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Radio & SMS: Joined for Justice

by paco on 13 Apr 2009 | Comments

It’s hard to overstate the reach of radio in Africa, and the potential that the medium holds for the defense of human rights.  And now with the spread of mobile phones and SMS text messaging throughout the continent, radio activists have found a happy marriage between the old and the new. Last week after one of the screenings of “The Reckoning” in The Hague Movies That Matter Festival, we had the pleasure of being on a panel with Tajeldin Abdalla Adam, or simply Taj, and he told us about Radio Dabanga, a short-wave radio station operating out of the city of Hilversum in Holland and broadcasting news to the Darfuri population in the Darfuri IDP camps of Sudan and the Darfuri refugee camps over the border in Chad.  They get news directly from the camps: people call or send SMS texts to Radio Dabanga and hang up, and then Radio Dabanga immediately calls them back so there is no additional expense for the caller.  This allows the Darfuri journalists at Radio Dabanga to get reports from the ground about what’s happening in the camps, and they corroborate the information with other people that are working with them within the camps and sending the information back using mobile phones, and then Radio Dabanga broadcasts the news to all the camps, where people gather to listen to the daily morning program.  Taj had an interesting take on the argument that the ICC warrants for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have worsened the situation for Darfuris in the camps because the humanitarian relief organizations were thrown out by al-Bashir after the warrants for him were issued.  Taj feels that the humanitarian organizations and the international community should have seen it coming, and should have prepared for it.  Far from blaming the ICC for their deepening plight, Darfuris have the common sense to place the blame where it lies, in the person of Omar al-Bashir and his lethal state apparatus.  Taj confirmed a report we had heard that in Kalma, one of the larger IDP camps with 90,000 people, they are refusing any offers of food and water from the Sudanese government, fearing that the supplies would be poisoned.

When we were in the war ravaged town of Bunia, capital of the Ituri region of eastern Congo, filming for “The Reckoning”, we shot a scene with Richard Pituwa and Wanda Hall, who produce a program called “Interactive Radio for Justice”.  They broadcast information about the International Criminal Court (ICC), and respond to questions sent to them by SMS from listeners in the region.  Due to the fact that the 4 people now facing justice at the ICC in The Hague are all from the DR Congo, and 3 of them are from Ituri (Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, and Mathieu Ngudjolo), this has created a great deal of local interest in the Court.  In one program that we filmed, Richard and Wanda had ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo on the line from The Hague, taking questions from listeners that were coming in as SMS text messages.  This marriage of radio and SMS is clearly a fantastic way to hear the voices and concerns of people who have had to endure the violence that continues to ravage central Africa, and to build local awareness and understanding of the international justice interventions that are affecting their lives.

Journalists at Radio Dabanga, Tajeldin Abdalla Adam (L) and Gaafer Monro (R) (photo: AFP)
Journalists at Radio Dabanga, Tajeldin Abdalla Adam (L) and Gaafer Monro (R) (photo: AFP)

Richard Pituwa and Wanda Hall, producers of
Richard Pituwa and Wanda Hall, producers of "Interactive Radio for Justice" in Bunia