UNSW student Andre Nassiri has won The Walkley Foundation's 2020 Young Australian Student Journalist of the Year award, for his two-part series, published in Newsworthy, exploring Rwanda's post-genocide social miracle.
Nassiri said the two-part series on Rwanda – a news feature "The dark side of Africa's 'poster-child'" and an analysis 'Who wins when Rwanda plays the 'genocide guilt card'" – took more than a year to complete, including his research on the ground in east Africa.
"I screamed, I was very surprised," Nassiri said on hearing he had won the student journalist category of the prestigious awards. The ceremony was held on June 17 as a virtual presentation due to COVID-19 restrictions. The major award of the night, the 2020 Young Australian Journalist of the Year, was won by Annabel Hennessy, of The West Australian for "Kill or Be Killed?: The First Chapter: The incarceration of Jody Gore".
'We tend to homogenise Africa as one thing, when in reality it's very diverse. I always wanted to explore that.'
Nassiri, 24, had studied Africa as part of his international politics degree at UNSW. "When we think of the world, we misrepresent Africa, and we also under-represent Africa," he said. "I wanted to read and research what was happening in this part of the world beyond the assumptions we have about Africa and African cultures. We tend to homogenise Africa as one thing, when in reality it's very diverse. I always wanted to explore that."
The inspiration for his award-winning articles emerged during nine months' travel across Africa in 2018, where he spent time in Kenya (volunteering in Nairobi's Mathare slums), the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi (working in permaculture gardening) as well as a month in Rwanda.
Rwanda's "unbelievable" story intrigued him. "I had researched the economic miracle since the genocide ... [how] they reconciled as a society and as a country. It's quite astounding and I wanted to see it for myself, I found it totally unbelievable. And it wasn't believable."
Nassiri, born and raised in Sydney, is currently completing an Honours Degree in International Relations and Politics. He's not sure what comes next but his options for the future feel vast. While he is interested in further academic study, he would also like to pursue a career in journalism.
"Now that I've got this award, and that's really nice, I would like to continue doing stuff like this perhaps," he said. "It offers me a lot of freedom, but we'll see, I'm not really fixed to a certain idea.
He has also written about the plight of refugees in Australia. "[Refugees] get a bad rap...They get a lot of undeserved vilification, and I think that's not really fair or justified," said Nassiri, who volunteered at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in 2017-18 "I want to explore that, these people's stories ... if we can look at them as humans, then we can actually go beyond the stigmatisation perhaps."
Of his next step, post university, he is open. "Whether that be with a big company in Australia, a big media organisation, or even the way I did the Rwanda story. I just do it by myself and see where that takes me."