Award winning BBC Special Correspondent Nawal Al-Maghafi has been reporting on the Middle East since 2012. Over the past three years, she has been one of the few journalists conducting firsthand reporting of the ongoing conflict in Yemen; travelling extensively throughout the country, both in areas under Houthi rebel and government control. Her reporting has documented the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen, including the bombing, starvation and spread of disease across Yemen. Her investigation into a 2015 attack on a Yemeni funeral — the deadliest of the conflict so far —provided key evidence in the case against weapons sales to Saudi Arabia by the US and UK. She has travelled across the Middle East to investigate how Mass Surveillance technology sold by BAE systems
was being used by repressive Gulf states to monitor and stifle dissent by local human rights activists. Her reporting has also uncovered the complicity of the Egyptian army in the booming trade in organ trafficking across North Africa.
Despite her busy schedule, Nawal has been generous enough to provide The Elixir with 30 answers on both her personal and professional life.
1) Who is Nawal Al-Maghafi?
Award winning BBC Special Correspondent that has been reporting on the Middle East since 2012.
2) One thing you do every morning?
Go to the gym.
3) What book is currently on your bed side?
No turning Back, life, loss and hope in war torn Syria
4) Your favourite treat?
5) Your idea of a holiday?
Laying by the beach with a good book, or skiing on the beautiful Alps.
6) Your favourite entertainer (Comedian, actor, singer etc.)?
7) Who is your number one inspiration? Who had the biggest impact on the person you have become?
My parents. My father for always having me and my siblings future in mind from the moment we were born. He worked so hard to get me and my sisters into the best schools whilst other men laughed at him for spending so much on ‘girls’. For giving up his business in Yemen to take us abroad and ensure we get the best outcome in life. And my mother for giving up everything, being close to her family and everything she knew to support my father and to secure our future and make sure we get the best education. What they did for me and my sisters is what drives me to work so hard and to make sure they know that it was worth it.
8) A motto you live by?
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.
9) You have lived most of your life outside Yemen, describe the years you have lived within?
I have the most beautiful memories of my time in Yemen and that’s what keeps me coming back. As a child, playing with my cousins in my grandparents garden with all my granddads animals. Then in high school, having fun with my friends and hanging out with them after school but ultimately what I love about Yemen is how wherever you live you are a part of a community that will always ask about you, make sure you are doing well and care for you.
10) What do you miss about Yemen when in UK and what do you miss about the UK when in Yemen?
I miss the food in Yemen, and for some reason it never tastes the same if you have it abroad. There is something about a huge family gathered in a circle around a spread of Yemeni food that gives it a special taste. When I am in Yemen, I miss my speedy internet in the UK, that’s pretty much it!!
11) For someone who travels a lot, what is your favourite place and why?
My favourite place in the world is home, so that means either being at home in Yemen.. or my home in London. I consider both these places home.
12) What is the one dream you have tucked away for the moment?
To set up a charity that supports aspiring journalists from developing countries.
13) What is your biggest achievement?
Receiving the UN Leo Navas Award, it was incredible to receive something named after someone so inspiring.
14) One obstacle you never could overcome?
There is no such thing, I don’t think any one should ever think that way. If you set your mind to something you can achieve it.
15) One thing you wish to change about the world?
16) When did you decide to become a journalist?
When I was a child there was a show on children’s TV called Newsround and I was obsessed with it, I loved how the presenters on the show kept us informed about everything that was going on in the world. Then when I was at university I started working at the university radio and built up my career from there.
17) Tell us about your first interview.
My first interview was about seven years ago and I was very nervous. Thankfully the manager that interviewed me was very nice and made me feel at ease. We spoke about why I am interested in media, what kind of stories I want to cover and how.. I guess I answered well because I got that job and that’s how I got my foot through the door at the BBC.
18) What was the best compliment you have ever received and what was the harshest criticism?
The greatest compliment was that my reporting touches people and is hard to forget.. that’s something that every journalist aspires to achieve. As a journalist you will always be criticised, that you are taking one side or the other… if you aren’t criticised by all then you must be doing something wrong!
19) How do you rein self- critical voices?
I work harder.
20) Your best interview was with?
General Ahmed Alassiri, the general that was leading the war in Yemen. I had done so much reporting on atrocities that took place in Yemen and so it was great to have the opportunity to confront him with our findings.
21) Describe your career in one word.
22) What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love hearing peoples stories and having the ability to give them a voice and make sure they are heard. Also, having the platform to hold power to account.
23) Given your job, when confronted with doing the right thing or doing things right, what would you choose?
Doing the right thing.
24) From your own perspective, define Freedom.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it eloquently in his State of the Union Address delivered on January 6, 1941: We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.
25) What do you enjoy most about the documentaries you make and what was your favourite one?
I enjoy having the opportunity to speak to people, hear their stories. I get to travel to such fascinating places that I would never go to otherwise. My favourite has to be Starving Yemen because of the impact it had and the money it raised, it was incredible to see the reaction of the British public and hearing from the audience that our film was the first they heard about the Yemen crisis.
26) If you could have tea with one of the leaders of the world, who would it be?
27) An award you have received, and how did it feel?
The Royal Television society award – I had known about it since I was very young and always dreamt of receiving it one day. So when I did it was a great achievement, I was so proud of the comments the judges made about my work and it gave me the motivation to work even harder.
28) How would you advice aspiring journalists?
Find a story that you are really passionate about and that no one else can tell better than you and make it your own. Work really hard, don’t ignore peoples criticism but don’t let it kill your passion for the job, learn from it.
29) How did Journalism change your life?
In so many ways, but primarily it made me appreciate everything in life… we take a lot for granted until we hear the stories of those who are less fortunate.
30) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I honestly have no idea, I’m taking it one day at a time.