(Abstract) “First Radio, Then Shoes”: The Role of Radio in Post-Conflict Africa

If you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, maybe you’ll remember the opening credits: a melange of radio broadcasts that set the scene, including a man from Hutu Power Radio giving instructions and fanning the flames for attacks on Tutsis. It’s a striking opening. And it raises questions–without radio, how would things have been different?

Radio is the most common form of communication across the African continent, and like any form of mass media, it can be used for good or for bad. This summer, I will be exploring how that role has changed from times of war to times of peace, and I will be exploring whether such a change is sustainable.  I will be focusing on Rwanda, in part because radio programming has changed most dramatically, and in part because I will be able to use my French skills in my research. I plan to collect, analyze, and compare radio programs during and after the conflict, and to examine them for what they promote and who they appeal to; I plan to conduct interviews with professors and academics who have studied the subject, including Allan Thompson of Carleton College, Helen Odame at the University of Guelph, and Devra Moehler at the University of Pennsylvania; and to conduct interviews, if possible, with people who have been directly affected by radio in the region.

I also plan to examine what role international organizations play in the development of these radio programs. A key part of sustainability is ensuring that change is coming from within, and not being imposed by outer sources. I will be looking for several major indicators in my research; first, where the new programming is coming from (sponsored by, recorded, etc.); second, what the goal of the programming is (reconciliation, education, international news, etc.); and thirdly, what the popularity of these disparate programs are, and evaluating reasons for their popularity or unpopularity.

At the end of this project, my goal is to have better understanding not only of the role that radio plays, but also of the road that Rwanda has taken to rebuilding itself, which (hopefully) is a model of reconciliation that other warring nations might be able to follow.