Communicating for peace was the focus of a DW Akademie project in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Invited were members of organizations committed to social cohesion and keeping the country together.
Boris Somé has witnessed atrocities far beyond what most people can imagine. In 2009 he was a student travelling in eastern Congo when his bush taxi was forced to stop at a checkpoint. Armed military dragged a pregnant women from the car and abused her. Somé and the other passengers were then forced to drive on. The woman's screams still ring in his ear.
At his first job in Chad, Somé also experienced how brutal people can be when conflicts escalate. He swore to himself that he would do everything to prevent this from happening in his own country, Burkina Faso.
Somé is now working for the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), an organization focusing on an early warning and response system to recognize conflicts ahead of time and – if possible – to prevent them.
He was one of ten people who recently took part in a DW Akademie communications project in Ouagadougou, funded by Germany's Federal Foreign Office.
Others taking part included members of religious umbrella organizations, youth organizations, think tanks and ethnic institutions. Although they belong to different religions and ethnic groups, they have a common goal: to maintain the country's social cohesion.
DW Akademie's two communication workshops focused on various communication strategies to help prevent radicalization.
The foundation for this already exists. This Muslim country has a strong Christian minority but followers of the different religions celebrate fast-breaking or Christmas together. There are many Muslim-Christian marriages which are also common among various ethnic groups living in rural areas.
It has only been in the last few years that tensions have increased. Islamic groups have now established themselves in Burkina Faso, a country long considered to be a pillar of stability in the Sahel region. But in areas in the country's north, Christians, animists and moderate Muslims live in constant fear of attacks. Terrorists have also carried out serious attacks in the capital, killing dozens of people.
DW Akademie's two communication workshops focused on various communication strategies to help prevent radicalization. Participants from local organizations learned to spread their messages of tolerance and peace through the media, and position specific issues.
The workshops also looked at ways to communicate on social media and react to hate comments. In practical sessions, participants practiced future media appearances, produced Facebook articles with photos and short videos, and developed communication strategies.
Pastor Sinini and Imam Ilboudo, who work together for interreligious dialogue, offered practical tips. They recommended that the participants spread via the media as many concrete examples as possible of religions peacefully coexisting. It was important to organize exchanges between different groups to break down prejudices, they said, stressing this included addressing young people active on social media so that the platforms are not left to radical groups.
The workshop participants are now aiming to hone their communication strategies and take their messages even to the remotest parts of the country.
Still, Somé fears that youth who lack prospects in his poverty-stricken country will be increasingly attracted by promises made by radical groups. He hopes that people will develop a critical awareness and report to WANEP when extremists try to recruit them, or when they see conflicts becoming more aggressive or sermons more radical.
Then, Somé says, it will still possible to intervene. "Our country's wealth is its cultural diversity," he believes. "We need to work together to protect it."