Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka — which means “Voice of Ouaka” in Sango, the local language, is a partner of Internews. Mike Thomson of BBC Newshour visited the station to report on the role the station plays in promoting peace in a region with a history of conflict between Christians and Muslims. Listen to the report:
Razia Iqbal: Now there can’t be many countries that share the dubious distinction of having spent much of the last decade in almost constant turmoil and violence. But that has been the fate of the Central African Republic. Armed militia groups, some from outside the country, have long caused problems. Add to this, the outbreak of bloody battles six years ago between local Muslim and Christian militia, which left thousands of civilians dead. In the third of his reports – Through the Eyes and Ears of Frontline Radio Stations Around the World – Mike Thomson looks at the town of Bambari, where a river divides its Christian and Muslim communities.
[Sounds of gunfire]
Mike Thomson: Bambari, around five hours drive northeast of the capital Bangui, has played a pivotal role in the Central African Republic’s brutal conflict that erupted in 2013. A coalition of mainly Muslim rebel forces called Séléka were headquartered there. Many thousands of civilians, some of them local, were to die in violence between their supporters and those of rival, largely Christian, Anti-balaka militias. And the town has long been a tinderbox for geographical reasons too. Sylvan Regall runs the unique Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka.
[Sound of voices in local language]
Sylvan Regall: There is a river that separates the city. The River is called the Ouaka River, same name as the radio station. On the right bank it was predominately Christian; on the left bank, you have a mixture of Christian and Muslims. There is no dialogue, so over time the tension between communities became really bad and it’s a real problem.
Mike Thomson: If any proof of that was needed, in 2014, all Bambari’s radio stations were shut after a local militia burned one down, killing several civilians. Then, in May last year, it was the turn of Sylvan’s station.
Sylvan Regall: A group of armed men burgled the place, stole all the equipment, the computers, the solar panels, which give us electricity. They plundered everything. Even the roof was taken down.
Mike Thomson: It must be very frightening to have something like that happen. Do you fear for your safety?
Sylvan Regall: Yes, I was afraid but the community told us not to be afraid, that they would even negotiate with the attackers to let them know that the radio was a public good and was important for this community. So, we feel supported.
Mike Thomson: Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka was out of action for months and only reopened in March this year. Since then it’s been doing its bit to try to reduce tensions between Christian and Muslim communities.
Sylvan Regall: To find a solution to this problem, the radio office programs that emphasize social cohesion and dialogue. So what we do is go out to the communities and we meet various leaders, leaders of armed groups as well. The result is that we feel that, thanks to our radio station, there has been relative return to peace.
Mike Thomson: An eclectic mix of music from all over the world is also a big part of the station’s output in this bustling, surprisingly cosmopolitan trader’s town.
Sylvan Regall: Our audience really likes songs that are sung in English, so all the Nigerian artists sing in English. The American rappers also rap in English. And people are very hungry to learn the English language.
Sylvan Regall: Now, there is one neighborhood in particular called Citio (sp) and that’s where people go every night in Bambari. People gather there. It becomes very lively, that’s where the bars are. That’s where there’s bars where you can dance with music. There is criminality. But the army, the police, and the UN forces patrol every day and every night so it’s relatively safe and we are not too worried at the moment.
Mike Thomson: Yet, even though they’ve only just re-learned how to party after years of fear and violence, people here do seem to know when to call it a night.
(Banner photo: Community members elected the first interim managing committee of Bambari’s new radio station. Credit: Internews)