We move slowly and carefully, ducking under the low bushes in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park. The brush is crisp from drought and each step crackles underfoot like a firecracker. Samson, the towering park ranger who is guiding us on a rhino patrol, motions to us to stay behind. Touching his finger to his lips, he cautions us to be silent. Samson is dressed for war: he is wearing military camouflage, and carries a semi-automatic weapon.
Previously on ‘From the archive’
When three University of Washington researchers presented their paper Synthesizing Obama: Learning Lip Sync from Audio at a Los Angeles conference hall on 2nd August 2017, the assembled delegates had been primed to expect fireworks. A video created by the trio to demonstrate the potential of their innovation had already caused a stir.
The Atlantic speculated that the researchers’ work will “make it impossible for you to believe what you see”, while tech website Boingboing said the experiment might herald “the beginning of the end for video evidence.”
The sun is dipping behind the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace, as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner emerges to make her final speech as president of Argentina. It is 9th December 2015, and the Plaza de Mayo echoes with chants and songs as Kirchner, an enthusiastic public speaker, stands alone waiting to begin. “Si la tocan a Cristina, qué quilombo se va a armar!” sings the crowd, with glee: “If they mess with Cristina, there’s going to be trouble.”
As Kirchner, known in Argentina simply as Cristina, begins to speak, silence descends on the Plaza. “Dear compatriots, can you hear me?” she cries. “I want you to know that I can hear you too. I hear you, and I always will.” The crowd roars its approval. Among the audience are representatives of political movements from across Argentina including thousands of members of La Cámpora, the Kirchnerist youth wing led by Máximo, Kirchner’s burly, taciturn son. Blue-and-white Argentinian flags flap alongside banners bearing slogans including “Cristina 2019”, “Gracias!” and “No Fue Mágia” – “It Wasn’t Magic”, a phrase used repeatedly by Kirchner about her administration’s achievements.
This is the last day of Kirchner’s eight-year rule, which followed on from the four-year presidency of her husband, Néstor, who stepped aside in 2007 to let his wife run for election.
It’s shortly after 7.30pm, Sunday 3rd April 2016. There is just under half an hour to wait until the Panama Papers are finally published – at 8pm the results of our research will be made public on the Süddeutsche Zeitung website.
Our stories for the first day of publication have been ready for a long time. All the legal checks have been carried out, all the revisions are complete and all the images prepared. The first newspapers have been printed and loaded on to the trucks on their way to our readers. Everything is ready. Only 15 minutes to go…
“On the night of the election I was in Paris by the pyramid of the Louvre, looking back on an incredible journey. Just six months earlier I was living in Kenya working for Stanford University.
“When Islamist militants took Marawi City in the Philippines, it came as something of a surprise. The clashes between [radical Islamist group] the Maute and the military have been happening for a long time, but it was thought the terrorists wouldn’t touch Marawi City because it’s where their leaders grew up: they fight in the mountains, not their own home. But on that day they burned buildings to the ground, took around 100 hostages and raised the black flag of Isis.
“Two scientists walk into a bar,” I tell Nobel Laureate Sir Andre Geim. “One says, I’ll have a glass of H2O. The other one says, I’ll have a glass of H2O too. The barman hands over the drinks. They knock them back. The second scientist keels over and dies.”
The father of graphene meets my icebreaker with a bemused face and a raised eyebrow. “Ah,” he says, after a long pause during which I feel my toes start to curl. “It’s a chemistry joke. Not a physics joke, but yeah… Very good.” I’d tried out my favourite hydrogen peroxide gag because Sir Andre Geim is notorious for his sense of humour. This is, after all, a scientist who named his hamster, H.A.M.S. ter Tisha, as co-author in one of his papers and who won an Ig Nobel prize for making a frog fly.
By the beginning of April the Battle for Mosul had raged for over five months and many more days of fighting lay ahead. Captured by Isis troops in June 2014, Mosul was to be the heartland of the caliphate in Iraq. After two years of brutal and repressive rule by the jihadists in the city, the Iraqi army was beginning to close in. By 16th October 2016 it had reached the outskirts of Mosul.
War soon raged on the city’s streets as Isis militants dug in, adopting guerrilla tactics to repel government forces. Allied bombing raids rained down high explosives. Up to 40,000 people lost their lives, over a million were displaced and at least 200,000 were trapped in the battered city, unable to escape the violence. But humans were not the only creatures caught up in the theatre of war…
It was almost as if nothing had changed. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Uzbeks – teachers and doctors, students and factory workers – boarded buses which would transport them to the countryside, where they would spend several weeks picking cotton for the state. But this year something was different. The man who glared down at the enforced agricultural workers from propaganda posters at the sides of the roads was no longer alive.
Days before the start of Uzbekistan’s annual cotton harvest, Islam Karimov, the first and only leader of this central Asian country of 30 million people, had taken his final breath.
At 7pm on 18th March 2017, a group of schoolchildren from the Crimean city of Sevastopol clambered onto a hastily assembled stage in Nakhimova Square, near the waterfront promenade. The choice of location was symbolic: Vice Admiral Nakhimov was one of the Russian heroes who led the defence of Sevastopol during the Crimean War when it was besieged by British, French and Ottoman forces. The besieging forces later destroyed the city. Russia rebuilt it.
We didn’t go to Gabon to find a massacre. We went to cover a football tournament. But one morning between the group stage and the quarter-finals of the 31st Africa Cup of Nations, as we headed with a dull sense of responsibility to a press conference being held by Jean Ping, the leader of Gabon’s largest opposition party, we stumbled into something far more serious.
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