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Moderating the Airwaves in Cote d’Ivoire

January 28, 2011

In addition to our grassroots peacebuilding efforts which directly work with community leaders, Search continues to broadcast and distribute our programs through the internet to a network of 42 radio partners in every region of Cote d’Ivoire including the national radio and the UN Radio.

Search programming provides a space for moderate voices, something that has great resonance in times of crisis when rumors and bias in media can have disastrous results. We’ve noted an increase in listeners on the radio especially, which speaks to the desire of Ivoirians for moderate dialogue.

A recent episode of one of our programs, Unis dans Nos différences (United in Our Differences) brought phone calls of congratulations and encouragement to our studio in Abidjan:

“We are going through a moment of psychological shock. When we go out in the morning and we glance at the newspapers, we think ‘this is chaos.’ When we watch the TV, it’s even worse. The National Radio is doing nothing but inciting hatred. And when it becomes like that, you don’t have a chance to even think for yourself. I was completely sad and desperate when I caught, by chance, the radio ONUCI-FM, and I stumbled upon a program from SFCG that showed how Ivoirians are united so much that it is difficult to have such clashes, like those that happen in other countries. When I finished listening to the program, I was so happy and overcome with hope. It is true that it didn’t change my behavior, but I was happy for that whole day. Since that day, I listen to ONUCI-FM for no reason except to hear these kinds of programs. Please continue, because I’m convinced that you are bringing happiness to many other people like me, in this period of desperation and hopelessness.

–”Jean-Pierre”, Abidjan Cocody

You can listen to that very episode, Souvenons-nous d’hier pour bâtir aujourd’hui et demain (Remember yesterday to build today and tomorrow) here: Souvenons-nous d’hier pour bâtir aujourd’hui et demain (Remember Yesterday to build today and tomorrow).

In other cases, our programming has changed behavior. Woro Woro Tour is a radio sketch comedy about a problem-solving taxi driver who gives advice to his customers. [Woro woro is the colloquial term for taxi in Cote d’Ivoire]. One young man listening, Moussa, found the program was mirroring his own life. He had been contacted by friends who wanted to form a supporters movement for a politician before the presidential elections. Their true aim quickly became clear: to form a supporters club “in case there is a moment when elections boil over.” Young men often form “supporters clubs” to get money from politicians by either offering bodyguard services if the situation becomes violent or by attacking the opposition and asking for a reward. Moussa discouraged his friends but they could not come to a consensus and agreed to discuss it further. During their second meeting, Woro WoroTour came on the radio:

“The theme of the show happened to be about young people who were meeting in a group to form a supports club in their neighborhood because they thought they would get money from a  politician. When the program started, there was complete silence in the house. The message, in short, was clear: young people are thinking that during the campaign process, it is a good time to form supporters clubs in the hope of getting paid. But at the end of the show, the characters learn there is a more honest way to live. This is to organize one’s self according to one’s ideals, and that it is useless for young people to run behind political men when they have the intelligence and energy to find a job through their own initiative.

When the program ended, my friends thought it was a trap or a trick; that I was somehow playing a cassette or a CD that I had hidden, especially for this occasion. They looked around to be sure that it was really the radio ONUCI-FM that had played this satirical program.  Then, they all recognized that I was correct and even called me a visionary. They were stunned that I had already made this analysis and that one week later the radio spoke about the subject as if somehow it had heard our plans. It was this coincidence that brought my friends to listen to me and to renounce their plan.”

Media is important, as evinced recently by the Egyptian government’s crackdown on SMS messaging and social networks. It can be used to incite and suppress. In Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere, we’re trying to use media as a force for good.

Know of other radio programs for peace? Let us know!

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