Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was for many years a New York Times correspondent. His most recent book is A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa. (December 2010)

‘It Is Not Convenient To Speak of Such Things’: Notes from Rangoon

I arrived in Rangoon at the beginning of the monsoon this summer after 36 hours of travel from New York, with a stop in Tokyo and a second change of planes in Bangkok. There I boarded an old Air Myanmar jet, and it was immediately clear that I was traveling to a country that lived in semi-isolation as the plane filled with migrant workers, many of whom were awkwardly toting large, makeshift bundles of carry-on goods—clothing, medicine, electronics, and other items that were either unavailable or unaffordable back home. Officially, I had come to Burma—ruled by one of the world’s most opaque and repressive regimes—to teach a one-month documentary photography course to local photojournalists. But it was the only country in Southeast Asia I had never managed to visit and I was very eager to explore the place for myself.

Looking for Hope in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi addressing supporters at the National League for Democracy 
headquarters in Rangoon after her release from house arrest, November 14, 2010
In the ordinarily glacial world of Burmese politics, the last few weeks have been remarkably active. On November 7 the generals who run the country held the first parliamentary elections in twenty years, and only the second in half a century; a few days later, on November 13, they released …

A Hero of the China Underground

The Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, right, with a caretaker at the ancient Buddhist Gu Temple, which was damaged in the Sichuan earthquake, June 6, 2008
As a poet and chronicler of other people’s lives, Liao Yiwu is a singular figure among the generation of Chinese intellectuals who emerged after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Unlike the leaders of Beijing’s student movement, people like Wang Dan and Wuer Kaixi, Liao had no part in organizing …

Kagame’s Hidden War in the Congo

Government troops sheltering from the rain after a night of battles against rebel forces led by the warlord Laurent Nkunda, near Goma, eastern Congo, November 12, 2008; photograph by Marcus Bleasdale from The Rape of a Nation, a collection of his i
Although it has been strangely ignored in the Western press, one of the most destructive wars in modern history has been going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s third-largest country. During the past eleven years millions of people have died, while armies from as many as nine different …