World Press Freedom Day 2004, Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro: „Support to Media in Violent Conflict and in Countries in Transition.‟ The role of the media in the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration or resettlement (DDRRR) process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo By Marco Domeniconi, Fondation Hirondelle Press Officer Radio Okapi, the only radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo covering all regions of the country and the most widely broadcast Congolese radio station, airs a daily DDRRR programme. Its very special status with the United Nations1 has prompted this review and gives food for thought on this type of programme. The process of the disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, reintegration or resettlement (DDRRR) of the foreign combatants and rebel groups in the Congo forms part of MONUC‟s mandate,2 which now also includes the demobilization and the reintegration of former Congolese combatants. The role of the media in this process is very important, even crucial. Here is what Sébastien Lapierre, a Canadian, MONUC‟s information officer and head of the Radio Okapi station in Bukavu, in South Kivu, has said about it: “Several former combatants have said that they had decided to return to Rwanda with their dependants or their family after hearing a radio report on the successful return of a close family member or an acquaintance”. The DDRRR process is one of MONUC‟s most important tasks. Its mandate, which began in 1999, 3 was primarily to monitor the ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign armies “officially” present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Having accomplished that mission, MONUC has been playing a leading role for the last two years in the far more complex task of disarming and repatriating some 15,000 foreign combatants, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who had rebelled against their respective governments, namely Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. 4 These governments have announced the establishment of reintegration and resettlement programmes. MONUC‟s role is to make the rebels, mostly Rwandan and Burundian Hutus, aware of opportunities to return home and to put the necessary logistics in place. “If they continue to return at the same pace as in recent months, by the end of 2004, these groups will no longer pose a threat for the peace process bunched in the Congo” says Mamadou Bah, Coordinator of the MONUC task force in Kinshasa. 1 Radio Okapi is a joint project between MONUC and the Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss NGO that sets up media in crisis or conflict areas (www.hirondelle.org). Radio Okapi is a news ratio station that has been supporting the peace process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since February 2002. With its ten regional studios and programmes in five languages (Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo, Chiluba and French), it covers the entire Congolese territory. Great Britain, the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands provide funding for the Fondation Hirondelle under this project. 2 United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). 3 In July 1999, an agreement was concluded in Lusaka among the belligerent forces, providing for a ceasefire monitored by the United Nations; the disarmament of all armed groups, especially the Rwandan Interahamwe militia; the establishment of a Joint Military Commission as a prelude to the deployment of a United Nations force (MONUC); the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the protection of all ethnic groups; the re-establishment of State authority throughout the country; and the opening of national dialogue involving the government, the opposition and groups of former rebels, leading to elections. 4 It is difficult to determine the exact number because the figures differ from one source to another. The Rwandan authorities have estimated that there are at least 30,000 rebels. -2- Nearly 10,000 soldiers, child soldiers and their families have now returned to their homes, mainly in Rwanda, but also in Burundi and Uganda. The success of the operation certainly owes much to political changes in the various countries and to the establishment of new relations in the Great Lakes Region. It is also the outcome of work by the MONUC DDRRR awareness-raising unit which uses all available media, primarily radio broadcasts, mobile transmitters, video shows, leaflets, posters, stickers, a website and, if necessary, satellite telephones, 5 to reach its target audience. In the case of the Congo, MONUC‟s DDRRR operations have had to take the particular features of the country into account and could not merely be modelled on operations carried out successfully by the United Nations in Mozambique, Sierra Leone or Guatemala. The Congo is a vast country, with practically no roads and communication media. Insecurity still prevails in large regions. To raise awareness among rebel groups, the information must reach them where they are which is generally underground, in other words, in the bush or the equatorial forest. The information must relate to the agreements reached by the various governments on the rights and duties of former combatants with respect to disarmament and repatriation, and on the opportunities available to those who agree to lay down their arms under the DDRRR process. The aim here is to encourage voluntary decision-making. Several factors make this task highly complex. First, it is difficult to locate combatants and to have access to them. Their nomadic way of life, predatory behaviour and movements depending on the local people‟s ability to feed them complicate matters. The soldiers are often in very remote areas, almost inaccessible by road. There are therefore very few opportunities to inform them individually. Moreover, the rebels are often under strict control by their military superiors, who bring pressure and propaganda to bear. Some of them are accused of crimes against humanity and are therefore not eager to return home. Others find serving as underground officers preferable to life as anonymous civilians in Rwanda. Ordinary soldiers are therefore still on a war footing and are terrified at the thought of returning home, where the “enemy” reigns. To promote voluntary return among Rwandan rebels, MONUC produces a daily radio programme in Kinyarwanda, “Gutahuka”, which means returning home. This programme consists of true stories, accounts by former combatants who were followed all the way to their village of origin, and messages from families that stayed in the country urging the rebels to overcome their fear of returning. The programme also explains the practical details of the disarmament and repatriation process. A MONUC radio and video production team, assigned to “Gutahuka”, travels regularly to Rwanda, to meet returnees in transit or reintegration camps. The campaign, which is also being conducted on paper, has an even greater impact because of the images provided. It is very often difficult, however, to show these reports in the quarters of soldiers held hostage by extremist commanders. The awareness-raising programme has been provided to all the Congolese media, with mixed results so far. In fact, the country‟s press is in dire financial straits and the area covered by the local radio stations is very small. Furthermore, as Immaculée Birhaheka, a human rights activist in Goma, 5 “The leaflets distributed on the ground contain information on MONUC‟s presence in the region and on what it can provide to DDRRR candidates – for example, a possible telephone call home”, Sébastien Lapierre, MONUC information officer, Bukavu. -3- explains, “the country‟s media have little concern for an operation that, in their view, is a matter for the international community”. Nevertheless, she adds that “the problem is indeed one that primarily concerns the Congolese people, who are victims of insecurity and continue to bear the cost of the various wars and invasions by foreign combatants”. Moreover, the Kinyarwanda language used to reach the target audience is regarded by many Congolese people as the “enemy‟s language”. The only station that broadcasts the “Gutahuka” programme regularly and is currently the main DDRRR awareness-raising medium in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Radio Okapi. 6 According to Richard Wyatt, Great Lakes Coordinator in the European Commission‟s Directorate-General for Development, Radio Okapi has played a positive role because it uses the various languages understood by the target audience. He believes that the information broadcast is of good quality and that the message gets across in many cases because Radio Okapi is being used. Launched in February 2002, after the political discussions on inter-Congolese dialogue in Sun City, Radio Okapi‟s mission is to inform the Congolese people of the progress of the peace process. The programmes are broadcast in the four national Congolese languages and in French, and cover the whole territory. Since Autumn 2002, Radio Okapi has aired the “Gutahuka” programme, aimed at those wishing to go home, twice a day. The broadcast targets the east of the country, where former combatants are concentrated. Yvan Asselin, the Canadian director of Radio Okapi, considers that MONUC‟s programme, combined with the quality of all the information regularly provided by the radio station, may have a favourable impact on DDRRR. He says that “radio can reach soldiers in the most remote areas and easily evades censorship by superiors”. He would nevertheless like to adopt an approach that is closer to the field and to target the audience‟s interests better through specific programmes. “They will be broadcast increasingly via mobile FM transmitters that cover specific sectors, on particular frequencies”. To offset Radio Okapi‟s incomplete coverage of the territory, MONUC offered the “Gutahuka” programmes to two international broadcasting corporations, the BBC and The Voice of America, which cover Africa on shortwave. The BBC, which did not wish to take on the responsibility of broadcasting a message over which it had no control, declined the offer for “ethical reasons”. The Voice of America has reserved the possibility of broadcasting excerpts from interviews but does not relay the programme in its entirety. Jean-Marie Etter, President of the Hirondelle Foundation, which manages Radio Okapi in cooperation with MONUC, highlights the difference in approach between news in the strict sense and a programme such as “Gutahuka”. “The DDRRR awareness-raising message falls within the field of communication. The aim of communication is to get the audience to take action or make a gesture. The aim of the DDRRR message is to encourage foreign rebel combatants still based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to go home. This does not prevent communication from providing news that is accurate, of course, but the intention is different. The intention of a news programme is to reflect the true facts without seeking to elicit a specific form of behaviour. I believe that in the long run, in areas of violent conflict, an “informative” approach – which may have fewer results in the short term, but will be more solid and will build confidence in the long term – will eventually be preferred”. 6 Radio Okapi broadcasts information on the repatriation of foreign rebel combatants based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and not only news in the strict and journalistic sense of the term, in particular in its news bulletins, but also public information disseminated by DDRRR officials, according to the operation‟s specific agenda and criteria. The two forms of information are provided in Radio Okapi‟s programmes, and are distinctly identified for listeners. The “Gutahuka” programme, for example, is preceded by an announcement stating that it is produced by the MONUC DDRRR department. -4- Radio Okapi has presented the issue of DDRRR, from the time it was launched, in its news bulletins and other information slots, in a factual manner and just as any other news ratio station. Its journalists have given accounts of what they have seen in the east of the country, where there were foreign armed groups, and have interviewed the people concerned at all levels. Such journalistic handling of information, whether it be positive or negative, has been an editorial priority from the outset in a radio station that aimed to support the peace process. The radio station has also broadcast “service” information for all its listeners, consisting of popularization programmes to explain the activities behind the acronym “DDRRR”. (Source: Philippe Dahinden, the Hirondelle Foundation‟s first Radio Okapi Project Director). The information provided in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighbouring countries or by the international media on the repatriation process and the many difficulties encountered is incomplete, apart from that provided by Radio Okapi, which does sterling work on the subject. Generally speaking, only MONUC press conferences and press releases on the progress of the repatriation operations are really and systematically taken up by the national and international media, including those of Rwanda.7 It must be said that the United Nations information policy on the subject is rather restrictive. To avoid information leaks that, if exploited by partisan interests, might threaten the smooth conduct of operations (outbreak of fighting, for example),8 MONUC usually releases information to the media only when negotiations have been completed or when repatriations have been confirmed. Visits are then organized and the international press is invited to Kigali airport when large numbers are being repatriated. This information policy is not always well understood by the Congolese people who want their country to be free of foreign soldiers so that peaceful reconstruction might begin. As a result, MONUC is often blamed in the Congolese media for DDRRR delays. As Mamadou Bah, the Senegalese Coordinator of the DDRRR campaign again points out, however, “there are probably 5,000 foreign combatants left today. Many of them will leave by the end of the year, some by their own means. The remainder will no longer be a threat and will not prevent free and transparent elections from being held”. MONUC will thus be able to carry out its new mandate,9 which includes the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of Congolese armed groups and other militia forces. Long years of warfare and the collapse of the State have ravaged the Congo, where pillaging and the law of the strongest prevailed. The most explosive problem is still the militia and national armed groups that have taken possession, economically and militarily, of entire zones of the territory. Despite the cessation of hostilities, demobilization has been slow. The Congolese Government has announced the formation of a new unified army. Hoping to be enlisted, many combatants now prefer to wait without laying down their arms, but obviously they will not all be selected. 7 In Rwanda, the media report immediately on the repatriation of former Hutu rebel combatants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Repatriation was speeded up in particular in November 2003, after General Paul Rwarakabije surrendered, together with about one hundred former FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) combatants. 8 See MONUC Background at http://www.monuc.org 9 United Nations Security Council resolution 1493, dated 28 July 2003, in which MONUC is mandated to participate in the disarmament of Congolese armed groups. -5- The national DDR programme, which will be funded by the World Bank, should thus lead to the reintegration of former combatants, including the elderly and disabled, war widows and thousands of child soldiers. Assistance, education, training programmes and job opportunities must be provided for them. MONUC‟s information campaign should be equal to the challenge. Other stakeholders, namely the Government and non-governmental organizations, will be involved. This is a real challenge for the country‟s media, which must all contribute, by providing information accurately and responsibly, to the achievement of a process that is concomitantly military, economic, social and cultural, a process that is imperative for a genuine return to peace. ess that is imperative for a genuine return to peace.
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