Estranged Muslim and Christian communities in war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) have begun healing their wounds and edging toward reconciliation and tolerance after years of hatred, mistrust and ethnic violence.
The sectarian conflict, which the UN fears might lead to genocide, has killed thousands and displaced over 900 000 people, according to official statistics. More than 2.3 million – half of the population – are believed to be in need of humanitarian assistance.
Getting people to tolerate each other again is not an easy process, but the media appears to be playing a critical role and is said to be succeeding where politicians and international mediators seem to have failed.
In the city of Bambari, a multi-confessional radio station established by Internews has begun broadcasting messages of peace and hope that seem to be capturing the minds of victims, and making them understand that they need each other in desperate times like these.
Bambari, located 387 km north-east of the capital Bangui, is home of the ex-Seleka militia (Muslim rebels) that saw heavy fighting from December 2013 to June 2014.
Crisis-hit residents in Bambari have an acute need for reliable, balanced, and timely information, and there is hope that Radio Gbagbara can begin to fill this void, Internews said.
Internews operates in CAR with support from USAid, and the funding for the radio came from UN Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF).
“There has been widespread support for a truly representative radio that would bring communities together,” Mathias Manirakiza, Internews director in CAR, said.
“The station not only shares accurate and useful information for living safely together, but it is a true community-owned resource with mixed local staff and programs.”
Getting the station up and running was a community effort. Muslim and Christian leaders, rival militias, civil society, and women’s and youth groups were all part of the earliest discussions.
The community management committee reflects this diverse support. Its head is a Muslim woman and the other members are Christian and Muslim men and women, a powerful example of cooperation in a country still grappling with sectarian violence.
(with the assistance of Internews, www.internews.com, final editing by Issa Sikiti)