When Mariupol went dark

The first episode of Rights & Wrongs looks at Human Rights Watch efforts to document the destruction of Mariupol as Russian forces laid siege and cut off communications to the Ukrainian city. Documenting what happened became all the more critical when Russia began destroying evidence of war crimes as it began to rebuild Mariupol in Russia’s image. 


Spotlight on Ngofeen Mputubwele, Host of HRW’s New Podcast 



Ngofeen Mputubwele could have never planned his route to becoming host of Human Rights Watch new podcast, Rights & Wrongs, but it would be hard to find anyone better suited.  


The son of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mputubwele was born in Indiana, where his father was a doctorate student. When his father was offered a professorship at HBCU Lane College, the family moved to Jackson, Tennessee. Mputubwee’s high school, which had been desegregated through bussing but remained segregated nevertheless, provided a crash course American race relations – which was confusing to the son of Congolese academics.  


Ngofeen’s father grew up under the thumb of Belgian colonialists in what was then known as Zaire. He managed to get an education beyond the 6th grade by embracing the church (that was the only way), and eventually received a Fulbright to study linguistics at Indiana University. He went on to Purdue and received a doctorate in comparative literature. The elder Mputubwele  steeped his children in anti-colonial doctrine from an early age. Ngofeen and his two brothers, were given African names and comic books in the Mputubwele household were about Toussaint Louverture, who led the Haitian Revolution against the Atlantic slave trade.   


“We were steeped in Blackness,” Mputubwele says. “Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, we read all of these books. But culturally, we were Congolese. We ate our food at home with our hands and we spoke Keekongo and French.”  


But none of that was significant to the teachers or students at Jackson Central Merry. Ngofeen was just another Black kid at a segregated high school in the American south, which made for alienating and lonely teenage years.  


Mputubwele soon returned to Indiana, where he went on to study music at HBCU Ball State University. It was there, in 2005, that he saw the film Invisible Children, a documentary about the abduction of children in East Africa who are used a child soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).   


“How in the world did I get to grow up here?” Mputubwele asked himself.  


It was from then on that he became interested in human rights. Not long after, Mputwbwele made his first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then went on to get a master’s degree in international development from the University of Pittsburgh. The master’s degree and the trip to Africa led to a desre to study something concrete – to have a skill, as Mputubwele describes it – which resulted in a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. That, in turn, led to practicing law for several years, though Mputubwele soon left the law to forge his path in podcasting.  


He moved to Brooklyn and got a job at TK, and then later at Stitcher. He produced and hosted podcasts for NPR, Lingua Franca, and most recently, The New Yorker. His podcasts often explored human rights and Blackness.  


“It’s funny, when I was getting my master’s degree, I would have been super happy to get an internship with Human Rights Watch,” Mputubwele said. “And now here I am, 10 years later, hosting a podcast for Human Rights Watch. And I’m like, so that worked.”