SWM 2014: Using radio as a tool for peace in Burundi

Studio Ijambo was launched in 1995 by the organization Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda. Like its neighbour, Burundi was struggling with significant inter-ethnic violence of its own. The aim of the programme was to establish an alternative platform to promote dialogue and tolerance through the radio, in contrast to the hate speech and incitement spread by radio stations such as the notorious Mille Collines in Rwanda. Nearly 20 years on, the programme is still running – and it is now being used as a model for initiatives across the region.

Importantly, the programme provides an alternative platform for different stakeholders, such as civil society representatives, to meet and debate on key issues. ‘First,’ explains Floride Ahitungiye, Director of Programmes at SFCG in Burundi, ‘Studio Ijambo analyzes the context of the existing conflict between different groups – for example, political leaders, young people within the parties, residents and repatriates – then it plans its interventions, such as a debate or roundtable, identifying interested participants or experts in the field. The format Studio Ijambo chooses depends on the subject – it can be an interactive radio programme, a broadcast, a pamphlet, a soap opera, a sketch. These different formats encourage different participants in the media to engage and contribute to the reduction of violence and hate through positive discussion. Beyond this, they also aim to influence decision-makers at national and local level.’

The programme has produced a number of high-profile successes, including a debate between different political leaders. ‘At the end of this programme, they committed to creating a reunification commission in order to prepare themselves for the 2015 elections. Right afterwards, the other parties asked for similar programmes to be produced and broadcast for them as well.’ Ahitungiye also highlights the positive transformation of the country’s news coverage, including the growth of programmes and broadcasts on justice and human rights. ‘In Burundi,’ she says, ‘the media landscape has changed thanks to these initiatives.’

Similar programmes have also been implemented by SFCG in neighbouring countries across the region, demonstrating that the principles of an open and inclusive media arena can also be effectively adapted elsewhere. SFCG’s partner programmes in the DRC have also used radio to promote constructive messages about the resolution of the conflict, using songs and other innovative methods. When ethnic tensions rose in the border town of Goma in July 2012, for example, resulting in a number of attacks against Rwandans in the area, SFCG quickly developed a series of ‘spot messages’ that promoted social harmony and cohesion.

Although she recognizes the potential problems that new technologies can create, particularly the internet, Ahitungiye is hopeful about the opportunities that will open up, allowing SFCG’s approach to be adapted for other media. ‘I’m optimistic. There are challenges linked to diversification of the media, both audiovisual and printed or online newspapers – it is important to remember the risk of politicization of the media. But the internet can also play an important role in the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic reconciliation. For example, people from Burundi living abroad can follow the radio broadcasts through websites such as Facebook and absorb the messages – this will help us move towards peace and reconciliation.’

This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.

Photo: A mother and child from a Batwa community in Mutaho, Burundi. Copyright: Lucy Claridge/MRG

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Date: 20/06/2014




State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014
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