27/02/2013 – Internews strongly believes that information saves lives because without it “people feel blind, deaf and tongue less.”
Internews Europe, which is based in London and Paris, started the program in Cote d’Ivoire after the post-electoral crisis in the country with the support from ECHO. Almost 3,000 people died during the post-electoral violence in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people fled the country or were internally displaced. Internews chose to work in one of the most affected regions in the west of Cote d’Ivoire, close to the Liberian border, where it supports eight local radio stations in the department of Montagnes.
People who were the victim of this period of violence continue to need help. “They need security and other basics such as water, shelter and food. But if they don’t know where and how to find it, humanitarian assistance is useless,” explains Corduwener. “Information on security and humanitarian aid should be a priority; but so is information on how to live together and rebuild one’s life: social cohesion is a main concern in today’s Cote d’Ivoire. This is why the information needs to be reliable, neutral and accurate. This is an absolute prerequisite and this is where our program comes into play.”
The Internews program focuses on transforming local radios into community radios, owned by and working in the interest of the local communities. “Local radios are important for the population because they are often the only source of information they have. If the information they receive is reliable, neutral and accurate, it will help them with important processes like reconciliation, social cohesion and peace building.”
“We run a three step program: first comes the training of the journalists on working in a neutral, reliable and accurate manner; then we invite the community to support the local radio and take over its management; and finally we ensure that the eight radios stations exchange productions between them.”
Paul Mondouhou was interim-director of Radio Voix du Guemon in Duekoue, the city at the heart of the violence during the post-electoral crisis. He is also the mayor of Duekoue. “Our radio station was attacked and destroyed during the war,” he says. “We decided that we should find a way to end this. Internews helped us with the transformation of the radio station. Before it was owned by the local authorities, today we hand over the management to the community.”
Like in Duekoue, other local radios have started listener groups. They represent the local population and vote for a Board that will take over the management of the radio. Each listener group has around 20 members. In Duekoue, there are now 25 groups. “Without the listener groups, we would have had lost our entire audience and credibility,” says Lucien Tahi, director of Voix de Guiglo in the town of Guiglo. In the past this radio station was managed by the local mayor and was often compared with a hate radio because it mobilized youths to attack the United Nations Mission in Cote d’Ivoire.
“The process of transformation into a community radio is a very good example for the rest of Cote d’Ivoire,” says Ibrahim Savane, High Commissioner for Audio Visual Communication, the highest authority on local radio in the country. “It can help us to find a way out of the political machinations to which the radios feel prey.” Albert Koenders, the special representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) called the idea of transforming local radios into community radios by using listener groups “unique in the world”.
The model works because the local population is involved in the management of the radios. But it’s not as simple as that. The radio staff first has to prove they are serious and professional. Then they can prevent rumors that often trigger conflict, by providing reliable and objective information. If not, people will not accept the responsibility of ownership. Local politicians also have to agree to take a step back and hand over management to the communities.
The eight radio stations supported by Internews created a Network of ‘Radio for Peace’ which exchanges productions. The project is successful and could be shared as a model with other communities in Cote d’Ivoire.
Program director for Internews in Côte d’Ivoire
Internews is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to give people the news and information they need and the means to make their voices heard. The objective is double: to inform people on how and where to get assistance and to empower them to rebuild their lives and communities. The European Commission’s humanitarian aid and civil protection department ECHO is currently supporting two innovative projects led by Internews: in Dabaad refugee camp, in Kenya, Internews is managing a “Humanitarian Information Service” on disaster preparedness; in Côte d’Ivoire, the NGO is supporting local radio stations, helping them to transform into community-owned projects that can provide neutral and reliable information to those in need. The project fits within the need for greater social cohesion and trust among communities after a period of extreme violence in Côte d’Ivoire.