Can radio build peace in South Sudanese refugee camps?

By Ochan Hannington

Since South Sudan's civil war began in 2013, over one million citizens have fled to neighboring Uganda. Refugees continue to face tension—both between ethnic groups and with host communities—but in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, one group of refugee reporters are behind a radio program that is broadcasting hope.

"The kind of peace messages that we broadcast are unifying and reconciliatory—so say peacebuilding—messages," says Juruga Samuel Andrew, Morobo Broadcasting Services program manager

Reporters for Morobo Broadcasting Services (MBS) hail from refugee camps around Uganda and transmit 30-minute weekly programs on peacebuilding between refugees and host communities.

"Their on-air program is every Friday from 3pm to 3:30pm," says Okunia Doreen, Voice of Life studio manager. "I will see them on the compound from Monday, and it is Tuesdays and Wednesday that they go into the field, on Thursday they come and produce their work and hand over their complete work on Friday for airing."

MBS get help from partner station, Voice of Life and German group GIZ, and reporters often focus on stories that deal with religious harmony, women in peacebuilding, and youth and peace.

"Looking at the current crisis we have in South Sudan, looking at the population that is involved in this crisis, you'll find that the greatest number is the youth," says Andrew. "So we also go to the youth, we ask them what message they want to pass to their fellow colleagues—concerning peace."

But gaining trust in the camps is hard, where suspicions can be high and interviewees have often suffered trauma.

"There's always a misconception of us, the reporters, by both the refugee and the host community," says Driliga George Lominda, MBS station manager. "We tend, actually, to feel that sometimes we may be [seen as] security agents, or we are just there to find out information—biased information—and cause something."

Reporters also struggle with access to electricity so they improvise with solar power panels and smart phone recordings for interviews. Transport can be a problem.

"When it comes to rainy season, this place is full of valleys, and streams, so it sometimes proves a big challenge," says Lominda. "Some roads are impassable, the rivers are full."

As well as broadcasting stories of peacebuilding, the reporters' movement through the camps has helped refugees connect with each other.

"They've been able to locate their lost ones," says Doreen. "Some of them have been coming to us saying that 'It has been good the radio has given us the opportunity to reunite with people'. You know, very well, when the conflict started some of them went different ways, separate ways. Other went to DR Congo, others came to Uganda, so it has given them to opportunity to reunite."

MBS staff hope their stories will have a wide-spread impact in the communities they reach.

"Unity, when we build it here, we believe that this unity will be taken back home to South Sudan, which can make people live peacefully," says Andrew. "Because we start it with ourselves as individuals, then it extends to our neighborhood, then the neighboring communities, then the leaders. And you'll find it goes to the highest level possible."

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