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The Power of Media in Rwanda: Sophie Tholstrup

September 3, 2009

Sophie Tholstrup is an intern with Search for Common Ground Rwanda

The Power of Media in Promoting PeacePart 2

Part 1

Story of a Former Boy Soldier

David is a young ex-combatant due for release today. In 1994 at 10 years old, he fled the country with his parents. David’s mother was arrested and his father killed shortly after their arrival in the Congo. Without family or a means of support, David was easy prey for military leaders in the refugee camps and he was conscripted into the FDLR.

“The leaders would tell us, ‘if you return to Rwanda, you will be killed’ so I thought there was no choice but to stay” he said.

He heard broadcasts on the radio about the situation in Rwanda and eventually approached UN peacekeepers, asking them to help him return home.

“Staying in exile is terrible,” he said, “and life in the forest is difficult and dangerous”. Asked how he felt about returning to his village, he said he had some concerns but was generally optimistic. He hopes to resume his studies that were disrupted 15 years ago, and aims one day to become a teacher.

Major Jean de Dieu Nzabamwita, the highest-ranking of the group of ex-combatants, explained why he had chosen to demobilize. “I heard…that there was total security in Rwanda. I sent someone to test the situation. When he returned and told me what he had seen I took the decision to return”.

“After what I have learned here I believe I will be able to live alongside others without problems.” He continued to explain that based upon what he’s heard, “ I do not fear gacaca (Rwandan community courts)”.

The Rwandan government aims to repatriate all Rwandans fighting on Congolese soil, along with their families. The UN estimates there are between 5,000-6,000 fighters remaining.

When asked about the prospects for success, Jean Sayingoza, Chairman of the RDRC, said, “It is difficult. The FDLR continue to recruit from among civilians still in the Congo and from the refugee camps in Uganda. They tell them they will be paid more than $300 per month.”

By reaching ex-combatants in the Congo, Rwanda is making important strides towards ending the drawn-out violence and reintegrating refugees who fled some 15 years ago. I was astonished by the power of a few radio sets, to engender such a vital transformation. Both

Ironically, radio had a major role in starting and driving the genocide, as the government-controlled station urged people to kill one another. Now the power of radio to heal the wounds that remain from the genocide, demonstrated so vividly at the ceremony, is an inspiring example of the new role of media in post-genocide Rwanda.

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