garden and he told the tractor to advance.”

The mayor, Fritz César, stood and watched while police handcuffed Mesura and his wife, forcing them to watch as their livelihood was uprooted, all 28 of their coconut trees toppled to make room for a fish pond to feed tourists.

The demolition was part of the Haitian government’s $260 million plan to develop Ile-a-Vache into a Caribbean tourism destination akin to the Bahamas or St. Martin.

Five years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravished an already troubled nation, Haiti’s leaders hope tourism along with mining, manufacturing and agriculture will help the country leave its legacy as an impoverished nation behind.

Read the full GroundTruth story on GlobalPost. 

Reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

Enlisting an Academic

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism - Covering Business

Emmanuel Tshiteta crouches over a pile of copper ore he recovered near a mine in Kolwezi. / Jacob Kushner

Journalists often consult  a range of sources as possible to get an accurate picture of their subject. But sometimes there’s a single source who seems to know almost everything—an expert who’s the ‘gatekeeper’ to a castle of information and contacts on the business or deal the reporter is investigating. Enlisting the help of this person can unlock access to dozens of key sources and documents all at once.

This happened to be the case when I was reporting my master’s thesis for Columbia Journalism School about China’s rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo, now an eBook. I was investigating a $6.5 billion “infrastructure for minerals” deal in which the Chinese state-owned companies partnered with Congo’s state mining agency to mine an incredible 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the subsequent 25 years. In exchange for the minerals, the Chinese companies would spend $3 billion to build roads, hospitals and universities throughout Congo. That investment was not structured as a gift, but a loan: every dollar spent will eventually be paid back in copper revenues.

Johanna Jansson

The more I reported, the more the name Johanna Jansson came up: It seemed like every journalist, academic and business insider I spoke with about the deal would refer me back to her. Jansson is a Swedish PhD candidate who has spent years researching the specific megadeal I was reporting on, called Sicomines, for her dissertation at a University in Denmark. In January 2013, I approached her in Kinshasa to ask for help understanding the deal—and for her contacts to some of the most powerful and knowledgeable stakeholders in Congo. My eBook, supported by the Pulitzer Center, would not have been possible without the information and contacts she provided me.

But what motivated her—an academic expert and a business insider—to open up to me—a journalism school student and someone with relatively little knowledge of the subject? What inspired her to hand off to me information that she had spent years gathering?

Nearly two years later I called her to discuss what a journalist can do to gain the trust and help of an expert– and what that expert often expects from the journalist in return.

Jacob Kushner: By the time we met you’d already spent years of your life studying this deal. It was your ‘baby’ so to speak, and you had years to go before your dissertation would be completed and published. Why would anyone in that position be willing to share?

A Chinese employee of a major, Chinese state-owned construction company watches over a Congolese employee in Kinshasa. / Jacob Kushner

Johanna Jansson: I was a bit scared in the beginning, to say ‘oh no, someone will be toe-treading me.’ But I’ll take the risk of sharing because I know I get stuff back from people. If you trust people then you really get stuff back. I deal with journalists in the field and those people that I talk to are real professionals, they know what the rules are. If you steal information you’re dead—professionally dead and reputationally dead.

Kushner: But what do you mean by steal? The very goal of the journalist is to publish everything he or she can learn, right?

Jansson: I mean without credit. In academia people go over the top to say this came from that person and this person did that…If you want to use my currency, which is thinking, then I would appreciate to be acknowledged by that. It’s good for me for my reputation to be mentioned as an expert.

But engaging with media or the public gets you nowhere in your career. The only thing that promotes you is your academic work and your teaching. So any engagement with journalists is on your spare time…that’s why so many academics don’t do it. They have kids, they need to publish.

Kushner: When I first came to you I must have sounded like I didn’t know what I was talking about. What gave you confidence that, at the least, I was really committed to figuring it out?

A man rids his bike across the vast mining lands outside Kolwezi in southeastern Congo. / Jacob Kushner

Jansson: I probably thought, ‘wow this is a big topic to try to bridge in such a short time.’ But I was impressed afterwards because you really did do it. (At first) you were asking really basic questions for someone who was trying to grasp something so big. (But then) you ran around like somebody on speed, talking to everyone in a second, and then you produced something that was really good.

Kushner: Many journalists are hesitant to let a source review what they intend to write or publish. But would you have spoken to me so freely if I hadn’t offered to do that from the start?

Jansson: I wouldn’t talk to a person that doesn’t do that. Because most conversations flow off and on the record, and it would not be possible.

Kushner: What about sharing your contacts—were you nervous about sharing them with me, especially one particular high-up government official?

Jansson: I didn’t connect you—that was Lizzie (Parsons) from Global Witness who did that. But I would have. It’s about economy—if I help you then you’ll help me. The official you mention was stonewalling me, but he wanted to see you. You got some things out of him that I didn’t know. It’s an economy, a barter network. (Note: Immediately after interviewing the government official, I shared it with Johanna. Although she might see this as part of our journalist-expert ‘barter,’ she also did a service to me by double-checking that I was interpreting the interview accurately).

Kushner: What obligation do journalists have in a scenario like this—one in which they’re depending on an expert like you?

Jansson: I think journalists have an obligation not to simplify things so much as to get it wrong. I think they can meet halfway. The New York Times published a story about oil in African countries, the Chad case–you and I talked about this. The journalist portrayed it as if the Chinese were the only companies making problems in the oil sector.

Kushner: OK, but how did you know from the start that I wasn’t going to oversimplify China’s engagement in Congo as well?

Jansson: You were talking about how you learn to doubt yourself—I think journalists could really do that more. A lot is about what words you use. If you say the Chinese are doing it, or it seems like they are doing this…there’s a huge difference even in the conjugations of the verbs you use. Are you getting to sensationalism, or are you using a proper analysis?

Kushner: What’s the most important thing any business reporter should do when approaching an ‘expert’ to ask his or her help?

Jansson: Read their stuff first. Because it’s tiring when people come and say, ‘can you tell me this’…and ‘this’ is (already) in a publication. See if any of their publications are available and if they are, take the time to read. Then approach them and say ‘I read this and that,’ or ‘I’ve looked at your publications but I haven’t had time to read, but can you explain to me this and this?’ In academia you’d never ever approach professor and ask, ‘what’s your research about?’ In academia you do your homework, or you keep your mouth shut.

Kushner: Is there anything that academic ‘experts’ like yourself can learn from journalists?

Jansson: I think our jobs are not as different as people tend to think. I think that all academics should be able to convey what they’re doing. You know, the elevator pitch? All academics should have an elevator pitch.

One journalist friend of mine will comment on my stuff and say, ‘this is way too much jargon! Why don’t you just say what you want to say?!’


Jacob Kushner is a freelance journalist reporting on foreign aid, immigration, international human rights law, extractives in developing nations, and foreign investment in Africa. His eBook, China’s Congo Plan, was favorably reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

You can read Jansson’s first study, The Sicomines Agreement: Change and Continuity in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s International Relations, here. You can read Jansson’s second study, The Sicomines agreement revisited: prudent Chinese banks and risk-taking Chinese companies, here.

This interview was originally published in 2014 by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s ‘Covering Business’ blog.

Tarnished: The True Cost of Gold (eBook)


Tarnished: The True Cost of Gold tells the stories of those who mine gold—the lustrous, coveted symbol of wealth. Eleven journalists traveled to 10 countries to tell these stories. Their work combines first-rate reporting, vivid imagery and video, previously published by the Pulitzer Center, an innovative non-profit that supports international journalism.

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In Chapter Four, Jacob Kushner investigates the future of mining in Haiti, a land ravaged by an earthquake in 2010. Gold remains its hidden treasure, one of the country’s few unexploited natural resources. Kushner asks where the wealth will go when—and if—tons of precious metals are unearthed. (A version of this chapter was originally published by Guernica Magazine).Download the eBook for iPad, iBooks for Mac or Kindle.

China’s Congo Plan


“Kushner is fair-minded and has invested much time and effort in figuring out the interplay between the new superpower and a poor but strategically important African country.”

-Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books

What does China see in the world’s poorest nation? An opportunity for big business. Congo is known for poverty and conflict, but it is home to an enormous wealth of buried minerals such as copper, whose value is rising on the world market. Already, tens of thousands of Chinese men and women have left their families behind to live in Africa to dig and process ore.

Now, two Chinese state-owned companies are opening the biggest mine Congo has ever seen. In exchange, they’re spending billions of dollars to build new roads and modernize Congo’s infrastructure.

But will Chinese mines and roads help transform Congo in a way Western aid and business have not? Or will Chinese businessmen and Congolese officials get rich while the people continue to live in poverty?

In “China’s Congo Plan”, Jacob Kushner takes us street-side to a grand, Chinese-constructed boulevard in Congo’s capital Kinshasa, to a mountain range where Congolese men, women and children dig for minerals with picks and shovels, and to a factory where Chinese immigrants melt aqua-blue rocks into molten copper lava. Two years after China overtook the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner, Kushner brings us inside the world of China’s rise in the continent.

Kushner’s reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and his research was advised by faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. “China’s Congo Plan” was awarded the Grand Prize in the Atavist Digital Storymakers Award for Graduate Longform, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation.

Buy the book:


Congo’s subsistence miners dig for their livelihoods

‘Artisanal’ mining is now the country’s leading profession — attracting adults and children alike. Chinese investment is driving its growth.

KOLWEZI, Congo — Patrick Bwana strains his body as he thrusts a full-sized shovel into a patch of rocky ground. He is 12 years old. He looks 9. He speaks with his eyes fixed on the ground. “I used to go to school, but my father died, and no one paid for my studies anymore,” he says.

Bwana works from around 6 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon, lugging around bags of rock that seem to weigh as much as he does. He says he can earn $5,000 francs a day doing this. That’s about $5. He hopes he can save enough to pay his own school fees, and return to school.

Bwana is one of tens of thousands of child laborers estimated to work in Congo’s mineral sector. Most take to the work out of necessity, to help their parents earn enough to feed their family. Child labor is illegal in the Congo, as is much of the artisanal mining that takes place in and around Kolwezi on mineral reserves owned or leased by foreign or Congolese companies.

The forces that shape Congo’s artisanal mining sector are many: A worldwide demand for copper and other base minerals for manufacturing; the inability of many Congolese to find any other sort of lucrative work; the absence of government regulation. But ask any Kolwezi miner who’s responsible, and you’re likely to hear just one answer: “The Chinese.”

Read the full story at GlobalPost or NPR, or at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which provided funding for the project.

Income inequality: In Congo, a tale of two cities

In Africa’s fastest-growing city, a new haven for Congo’s wealthy burdens some of its poor.

KINSHASA, Congo — On one side of the water, hand-carved wooden canoes navigate the marshy canals of a crowded fishing village. Unpainted cement houses line muddy dirt streets where women sit at stands, selling the day’s catch.

On the other side, where the fishermen used to cast their nets, a posh private city is being raised from the bottom of the Congo River. Pumping millions of cubic meters of sand, the British hedge fund Hawkwood Properties is developing 1600 acres of water to become a tranquil residential haven complete with swimming pools, schools, grocery stores and a sports complex.

A more striking portrayal of income disparity in Congo than Kinshasa’s Cite du Pecheur (Fisherman’s City) and the upcoming La Cite du Fleuve, (City of the River), would be difficult to come by. But Hawkwood’s private development is a logical progression of life in Africa’s fastest-growing city.

See the full story and video at GlobalPost. This story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

In One Haitian Village, a Gold Rush


LAKWÉV, HAITI — From the small clay yard outside his house made of wooden sticks and mud, Jacques Charles holds a metal bowl filled with water and shows off the sliver of gold resting at the bottom. Then, he reveals the place where he found it—a 12-meter deep tunnel on the side of a hill that he’s been digging with a shovel for 22 days.

“I’ve found bigger ones than this, but you have to have good luck,” he says. “If the spirit doesn’t want you to continue living in misery, he can tell you where it’s buried.”

Read the full post as it appeared at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

U.S. spent $140 million on controversial post-quake food exports

Center for Public Integrity, GlobalPost/GroundTruth

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In the months following Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, the United States government spent $140 million on a food program that benefited U.S. farmers but has been blamed for hurting Haitian farmers.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent 90,000 metric tons American of crops to Haiti as part of the Food for Progress and its related Food for Peace programs run by USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The programs send abundant American crops to nations in need of emergency relief. That amounted to almost three quarters of the U.S. government aid to Haiti after the earthquake, according to documents obtained through aFreedom of Information Act request by the Haiti Justice Alliance, a Minnesota-based advocacy organization.

Read the full investigation as it appeared at the Center for Public Integrity.