Community radio stations unite to build peace – Part 1

February 04, 2019
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The role of radio as source of information mustn’t be underrated, despite TV, Internet, social media and the still existing printed press. Especially in Africa, radio plays an important role in informing and educating the people. Media can contribute to dialogue and understanding but they can also be a factor in generating social and ethnic tension through stereotyping and inaccurate reporting. This assumption is the entry point of the Kenyan CPS project: UMOJA – Radio for peace.

“We started the project in November 2016 with our partner organization KCOMNET (Kenya Community Media Network)”. As community media are often perceived as the best multiplicator for peace initiatives, the project targeted the 23 Kenyan community radio stations. In preparation of the upcoming election year and considering the experience of violence Kenya had faced after the 2007 elections, the leading idea was to empower the community radio journalists to do their work in a conflict sensitive way. Understanding conflicts, their dynamics and the danger but also the chance of change which comes with conflict, Non-Violent-Communication (NVC) – all this had to be packed in a training-curriculum for the community radio colleagues who are not all trained journalists.

So far so good – that was the theory behind the project idea, the reality of needs of the community radio stations was much more multifaceted and the biggest challenge for our Kenyan colleagues was not to get trainings but to earn money with their activity, individually and as a station. A big kick-off meeting with the station managers in December 2016 helped to do a first needs-assessment and to integrate the team-leaders and station managers in our planning. It was the wish of the participants to find a strong name for this peacebuilding project: UMOJA – Radio for Peace. UMOJA means unity in Swahili. We could go ahead …

In January 2017 Sheila joined the project as Project-Officer. She has a background in Peace and Conflict Studies. In the following months the team went across the country to meet their community radio colleagues. From Radio Kwale-Ranet on the shores of the Indian Ocean to Radio Ekialo-Kiona on Mfangano Island in Lake Victoria. From the Tanzanian border to the northern and eastern counties they met the station managers and their staff to assess the individual needs concerning training and material. From initially 23 community radio stations the number rose to 41 radio stations, as 18 catholic radio stations which are doing a good community radio work were able to join the UMOJA project. All the colleagues were keen to know more about conflicts and how to deal with them as radio journalists, with everybody knowing about the danger of the election year 2017.

Kenya has more than 40 ethnic groups and ethnic violence during elections is not abnormal in Kenya. Since independence ethnicity has influenced the political sphere, many Kenyans tend to vote along ethnic lines. Ethnicity is one of the big challenges to overcome. Everybody in the radio stations is aware that radio is a powerful media and everybody knows the horrible examples of misuse of this power during the Rwandan genocide, but also the bad examples of some vernacular commercial radio stations during the post-election violence in Kenya 2007/2008.

The elections were fixed for the 8th of August, the nominations happened in March, the primaries in April: the atmosphere in the country was charged. Tribalism, hate-speech, fake-news and misinformation especially through social media but also organized and white-collar crime and violent extremism formed a dangerous mixture. The guiding theme of the community radio colleagues was clear: Making a difference. With a lot of enthusiasm the community radios began to work together, shared information, drew a code of Ethics. Thanks to the cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation a meeting with all the 41 station managers was made possible. On the World Press Freedom Day 2017 the 41 radio stations, adopted the NAIROBI-DECLARATION “Engagement for Truth, Fairness, Ethics and Integrity”. The radio stations also began to form a big community.

Before the elections start, the UMOJA-Team had visited most of the stations, organized 5 big cluster-workshops and trained at least 2 staff members of every station in the basics of conflict analysis and actors mapping to be able to do a better investigative work. The curriculum had been developed, not only conflict sensitive reporting and Non-Violent-Communication was trained but also fact-checking and some other basic journalistic skills. About 250 journalists were trained. The UMOJA project had its own newsletter and website, two WhatsApp groups (Station Managers and Staff Journalists) helped to keep the contacts alive. In the same time, the radios are commissioned by UNDP to produce voter education spots. These paid content productions improved the material situation of the stations.

Despite the high tensions in the country after the first round of the elections, their nullification and a second round of elections the country remained mostly peaceful. Once this election episode finished, the UMOJA Team and their radio colleagues could concentrate on other conflict related topics: Gender based and sexual violence, violent extremism, resource conflicts, land grabbing, cattle rustling, social justice and most of the stations had to deal with a very specific local conflict context.

Michael Schweres is a Senior Journalist, Author and Journalists Trainer working as International Peacebuilding Advisor with KCOMNET and the UMOJA – Radio for Peace Project