SFCG’s Studio Ijambo Highlighted in New Book
“They knew that the actions of media could rile suspicions and incite madness, as they had done in both Rwanda and Burundi. Cut could media instead be used to help diminish entrenched hatreds and stop future violence?…With a seed of hope for a peaceful future, Studio Ijambo was born.”
Journalist Maria Armoudian’s newly published book Kill The Messenger; The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World features a chapter on SFCG’s media work in Burundi. Search for Common Ground opened Studio Ijambo in 1995, a year after the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. For years Burundi media had helped fan the flames of hatred between Hutus and Tutsis. By 1995 more than 200,000 Burundians had been killed in the conflict and it seemed that the country was following Rwanda’s lead in destruction.
The transformation in Burundi has been painful and slow, “beginning in a small studio known as Ijambo, meaning “wise words” in Kirundi. “Studio Ijambo would become a place where Hutu and Tutsi journalists, writers, producers, and broadcasters would together create programs to dispel the rumors, stereotypes, and hate messages that had permeated the Burundian public sphere.”
Through Ijambo’s news programs “Burundians heard balanced, corroborated, verified information. Through magazine-style discussion shows, they heard new ideas, perspectives, and ways of interpreting the conflict.Through radio dramas and their fictional characters, they experienced their enemies as empathetic human beings who found ways to transcend intergroup differences.”
“While most media reported atrocities committed by the “other” side, Ijambo journalists covered them all. Teams, one Tutsi and one Hutu journalist, ventured together into conflict zones, refugee camps, and devastated lives, seeking to make sense of events and share their knowledge with their fellow Burundians.”
“In a society of secrets, these journalists developed trust, interfacing with people throughout Burundi – verifying information across factions and sectors. Ijambo reporters exposed corruption, gave voice to victims, and treated the conflicting parties evenhandedly. Beyond reporting news, the teams also probed for solutions and aspired to break the circle of violence, promote accountable leadership, and improve the lives of the people.”
Eventually Ijambo began producing a 150-episode series about Heroes, people who saved the life of an “enemy.” “Meanings were shifting: ‘traitors’ were becoming ‘heroes,’ and ‘warriors’ were becoming ‘perpetrators.’ For the first time, radio forums publicly explored and discussed such concepts and stories, and people were changing – both their beliefs and behaviors – as a result.”
Before leaving Burundi, Studio Ijambo’s founding director received a note from the head of the military, who wrote “the work of the Studio lowered the number of civilian deaths during the war, and for that I thank you.” SFCG began working in Burundi at a time when the country was on the brink of genocide. Today, Studio Ijambo continues to produce programming that is helping Burundi continue its transformation.