Episode 74      20 min 39 sec
Broadcasting hope among refugees in East Africa

Elias Nyatete describes how Tanzanian media outlet Radio Kwizera has been an important source of information and hope for refugees in recent and current East African conflicts. With host Jacky Angus.

"And people are very concerned on what you say because it can lead to a big number of deaths in just a moment or you can create an environment where people can have hope." - Bro Elias Nyatete




           



Elias Mokua Nyatete
Elias Mokua Nyatete

Elias Mokua Nyatete, a Kenyan, has been both a journalist and administrator in the media industry. He has published in Kenyan mainstream media as well as in organizational journals. Elias worked at the Vatican Radio before moving to Northwestern Tanzania to be director of Radio Kwizera serving thousands of refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). His work included the coordination of communication programs between UNHCR and its sister agencies such as UNICEF and WFP and cooperations with a number of international humanitarian organizations for refugees. He designed, among other media programs, an information campaign for the repatriation of Burundian refugees (2003-2007) which included a special news bulletin published in English and Kirundi that served to defuse tensions between refugees, local Tanzanian host communities and humanitarian organizations. A student at the University of Melbourne’s School of Culture and Communication, Elias specializes in media and political conflict in a globalized world. Elias is also a Jesuit Brother.

Elias was a plenary speaker at the Journalism in the 21st Century conference on July 16, 2009. This conference was organzied by School of Culture and Communication.

Credits

Host: Jacky Angus
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel, Miles Brown and Jacky Angus
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Miles Brown
Theme Music performed by Sergio Ercole. Mr Ercole is represented by the Musicians' Agency, Faculty of Music

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Broadcasting Hope Among Refugees in East Africa

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia.  Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.

JACKY ANGUS
Hello and welcome to Up Close coming to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia. I’m Jacky Angus. Now, for those of us that access an ever increasing number of communication media, including the internet, mobile phone messaging, and podcasts – like this one – the older channels, like radio, may seem less significant as a source of information. Well, not so, for the Kenyan journalist Elias Mokua Nyatete, a doctoral student at the University of Melbourne. As a former director of Radio Kwizera broadcasting out of Tanzania, Elias knows just how important radio can be when it comes to keeping people in Africa well informed. Welcome to Up Close, Elias.

ELIAS NYATETE
Thanks so much, Jacky.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, as someone who has worked with refugees in central Africa, what do you see is the role of media for people displaced by conflict?

ELIAS NYATETE
Well, media has a big role to play because you realise that in Africa the level of communication, the amount of facilities that are available for people to communicate are quite limited. And, there are a number of challenges, so media comes in extremely handy. Because, although we mainly use radio as the main channel of communication we still have people who have access to television, to internet, but this is quite limited. For displaced people, it is more acute. The need is even bigger because most of these people are normally settled in refugee camps which in most cases are outside cities because of the influence or alleged influence they might have on the rest of the residents. So, I think media plays a key role in shaping the lives of these displaced people, refugees or internally displaced people.  

JACKY ANGUS
Now, I understand you associate with Radio Kwizera, is that right? Broadcasting from Tanzania.

ELIAS NYATETE
Yeah. This is a particular case of political conflict where we had refugees from Rwanda in 1994 who had crossed over to Tanzania, northwestern Tanzania, this is in East Africa. But Rwanda and Burundi which are close to Democratic Republic of Congo, now called DRC, they crossed over to northern Tanzania to seek security because of the tribal conflict that took place. In 1996 the Rwandan refugees went back to their country and unfortunately there was a political conflict in Burundi and there was a big influx of refugees coming into northern-western Tanzania. And this Radio Kwizera which means ‘Radio Hope’ was actually set up to help refugees in the first place to be able to trace their relatives. So, this radio was helping refugees to do what they call ‘tracing’. That means to locate your lost friends or if you are found, you announce that you are found and that your own particular relatives can trace you.

JACKY ANGUS
Now, can I ask you about the Radio Kwizera, itself, what were its aims, who was running it and how did you manage to actually do this helping of people to trace their relatives?

ELIAS NYATETE
First of all, Radio Kwizera is owned by a congregation of men, religious, called Jesuits and their interest in refugees helping refugees, worldwide, not just in Africa and they set up this radio of course with the help and support of UNHCR, which is an international body which protects the refugees, and other organisations, WFP, UNICEF, several NGOs, World Vision, that support refugees. So, it was basically set up to help these particular refugees who found themselves in highly isolated places. They couldn’t communicate with one another. It was not just like one camp. We are talking of half a million people in different refugee camps. So, they are like big markets. And there was a lot of information that was supposed to be passed to the refugees but also from refugees to the authorities. So, there was a big need, as the billboards that were being used at the time were not sufficient. It was a failed need at the beginning.

JACKY ANGUS
How did you set about it with the radio?

ELIAS NYATETE
First of all, this is a big operation. This is a small radio, an FM radio station, but when it started of course, it needed to have several cars for journalists to be able to go to the refugee camps, collect information on a daily basis. And the issues ranged from health to food rationing to security updates to what is happening back home in Burundi or back home in Rwanda in the beginning, or, of late in Democratic Republic of Congo. People are very interested in these peace issues where there are negotiations. ‘Is there any developments?’ So, it was a big operation, having different teams of journalists, in different refugee camps in a place of about 500km apart.

JACKY ANGUS
And I understand that even apart from helping people to trace relatives, you also actually had programmes, which helped people to prepare for repatriation in some cases.

ELIAS NYATETE
Especially in 2004, 2005, 2006 and onwards, this has been a major concern of UNHCR and the so-called ‘tripartite commission’, that’s the three parties involved in the refugees affairs, UNHCR, the host country of the refugees, and the country of origin of these refugees. Reaching consensus that it is time refugees went back to their country because according to assessments, the situation now guarantees people to return in safety. So once it was considered that Radio Kwizera could help people to make informed choices on whether they should stay or whether they should go back to their country because their shouldn’t be a forced repatriation, so, this is one of the programmes that we are in, and I personally designed the whole programme. And most refugees were very happy. They were quite informed. So, most of them went back at their own convenient time.

JACKY ANGUS
You’re listening to Up Close, coming to you from the University of Melbourne, Australia. I’m Jacky Angus and I’m talking to Elias Mokua Nyatete, a Kenyan journalist. Now, I understand there was a special programme called Ukuri Ahabona, which actually offered listeners the chance to discuss the more complex issues, things that they were worried about, when they were repatriating, can you give me some examples of some of the sorts of things that came up?

ELIAS NYATETE
Generally these are issues that people will disagree on like, ‘there is peace in Burundi’; ‘there is no peace’. ‘If there is peace in Burundi, why do we still have new cases of refugees crossing the border to seek safety?’ And others saying, ‘now we have a democratic government, we had elections, so, why should we stay?’ So, you have these kind of contradicting stories and someone comes in the middle to say, ‘now, stop the argument, I’ll tell you what the truth is’. That is Ukuri Ahabona. And in this case, it is providing facts, so people know either whether they is security, which parts are secure back home, if there is a need to move, why should you move. And there are people who question, like, ‘what do I do, I have a wife or two wives here? ‘Back home I am supposed to only have one wife.’ ‘But, as per tradition and per government law, so, how do I deal with this?’ So, we will pick up these issues to take them to you and take them to the government back home. And the government will come up with suggestions on how people who have raised these concerns…

JACKY ANGUS
And of course, the cross-tribal problems, the whole complexity of the political situation would be such that many people in the camps, would be not necessarily talking to their neighbours. Do conflicts arise? How did the radio come in and help those? Were you yourself having to self-censor some of your programmes?

ELIAS NYATETE
Yeah, we had to in some ways. You know like, talking of political conflict can be a very sensitive issue. And people are very concerned on what you say because it can lead to a big number of deaths in just a moment or you can create an environment where people can have hope. For example, there are times when there could be alleged people don’t support the refugees in the camps, they will come at night and terrorise everyone, shoot people. And the following day, as a radio you are supposed to be there as a journalist to cover this, so, do you say ‘there were rebels here, killing people’, if you say that, what message are you sending? The host government says, ‘your people are causing insecurity here now on our land, so maybe we just kick out everyone.’ So, we have really had to censor what to say, for example, we could not use the words Hutu and Tutsi. We just say, ‘this particular group is concerned about this’. We didn’t make use of these terms that have connotations with conflict.  

JACKY ANGUS
It certainly required skills in the broadcaster. Who were your broadcasters? Who were your journalists? Who did you employ?

ELIAS NYATETE
Yeah, interestingly we had two teams. One for the local community in Tanzania, which was not refugee, this was the community that hosted them, so, in this particular area there was not another radio, so we were serving both communities. The hosts plus the refugees. But talking of refugees, we had a situation where we had to employ refugees themselves, train them, as journalists, some of them had already degrees in journalism and then they could go to their camps and they know how to source information and they know which days are most dangerous, so to speak, and they know the conflict better than we can do. Those of us who are like outsiders, but working as humanitarian agencies, so, we relied on what they did, but were very sensitive to get feedback. Some journalists tended to put in some elements of his or her political orientation. We would be very concerned and take appropriate action before things go bad.

JACKY ANGUS
And what do you see of the future of Radio Kwizera? I mean, is it alive and well or is it having difficulties surviving?

ELIAS NYATETE
First of all, these areas still need a radio station, but as this is a very poor area in northern Tanzania, the roads are impassable in most cases, it gets very difficult to access that area, the locals themselves depend on this radio to know what is happening in their own country. Most refugees have gone back, especially, the Burundians, but now we have new cases of refugees coming from Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kivu area. So, we still need the radio but, you know, once humanitarian agencies pull out, then it becomes very difficult, for a local radio station to sustain itself. The Jesuits who are supporting the operation, the Jesuit Refugee Service, pulling out because most of these refugees have gone back, the ones of Rwanda, the ones of Burundi, there are a few from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the budget of running such a kind of radio is very high and we are not exactly sure how the radio will run in the future. But the determination is that the radio should stay, if not for the refugees, at least for the benefit of the local people and if it can expand then it can be a radio that focuses on peace building in the Great Lakes region.

JACKY ANGUS
Yes, certainly, I am thinking whether or not it is possible that the actual nation state, even though it has got its problems, like the Congo for example, could help fund that as part of a, well, cheap welfare programme really, to help people.

ELIAS NYATETE
Well, that is a good idea, but I certainly think it won’t work as such. Because, first of all, the moment you bring in government, then you have brought in a whole, total ideology that controls what goes on here, and you have to know that, from our experience in running this radio, the more autonomous you are, the better, because there are times you will be in conflict with the host government. There is a time when the country of origin of refugees will call us ‘rebels’, like we are supporting rebels. There is a time humanitarian agencies will feel like we are giving a lot of information that is putting them at loggerheads with the refugees. So, at times you are a friend of no one. So, if you suggest that government should support this radio, I think that will change the whole purpose. It needs people who are professional and who really believe in what they want to do, what they want to achieve, and be not so much manipulated by the situation.

JACKY ANGUS
And the political agenda, obviously.

ELIAS NYATETE
Yes.

JACKY ANGUS
And does it change the potential for peace and for resolution of conflict in a different way, than violently?

ELIAS NYATETE
I just think its one of those areas we need to invest more resources in, in the media, because if there is going to be peace and stability, both in the Horn of Africa region and in the Great Lakes region, we need to move into these globalised media. Because then you just don’t have local players, participating in national issues, you also have this international force impacting what happens on the ground, but you also have the local issues. Local good things that happen in Africa, coming into the international arena. So, it is really a two-way flow. Now, it is not and clear as I’m putting it, but at least it does have an impact on how media cover political conflicts.

JACKY ANGUS
Well, you obviously have a very international perspective, being a Jesuit and having the experience that you have had, and of course, being an African, you can spread your net very wide, do you see the new media as having a really positive potential in this way because a lot of people have spoken of the new media as really being detrimental to good journalism? What is your position there?

ELIAS NYATETE
Well, fist of all, we have to realise that citizen journalism and blogs and all these kind of new ways that people represent themselves, in the public sphere, have their limitations, when it comes to political conflict in a particular area, people might give their views, people might give their concerns, but these are only valid to a degree, and they are more interested in especially at the beginning of a conflict, but as the conflict wears on, people are not going to be very interested in blogs and what people really saying as a source of information, as a news media. They are more interested in official sources, they want to know exactly what went on, they want a more professional approach to issues that are more complex. It does help to have these citizen journalism. It serves as queues to information and happenings here and there, but I do think, it is important that it is necessary that people are able to say, you know, they can bypass some of these gate keepers, but at the end of the day, you really need professional journalism. That is my position. And I believe, especially when it comes to news, many people will tend to look at mainstream media as the first point of reference either to confirm what they have heard, or to dispel what they already have heard.

JACKY ANGUS
Elias, this is a very basic question, how do refugees in a refugee camp actually listen to your broadcasts? They don’t have radios usually, do they?

ELIAS NYATETE
Well, a few refugees can manage to run away with a radio because probably that is the most precious thing they have in their house and they will try to run away with it, but most people don’t have radios and you are right. So, what UNHCR does and what we used to do as Radio Kwizera is to liase with two international organisations, humanitarian organisation, and they give us radio sets which we supply in refugee camps. So, people will come together, families of maybe two or three or four and they will listen especially to news, in the evenings, midday or the mornings. So, we supply these radios, in general, rather than relying on themselves to be able to buy or to have radios.

JACKY ANGUS
Or create a black market for radios.

ELIAS NYATETE
Yeah, there is a big market, but at least it is a very necessary market. And most of them were given free, like, Voice of America will supply tonnes of them.

JACKY ANGUS
And these radios, are they transistor radios, or, how do they work?

ELIAS NYATETE
Well, there are actually two types of radios, the ones we have used for a longer time have wind-cranks, if that is the term, you wind them so that you listen when, the energy that you put in ends, you wind again, so, that way you don’t have to buy batteries. You don’t have to use electricity to be able to listen to a particular programme. But of late there are also solar supported radios, which you just put in the sun and it collects enough energy to run the radio for a whole night or 12 hours or something like that.

JACKY ANGUS
There is plenty of sun there too.

ELIAS NYATETE
Yeah, absolutely, tropical.

JACKY ANGUS
Well, thank you very much Elias, it has been very interesting talking to you.

ELIAS NYATETE
Thanks so much Jacky.

JACKY ANGUS
You’ve been listening to Up Close from the University of Melbourne, Australia. Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found at our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.. You can leave a comment about any episode of Up Close by clicking at the link at the bottom of the page. Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division, in association with Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. The producers for this episode were Kelvin Param, Miles Brown and Eric van Bemmel. Audio engineering by Miles Brown. Musical theme performed by Sergio Ercole.  I’m  Jacky Angus. Until next time. Thank you for joining us on Up Close. Goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You’ve been listening to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2009, University of Melbourne.


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