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Africa

South Sudan: Fostering peace through citizen journalists

After the swearing-in of the transitional unity government, many communities in South Sudan are still dealing with the fallout of the war. A new radio network wants to support peacebuilding through citizen reporting.

Citizen journalists can be community leaders, workers, teachers, shopkeepers and youth leaders. (photo: Aarni Kuoppamäki)

Citizen journalists can be community leaders, workers, teachers, shopkeepers and youth leaders

It is unclear what sparked the violence, but what started as a political crisis in December 2013, quickly turned into the South Sudanese civil war that has left tens of thousands dead and, according to a United Nations estimate, displaced more than two million people. The fighting spread like a bushfire, and existing rivalries about natural resources like water, farmland, grazing grounds and cattle ignited many communities. Neighbors became enemies, and traditional rivals used the opportunity of an ongoing conflict and increased proliferation of arms to try settling old scores. In many cases lines of conflict were drawn between tribes or their different clans.

Citizen reporters for peace

The government and the opposition signed a peace deal in August 2015. Opposition leader Riek Machar returned to Juba in April and was sworn in as vice-president of the transitional unity government. But while the big leaders have shaken hands, bitterness remains in communities all over the country. Months after the signing many citizens didn't even know there was a peace agreement. Now the information is gradually reaching even remote areas of the country, mainly through radio, the most important source of information in the country.

The citizen journalist also learned conflict-sensitive reporting methods(photo: Aarni Kuoppamäki)

Citizen journalist also learned conflict-sensitive reporting

"Radio can bring all the different clans in our community together, because we talk with people, and everybody can contribute", says Tabitha Marial Agot from Bor. She is 17 years old and one of 45 South Sudanese trained to be citizen journalists for the Radio for Peace Network (RaPNET), which was officially launched at a training workshop by UNESCO and DW Akademie in March 2016. RaPNET has twelve members, nine of which are currently on air. The radio stations chose citizens who they regarded as reliable sources of information to be their correspondents, for example community leaders and workers, teachers, shopkeepers and youth leaders. "The citizen journalists have first-hand experience of peace and conflict realities in their communities", says Lydia Gachungi, Communication and Information Specialist in the UNESCO Juba Office.

From basic training to journalism awards

In order to enable the citizen reporters to send stories to their respective stations, UNESCO equipped each reporter with a smartphone. The citizen journalists set up the phones with help from the DW Akademie trainers. They learned to record, edit and send sounds to their stations from an Android phone using free apps. "I couldn’t do those things before", says Tabitha Marial Agok, "but now I can, and that's very important to me." The workshop also covered conflict-sensitive reporting methods that allow the citizen correspondents to tell their stories in a constructive way. "The training of citizen journalists will increase the quality and quantity of peace programs on our local community radio stations", says Norbert Otieno, the Chairman of RaPNET. "It creates a pool of peace ambassadors in the respective communities that can be part of preaching peace, and not hatred."

45 South Sudanese are being trained to be citizen journalists for the Radio for Peace Network ( photo: Aarni Kuoppamäki)

45 South Sudanese new citizen journalists for the Radio for Peace Network

The citizen correspondents are expected to report to the radio station from their communities at least three times a week. "I want to report both sides of a story when two clans have a disagreement", says Tabitha Marial Agot. "I want to report what is in the public interest and not be biased." The Radio for Peace Network plans to develop its profile in the coming months, building the capacity of employees and volunteers, increasing the networking among stations and possibly adding more members. They are being supported by UNESCO, Search for Common Ground, the Catholic Radio Network, Ihub Kenya and DW Akademie with funding by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). All the supporters will be invited when the most successful citizen reporters meet again - at the Peace Journalism Awards ceremony in Juba in August or September.

Nyambura Wambugu works as a peace, conflict and security policy advisor in South Sudan. She has been active in local media development in the country since 2002, training journalists and working with community radio stations. From 2012 to 2013 she worked as a BBC correspondent for South Sudan and Sudan.

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