Hate Radio

2/3 of my thesis is about how radio can be used to mitigate violence in the LRA conflict. The programs aren’t perfect, and may even facilitate other kinds of violence through increasing militarization, but the radio programs aim to use the airwaves to encourage rebels to lay down their arms and to warn civilians of impending attack.

When I explain my project to people, one of the most common reactions is to compare it to the role of radio in the Rwandan genocide. There, the killing of 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu occurred with RTLM Radio playing in the background. The radio station went down in infamy as inciting the genocide with divisive messages of hate, calling on Rwandans to purge their country of Tutsi, linking Tutsi civilians to the rebel RPF fighters, and publicly naming people who would then be targeted.

Ever since Rwanda, radio and its potential for inciting mass violence has captured the popular imagination. There are fears of radio programs turning peaceful neighbors into killers by engaging in fear-mongering and naming people and places to be attacked. There was even recent news that radio stations in Bentiu, South Sudan had been used to instigate violence.

I watched Sometimes in April last week in one of my classes, a film about the Rwandan genocide that is told through the story of one family. I was surprised at how much the film hits you over the head with the role of RTLM radio in the genocide. One of the main characters, Honoré, works at the radio station, and the film moves between the genocide, during which Honoré issues hate on the radio and also tries to smuggle his brother’s Tutsi wife and children out of Kigali, and after the violence, where Honoré is being held on charges of incitement. In almost every second of every scene in 1994, the radio is playing.

But how much of a role did RTLM actually play?

Scott Straus, author of The Order of Genocide, an in-depth study of why Rwandan men took part in the genocide, has a 2007 article that questions the assumption that radio helped drive the genocide [pdf]. In it, he soundly debunks the theoretical cases for radio’s role in inciting genocide (a. theory that media can influence the public so directly go against established communications research; b. theory that radio caused listeners to go out and kill denies killers agency; c. theories of radio’s role rarely situate it among other theories of violence) and he also takes on empirical studies that say that RTLM was a main driver of violence.

Straus compares a few different data sources and pokes holes in the idea that RTLM turned people into violent killers by broadcasting hateful messages. First, he notes that RTLM’s broadcast range was limited to Kigali and western Rwanda (that’s without considering the country’s hilly topography). He then compares this to the fact that killings occurred in all government-held territories, even those where RTLM did not have an audience. Second, he looks at the actual broadcasts temporally. Admitting that a small fraction of attacks were called for explicitly by RTLM, he finds that, broadly speaking, the increase in killings did not coincide with the increase in inflammatory or extremist broadcasts during the genocide. Lastly, he includes quantitative evidence from broadcast content and qualitative evidence from interviews with perpetrators that show that most of the broadcast content did not actually mobilize killers.

Overall, he finds that the radio had a “second-order” effect in bolstering those who advocated for violence, but that most perpetrators were not convinced by the radio to go out and kill; rather they were recruited in person or were reacting out of fear. He summarizes his findings as such:

The positive evidence of radio media effects is that the radio instigated a limited number of acts of violence, catalyzed some key actors, coordinated elites, and bolstered local messages of violence. Based on these findings, it is plausible to hypothesize that radio had conditional and marginal effects. Radio did not cause the genocide or have direct, massive effects. Rather, radio emboldened hard-liners and reinforced face-to-face mobilization, which helped those who advocated violence assert dominance and carry out the genocide.

I don’t know much about the recent story about radio and violence in South Sudan, but I do know that the country has never effectively addressed ethnic divisions that were so acute in the recent decades. Radio may play a role in inciting violence, but it can only do so when the foundations have already been laid for such violence.


Wanja Muguongo on Exporting Homophobia

On November 1, Wanja Muguongo, a Yale World Fellow and the Executive Director of UHAI – The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, spoke at Yale’s African Studies program’s weekly speakers’ series. She spoke about homophobia in Africa and the role of the West. I have been meaning to write a recap of what was said, and am finally doing so now for two reasons. Firstly and unfortunately, Uganda’s parliament is again revisiting the infamous anti-gay bill; in addition, an African Studies reading group which I have organized will be discussing Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial” [pdf] soon, which is relevant to all of this as well. Below is my attempt to cover everything that Muguongo said at the event, which was cut short (hence the abrupt ending).

It’s important that you understand where I’m coming from and who I am, so a bit about myself and my beliefs: I manage a fund that supports NGOs, and we are a resource but also part of a movement. The conversation of LGBTI rights doesn’t take place in a vacuum; it takes place in a world of power and patriarchy. On top of this, I believe that band-aids don’t help, and that you need to tackle problems to fix them. Ending anti-gay laws doesn’t end hate fundamentally, but it’s a step in the right direction. We must also tackle sex workers’ rights by allowing them to fight oppression and patriarchy and change how society looks at sex. I believe there is way too much power in the world that is being used badly, and that normativity has always been a cause for bullying. I have chosen to endeavor to dis-empower bullies as much as possible. One of the things supporting power is religion being used as a mechanism of that power. Here, when I say religion I do not mean faith or belief, but the institution of organized religion. I have a problem with institutionalized religion as it is being used today.

Faith and belief are supposed to be kind and supportive, but when they are institutionalized they fail to do those things. Religion is about control and can be used to target outliers. We must contemplate what it means to be non-normative in a strongly religious community that supports hate and is intolerant. We tend to think of GLBTI/sex workers are people that are not of faith, which isn’t always true. Things are more complex than they seem. Continue reading

Rwanda isn’t a Model for Anything but Autocracy

About a year ago, I attended a conference about human rights in Africa.  One of the keynote speakers was a PhD candidate in justice studies who spoke mostly about the Arizona state legislature’s divestment related to atrocities in Darfur.  But she made an off-hand comment about Rwanda that made me double take. I’ll paraphrase it to something like “the streets are clean and the cities are safe, it’s come a long way since 1994!” It wasn’t the main point of her speech, so I shook it off, but not before writing a small post about my own thoughts on Rwanda. But it seems it might be time for another.

I attended an event last month where I saw Carl Wilkens speak. Wilkens is well known for being the only U.S. civilian to remain in Rwanda during the genocide, where he helped aid many Tutsis that were in hiding.  He had a lot to say about his work at the time and his personal story, and it was very moving.  I picked up a copy of his recently published memoir and hope to read it soon.  Hearing him speak, I could tell he cared a lot for Rwanda’s well being – he continues to do work there and seems to have a deep connection with the country.  Given what he went through, it’s hard to blame him.  During the Q&A portion of the event, though, I was struck by his strong support for the current regime there.

First, someone asked how Rwanda had changed.  Wilkens qualified that the government was somewhat overreaching and even used the word “autocratic,” but also argued that the streets were clean, crime was down, and people were safe.  He ignored that petty criminals are whisked away and never seen again and that the civil society and press are severely choked by government restrictions (both of which I mentioned in the aforementioned post).  Recently, the genocide survivors group Ibuka condemned Paul Rusesabagina’s Lantos prize.  Ibuka is one of the biggest survivor groups, but it has been aligned with the government ever since its more outspoken leaders were purged by Kagame in 2000.

And then someone asked what African country could be seen as a model for the way forwards. I was expecting something like Botswana, but instead got accolades for Rwanda again.  Wilkens explains that the Rwandan government was establishing infrastructure, citing efforts to lead an information-based economy in Kigali to lead the region. As some have mentioned, that can’t be the only solution.  An authoritarian government that stifles opposition cannot grow much further than Rwanda has.

Once you clean up your streets (by banning plastic bags and arresting people for begging) and shore up your border (by invading your neighbors and stealing their resources) and win “popular” elections (by intimidating and threatening opposition groups), you can’t call your country a beautiful model for new African governance. I’ve spent years learning about Uganda, and I sure as hell love a lot of things about that country. But in learning to love that country, I’ve also learned to call a spade a spade. No matter how close you are to Rwanda, it’s important to take a step back and call an authoritarian government what it is, with no excuses or apologies.

Re: Rwanda

In the past few weeks I’ve heard a couple of people applaud Rwanda for being a clean and beautiful country with no corruption.  Now, I only spent two and a half days there, but I have a bit of a rebuttal.  I mean, yes – the streets were very clean and the undulating countryside really is pretty – but I would hardly say that cleanliness leads to no corruption.

To me, a street without beggars and children just reminds me of something I read in a New York Times article about Iwawa Island.  The article details the fact that, in an effort to preserve the appearance of a developed country, Rwandan authorities routinely scoop up homeless and petty criminals and send them to rehabilitation centers without a trial.  Hardly a good thing to have on a country’s record.

And to say the country is not corrupt ignores the intense oppression the ruling party employs. The RPF win every election – because there’s virtually no opposition (all three opposition parties were ruled out of the elections this past August).  While I was there I read in the newspaper that the interim editor-in-chief of a newspaper critical of the government had been killed.  Two things worth noting: he was the interim chief editor because the former chief editor fled into exile; and the police arrived within minutes of the killing but never found a suspect.  Just after I left Rwanda, the vice president of an opposition party was found decapitated in the forest (officials arrested one suspect but released him soon after and haven’t investigated any further).

And then there’s the ethnic part.  Even though the RPF outlawed the ethnic identity cards that were a hallmark of the genocide era, there is still a stark contrast.  Hutus are marginalized in civil service.  And no Tutsis have ever faced justice for crimes committed in the civil war.  There are allegations that the RPF killed 30,000 civilians as they swept across the country – but the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s investigations have routinely been obstructed by the government.  This in addition to UN’s recent findings that the Rwandan government committed crimes against humanity (and maybe genocide) in the DR Congo.

I guess these are just some things to think about.  The country has a lot of potential, I just think it’s far from a great example right now.  Clean streets, sure.  But there are quite a few concerns that the government needs to look into if it wants to really be seen for its progress.