Idrissa Fall, 2014 winner | 2013 winner
Idriss Fall is no stranger to high-risk situations. He has been Voice of America French-to-Africa service’s Senior Editor since 1992. Having served at VOA for more than 25 years, Fall has covered numerous crises, conflicts and wars on the African continent.
In 1996, Fall was the first reporter to enter the rebel-controlled region of Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—and make a chief rebel known to the world. Laurent-Désiré Kabila would go on to become head of state in DRC in 1997, and his son, Joseph Kabila, would take office ten days after the assassination of his father in 2001.
Fall has also covered the crisis in Niger, the rebellion in Côte d’Ivoire and the fall of president Laurent Gbagbo, the rebellion in Burundi, and the genocide in Rwanda.
Fall has been awarded the Burke Award for his courage in journalism for two consecutive years, in 2013 and 2014.
Fall was recognized in 2013 for his excellent reporting of the crisis in Mali. His bravery and exceptional coverage earned him the Burke Award for his coverage of the brutal fighting in Gao in northeastern Mali.
In 2012, he was the first foreign reporter to enter northern Mali under control of Islamic extremists. After interviewing leaders of the Ans ar Dine group and citizens in the area, Fall was able to confirm that two extremists associated with Al Qaeda were operating in Gao, Mali. He became the first foreign correspondent to confirm that jihadists from other nations were actively working with Malian Islamists to create an Islamist state. He mobilized a network of Malian stringers whose frequent reports sustain the recently created mobile news service, Mali 1.
Fall received the Burke Award for the second time in 2014 for his coverage of the fighting between Muslim and Christian militias in the Central African Republic, where he barely escaped death. He spent almost two weeks in late 2013 reporting from Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. His first-hand accounts captured how thousands were fleeing to avoid deadly clashes between Muslim and Christian factions.
Fall experienced the violence firsthand when a mob threw rocks and used machetes to attack his car. The crowd smashed the windows of the car and attempted to pull out Fall, his driver and fixer when French soldiers arrived, saving all from harm.
The veteran VOA journalist put this incident behind him and carried on, providing daily debriefs in French and English, sending video, dozens of photos and interviewing political and religious leaders and humanitarian workers.
“Working in CAR is very, very difficult and unpredictable. There exists this invisible line that, if crossed, puts you in severe danger,” Fall said. “The neighborhood where I was attacked was fine just the day before when I was there. You don’t know when or where violence will break out when a grenade will be thrown. But this is our job.”