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Peace Overtakes Hate on African Airwaves

More and more stations in Africa promote reconciliation and dialogue instead broadcasting hate like. Through these radio shows, the local population is included in peace initiatives.

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Radio is the main source for information for mmany African

Hate radio is an all-too-familiar concept from the 1990s. A prominent example was the Rwandan radio station "Thousand Hills Independent Radio" that during the genocide in 1996 systematically encouraged the murder of Tutsi or moderate Hutu.

Today, more and more radio stations in Africa fall under the category of peace radio. Through their programs they promote reconciliation between enemy states or ethnic groups. One example is Mega FM in Uganda.

If Mega FM is on air, the whole north of the country is probably listening. More than one and a half million people tune in each week. For six years, Mega FM has been the most popular station in the region. One of its most-listened-to programs was "Dwaco Put" (or "Come Hack Home") which featured former rebels of the "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA).

Former rebels take the mic

Bürgerkrieg in Gulu Provinz von Uganda

Stations like Mega FM promote peace, but sometimes hate prevails

"We invited the rebels to the studio so that they can report," said Editor-in-Chief David Okidi. "Many said 'Before I was a rebel, now I am back home with my family. They have accepted me back and I am doing well.' Then they call on their former comrades to leave the rebels."

The show proved very popular and as a result, many rebels quit and came home. Two years ago the show had fulfilled its mission and Okidi took it off the air.

But even if shots are no longer being fired in northern Uganda, his 25-strong editorial department has enough to do. New programs have been developed to help people to cope with two new challenges: unify a torn society and to rebuild their country. On the talk show "Ter Yat," callers can discuss the difficulties of earning a living.

Small stations can do a lot

Because of the success of Mega FM, more and more politicians, journalists and scientists realize that the media can make an important contribution for peace and reconciliation in crisis regions. Fackson Banda, professor of journalism at Rhodes University in South Africa, praises the contribution of small stations like Mega FM.

"There are many success stories," said Banda. "Community media, for example, has revolutionized journalism. They allow for a greater co-determination of the people as well as a decentralization of power. People now can more easily put pressure on politicians."

Community radio stations like Mega FM are limited to certain regions, leaving them geared towards local topics. In war and crisis areas they do not only give people a voice but also promote dialogue between the conflicting parties. Additionally, community radio stations can help explain the difficulties of peace processes, said Fackson Banda.

"With their help, normal people can better understand the complexity and realize that peace work is a long process to which they have to actively contribute," Banda said.

Media also play an important role in consensus building in African society, emphasized Banda.

"Through their watchdog function they can ensure that political energy is being used for the building of a peaceful society," Banda said.

Crisis reporting oftentimes too expensive

But all this does not come for free. The costs for reporters, editors and hosts as well as technical equipment like studios, cutting desks and reporting equipment is expensive. In crisis areas stations have to battle additional expenses because trips to regions without reasonable infrastructure are considerably more expensive.

Die Botschaft der Theatergruppe am 17.11.1996 in Kassensero ist eindeutig: Aids raubt uns unsere Mitglieder. Schützt Euch !

Can information lead to reconciliation?

"The problem is that we operate in a situation in which people are recovering from conflict and are poor," explained Okili. "Therefore the advertisement industry has no interest to advertise their products with us because no one has the money to buy them."

Development aid for peace programs

Mega FM has found an alternative source of income. Single shows are being sponsored by development organizations like the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

A few weeks ago the rebels refused to sign a peace agreement and people are now afraid that the rebuilding effort could stall. Northern Uganda now finds itself in a situation where it needs radio stations like Mega FM more than ever.