On January 10 in 1999 Ian Stewart —then an up-and-coming journalist and West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press—was struck in the head by a single bullet from an AK-47 fired by a boy soldier who had been pressed into service for the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The 1990s (Africa’s “lost decade”) was a time when wars wracked the continent from Uganda and the Congos to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau; and Stewart bore witness to the chaos.
Before Africa, Stewart reported from pre-Taliban Afghanistan to post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia and onward to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Kashmir. In a whirlwind seven-year stint overseas Stewart travelled to 46 countries to cover eight major coups, insurgencies and other regional conflicts. All the while, he skirted bullets, RPGs and landmines in a series of experiences that would change him forever.
On that hot January Sunday in 1999 Stewart’s reporting career came to an abrupt halt. He was left partially paralyzed and clinging to a 20 percent chance of survival. In his book, Ambushed: A War Reporter’s Life on the Line (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002) he tells of his recovery both from the bullet and from crippling emotional scars that afflicted him after years of witnessing humanity’s carnage and destruction. More than a decade later, Stewart continues to cope with the aftereffects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his physical injuries and survivor guilt.
In 2013, Ian Stewart graduated with his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan’s prestigious Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History, where he studied contemporary forms of slavery, including the capture and exploitation of children as soldiers in West Africa. Now an instructor at the University of New Mexico’s International Studies Institute, Stewart has shifted his energy and teaches cross-cultural understanding and communication. He also campaigns for efforts to help children affected by conflict in Africa and elsewhere.