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Burkina Faso: ‘Radio Resistance’ helped inform citizens during coup

Things have certainly been tense in Burkina Faso over the past couple of weeks. An elite unit of the Burkinabé army, known as the Régiment de la Sécurité Présidentielle or RSP, attempted a coup d’état. The coup quickly failed after a popular uprising and many late night negotiations with the coup leader. At least ten people died during the uprising.

When the coup was first announced on September 17, the RSP immediately took over state television and radio stations. To control the flow of information, they also forced all private radio stations to stop broadcasting. Journalists were targeted or even physically attacked. Soldiers destroyed some equipment.

In the midst all these activities, a group of journalists set up a radio station called Radio Resistance to keep Burkinabé citizens informed.

Listeners could tune in to the clandestine radio at 108.0 FM, listen online [1], and interact with the makeshift station via Twitter [2]. Under Burkina Faso’s media legislation, the radio is illegal because it’s not officially registered.

During the coup, Radio Resistance broadcast news releases, statements, mobilization messages, and excerpts of speeches given by former President Thomas Sankara. Ex-President Sankara was assassinated in 1987, but remains a symbol of freedom and justice for youth in Burkina Faso.

While many citizens tuned in to Radio Resistance and applauded the station’s efforts to keep citizens informed and mobilized against the coup, some expressed concern.

Windpoulemdé Aimé Sawadogo is a resident of Ouagadougou who listened to Radio Resistance. He says: “In principle, I think there was reason to be worried because [Radio Resistance came out of nowhere] and there was no real control over what it was broadcasting. So it could have been incendiary.”

Some reported that the information broadcast on Radio Resistance wasn’t always accurate. For example, on September 18 the station announced that coup leader General Gilbert Diendéré had been detained. This turned out to be incorrect.

But for others, like Ouagadougou resident Samdpawendé Alain Dabilougou, the clandestine radio was a necessity. Mr. Dabilougou says, “We were in a war-like situation. What alternative source of information did we really have when the traditional media had become voiceless?”

Stella Nana is an online media activist in Ouagadougou. She says: “[Radio Resistance] was a good initiative that served the people and provided an alternative at a time when the RSP was limiting freedom of the press. But I agree that we were lucky that it was an initiative that was on the ‘right side’; otherwise, it could have been bad.”

On September 23, the transitional president and government that were in place before the failed coup was reinstated. The RSP was disbanded and the few resisting soldiers disarmed. Coup leader General Diendéré was in police custody on Thursday after handing himself in. He will face charges in military court.

Since then, all radio stations have resumed their regular broadcast schedule. But since Radio Resistance was set up as an emergency service, it remains to be seen whether it will keep broadcasting or cease operations.

Editor’s note: The writer is Barza Wire’s Francophone Bureau Chief, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. He was recently honoured at an international media awards competition for his reports on sustainable development. For more information, and to read his story (in French), go to: http://www.francophonie.org/IMG/pdf/magazine_objectif2030.pdf [9] (page 15)

Photo: Women in Bobo Dioulasso leading the anti-coup resistance. Credit: Radio Resistance.