Radio and Peace: two sides of a coin

We change Africa with our Voices

Radio and Peace: two sides of a coin

In a prison in the West African country of Mali, journalist Hassan Ngeze serves a 35-year prison sentence. His crimes include conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide; complicity in genocide; and crimes against humanity (persecution, extermination and murder).

Ngeze was one of the key figures behind the Rwandan genocide. In April 1994, years of simmering ethnic hatred erupted in an orgy of violence. In the 100 days that followed, between 500000 and 1 million people were killed. Hutus massacred the minority Tutsi ethnic group as well as Hutus who were moderate or sympathetic to the Hutus. In addition, there were reprisal killings by the victorious Tutsi-backed Rwanda Patriotic Front army (RPF) after the latter forced the interim Hutu government that existed during the genocide into exile.

Mass Media, particularly newspapers and radio played a big role in disseminating anti-Tutsi messages that stoked the fires of hate. Hassan Ngeze was known for the anti-Tutsi content he published in his newspaper, Kangura. He was behind the Hutu 10 Commandments, which were virulently anti-Tutsi and was a key person in the founding of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), a radio equivalent of his newspaper. At the height of the genocide, he went from anti-Tutsi propaganda to straight up broadcasting the names of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to be killed by the military and militias.

Reading about this was very shocking because for a long time we have seen the power of radio to do good in the communities. Whether it is empowering women to form a cooperative and share ideas about farming and farming techniques or helping to create listeners clubs that learned about issues affecting them and banded together to protest and demand more from their local leaders, for twenty years, ARDA has seen radio and media be a tool for good.

The Rwanda genocide shows the other side of the coin so this year’s theme for World Radio Day was particularly apt. The themes were Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace and this was doubly apt in our own country Nigeria as we conducted National elections with the resultant tautening of inter-ethnic tensions.

At ARDA, we have used radio as a tool for dialogue, tolerance and peace in the past and continue to do so. Our work has seen us work on projects in two of Nigeria’s hotspots; the Niger-Delta, where crippling poverty and environmental degradation in the face of incredible oil wealth has caused the local inhabitants to strike back at the government and extractive companies they feel have betrayed them; and the Northeast where Boko Haram and other Islamist Militant Groups have established a reign of terror.

In both communities we have seen the power of the media to heal and empower people. We use drama because it consists of music, storytelling and comedy and can be both entertaining and educational. You get to ‘show, not tell’ your audience with drama. That is, you can show real-life issues and situations as well as demonstrate the consequences of taking one action or another.

Drama allowed us to create and ‘deploy’ multidimensional characters to use as vehicles to model good behaviour and desirable traits like responsibility, community leadership, and self-efficacy, whilst also presenting new social norms to drive behavioural change.

We found that it also encouraged the audience to participate in the whole process of change without being too message-bombarded. The storylines and the characters caused listeners to empathize and actively root for various characters and hopefully learn from them without feeling like they were lectured.

In the Niger-Delta project, we also had a call-in segment where listeners could have their say, which also increased the participatory nature of the project.

At ARDA, we used radio in these projects because, despite it being a venerable form of mass media, it still has massive reach, especially in these communities.

One other important point was working at the grassroots. We hosted and facilitated project design workshops with people from the affected communities. With our Northeast Nigeria project last year some of our attendees had spent most of the previous year in Boko Haram captivity. It makes the efforts all the more authentic, you get the slang, the favourite snacks, the social and cultural life of the communities you intend to help.

It also means that we at ARDA really want to do justice to them; for their stories, and for their people and communities.

With the spread of the internet, and inexpensive smartphones that allow easy audio and video recording, we’ve sort of returned to the early gleefully anarchic days of radio when anyone with the tools could have their own radio station and transmit. Anyone can publish or produce content now, anyone can say anything, and they frequently do, spewing falsehoods, fake news and hate speech.

Freedom of expression is important and we at ARDA are loathe to call for its suppression. Plus, it is difficult to truly regulate without an eventual blanket ban on the platform. Instead, what we must do is teach people to recognize fake news and hate speech.

Our shows, like Neighbors below have always tried to promote tolerance and good relations between ethnic groups and different cultures. Reminding people that we are the same and ensuring that they do not succumb to the biases buried deep within their psyches is the only way to fight today’s Hassan Ngezes.


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