Media’s Role in Peace-building: A Radio Case Study from Côte d’Ivoire

Broadcast

The crisis in Côte d’Ivoire drags on, with the political leadership of the country deadlocked. The 2010 elections had raised hopes across the country that the eight-year crisis would be finally resolved; instead the country now has two presidents who claim national authority. Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) and is backed by the international community, while the Constitutional Court invalidated these results and proclaimed incumbent Laurent Gbagbo as the winner. International mediators have sought to negotiate a solution, but to date without success. In this tense context, violence is rising within communities as well as between the armed forces and the civilian population. More than 20,000 people have fled to neighbouring Liberia, and no end to the stalemate is in sight.

Search for Common Ground (SFCG), with its mandate of conflict transformation and dialogue, has a critical role to play in calming tensions and promoting moderate voices within this environment of extremism. SFCG has been working in Côte d’Ivoire since 2005, producing weekly radio programmes that provide information; bridge divides of identity, geography, and affiliation; and offer alternatives to the volatile rhetoric frequently featured in the media. SFCG actively supported the steps leading up to and including the elections process, including disarmament, national identification, voter registration, civic education, and election monitoring. SFCG is now focusing its efforts on trying to calm rising divisions, and provide accurate information where rumours and manipulation are rampant.

Despite significant challenges, SFCG is doing its best to maintain its production and broadcast of high-quality radio programmes that offer credible and balanced information. With most media outlets identified with one political side or the other, SFCG has built a strong reputation of credibility and neutrality, and people particularly outside of Abidjan rely on SFCG as a source of information. Therefore, despite obstacles ranging from physical insecurity, citizens’ reluctance to speak openly for interviews, or challenges finding positive role models within communities, and transportation issues in sending programmes for broadcast, SFCG continues its mission. As Ouattara About Karno, SFCG’s Studio Coordinator explains: "It is more than necessary to continue our mission and to adapt our programs to the current situation. We have to look for role models within our communities to give them a voice and to share positive values, which should guide the Ivoirians in this tense period."

With the help of its partners within local communities to gather content, as well as with the support of the United Nations radio station ONUCI FM for broadcast, SFCG studios in Côte d’Ivoire have produced a series of radio programmes to support the end of the crisis. Topics have addressed a number of important themes, including “After the election, it is not war,” “Dialogue on values and priorities for a peaceful management of the post-electoral crisis,” and “Women propose solutions to ease the climate.” In this highly sensitive environment, SFCG focuses on values such as unity, respect of the democratic rules, and peaceful management of crisis. SFCG is particularly focusing on balanced reporting and on the diversity and representativeness of those who are interviewed in the programmes. In addition to maintaining balance in its programmes, one of the guiding principles of SFCG in this context is to offer a positive voice, an alternative to violence and conflict for its listeners.

Accessing content from around the country has not been easy given the insecurity. Ouattara About Karno explains SFCG’s approach to this challenge: “Our partners greatly supported us in gathering voices for the programmes, especially in this context, when citizens do not trust the media. Our partners were the first to stand up and speak out against violence and partisanship during this period, using our programmes as a voice.” Among its local partners, SFCG relied on civil society organisations, such as youth and women organisations, that promote reconciliation at the local level while remaining neutral. SFCG also relied on intellectuals who offer an objective voice in the debate and throw light on issues without being partisan. SFCG paid particular attention to the positive message and values that its partners could share with the listeners. Thanks to these partners, SFCG was able to identify role models, outstanding individuals who have emerged as moderate voices within their community and who often have a positive impact on their peers.

While some Ivoirian media are used to propagate false information or stir violence, the production of constructive radio programs spreading positive values is particularly appreciated by the population, as this listener explains: “I was listening to one of your programs. It talked about the proper behavior of a citizen after the election and why it is important to be tolerant in politics. The message broadcast has brought hope and made me understand that all is not lost. Because some people still believe in and work toward peace.”

To listen to one of the radio programmes recently produced and broadcast by SFCG studios in Côte d’Ivoire, visit the audio section of its website www.radiopeaceafrica.org