Creating community in times of conflict: Celebrating World Radio Day 2023

At Farm Radio International, we tend to assume that, since we think radio is cool, everyone else must too. The good news is that, every February, our feelings toward radio are validated in the form of World Radio Day. This international day falls every year on Feb. 13 and raises awareness about the importance of radio.

The theme for World Radio Day 2023 is “Radio and Peace,” a theme that highlights radio’s potential to reduce tensions and build peace. Support for independent, impartial radio is a key component of peacebuilding, especially in conflict-affected countries in Africa.

Radio reaches people no matter where they are — whether they have access to a landline, are displaced or are simply on the farm. Broadcasters are trusted, meaning they can promote powerful messages of community. And radio can build understanding between and across individuals in all their diversity and communities.

Farm Radio operates in several African countries that face ongoing conflict and insecurity, including Mali. The current crisis in Mali stems from a coup d’etat in 2012, ensuing military intervention in the north, and regular uprisings by rebel and extremist groups. The insecurity in Mali has resulted in an increase in gender-based violence and other human rights abuses.

“In times of crisis and particularly in Mali, the programs have contributed significantly to maintaining momentum in terms of information, training and awareness raising among our partner communities.”

Malamine Traore, Farm Radio Country Representative, Mali

Despite the conflict, Farm Radio has run several projects in the landlocked west African country, including about girls’ education and COVID-19 vaccination. While the Farm Radio team in Mali and participating radio stations have had to adapt their practices to ensure staff’s safety and security, the use of radio and other techniques has meant work can continue. Among other things, they’ve turned to WhatsApp, a phone messaging application, to communicate safely at a distance. Radio stations have set up WhatsApp groups to continue interacting with listeners and getting essential programming to them, despite the insecurity.

Our Radio Network team has also used WhatsApp to host discussions with broadcasters so that they can continue to learn even when they are not physically reachable: a discussion with broadcasters in Mali about broadcasting in insecure areas and one with broadcasters in Burkina Faso about collecting information in insecure areas.

Besides sharing best practices for reporting in conflict zones, the groups discussed the role of the journalist. Journalists above all must disseminate accurate, impartial information. Yet good journalism can also play a role in reducing conflict, including through humanizing the people involved in the conflict, correcting misperceptions, and encouraging communication and dialogue between sides.

It’s true that radio is an efficient and effective way of communicating and connecting. Strong and timely communication can relieve tensions during times of crisis — especially for those with limited access to technology. Communication can build stronger communities. Communication justice is a human right. When you respect that right, you strive to include everyone in communication and provide them with access to reliable and trustworthy information.

Advancing girls’ education in conflict-affected Mali

We would also argue that the role of journalism and radio is to support the activities that help life keep going in times of conflict — things like growing good food and sending children to school.

Our DÉFI project aims to do just that by promoting inclusive, equitable and quality education for girls living in conflict-affected areas in Mali.

Mr. Keïta leads a study session with students in Bamako, Mali in July 2021.

“Young girls’ schooling is an essential element of their access to economic autonomy and a major development issue. Through education, they gain knowledge, which influences, for example, infant mortality because once they are mothers, they’ll do well for their children,” says Farm Radio’s Country Representative for Mali, Malamine Traore. “In times of crisis and particularly in Mali, the programs have contributed significantly to maintaining momentum in terms of information, training and awareness raising among our partner communities.”

Radio provides a unique opportunity to continue advancing development goals when field agents are unable to travel to a region. The medium is highly accessible since programs are broadcast in local languages, reach people where they live, and do not require listeners to be literate or have access to sophisticated technologies.

In the case of DÉFI, the radio programs have raised awareness among conflict-affected populations about the importance of girls’ education for Mali’s development and the fight against poverty. The project has seen success, motivating parents to return girls to school or keep them in school in the first place. DÉFI has also greatly reduced the exodus of girls from conflict-affected rural areas and promoted the reintegration of internally displaced girls into the education system.

Penda Boré is a mother of four who lives in the Mopti Region in central Mali. In the past, she sent all her children to school — including her daughters — but did not do much beyond that to support their education. However, listening to a program on her local radio station, Radio Daande Duwansa, changed her perspective.

“I’ve understood that you shouldn’t limit yourself to paying for a notebook and a pen and telling your child to go to school, but rather that monitoring should be regular,” Penda says. “I’ve changed my behaviour towards my children a lot because I’ve become a true mother who educates and trains my children.”

Wherever you are this World Radio Day, we hope you’ll take some time to reflect on those moments when you found comfort in radio or learned something new over the airwaves. Radio helps bring peace of mind to people all around the world.

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To support our work empowering Malians and other sub-Saharan Africans to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, donate now.

About the Project

The five-year “Défi education des filles au Mali” (DÉFI) project aims to improve access to and quality of education for girls in conflict-affected communities across Mali. Farm Radio International is working in partnership with Alinea International to reduce barriers to girls’ education thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

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