"People have long felt forgotten" – Media development in crisis regions | DW AKADEMIE | DW | 12.03.2024
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"People have long felt forgotten" – Media development in crisis regions

"Kwizera" means hope. Since 2020, DW Akademie has been supporting a radio station of the same name in northwestern Tanzania. It provides vital information to refugees and the surrounding communities.

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Editors from Radio Kwizera conduct an interview

It is a familiar sight for the people in these remote villages. As soon as a problem arises, someone from Radio Kwizera appears. Young journalists cruising through the forested border region between Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on their motorcycles with recording equipment and microphones in their backpacks. They can switch effortlessly between languages and are always committed to the people.

In the small town of Ngara, located in the misty mountains of western Tanzania, stands a building surrounded by large satellite dishes and vegetable gardens. This is Radio Kwizera. 

"We try to provide for ourselves," said the station's director, Angelo Munduni Dema, proudly speaking of the gardens. "Nobody here has much money, and the supply situation is bad."

"Our motto is: 'Your voice is our voice'"

Angelo Munduni Dema is a Jesuit. He has known Radio Kwizera since his student days and has been the station's director since 2019. The Ugandan has previously worked in many African countries.

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Jesuit Father Angelo Munduni Dema has been the station's director since 2019

"This is a conflict region with many people from Congo and Burundi seeking protection and fleeing to Tanzania," he explained. "People have felt forgotten and ignored for a long time. In terms of information, this area was a big void. People are happy that we are publicizing their views and their difficulties. Our motto is: 'Your Voice is our Voice,' and we take that seriously. Thanks to the support of DW Akademie, we have been able to professionalize our work."

DW Akademie has been supporting the station with its reporting on refugees and migration since 2020. The focus is on programs that give refugees better access to information and promote peaceful coexistence between refugees and their host communities. In training sessions, editors learn the principles of conflict- and gender-sensitive reporting, fact-checking and professional research. Most recently, a workshop on "Trauma & Mental Health Reporting" was held at the specific request of the editorial team.

War and crises are major issues in this region. Tanzania's western border runs along many hotspots of conflict. Around 250,000 people have fled to the neighboring country from both Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tanzania's refugee policy is restrictive and refugees live in camps that they are only permitted to leave in exceptional cases. It is mainly Congolese asylum seekers who live here, some have been residing in the camp for decades. Every time the war in eastern Congo flares up, new refugees arrive as is the case now.

According to UNHCR, 2.5 million internally displaced people are living in the Congolese province of North Kivu and 800,000 more arrived recently. Both the rebels and the government have been fighting fierce battles since the beginning of the year, forcing civilians to flee en masse. Floods and the outbreak of cholera are exacerbating an already difficult situation. Many people are trying to find safety in Tanzania.

The station reaches around nine million people

The editorial team at Radio Kwizera knows they are in demand. The radio station's broadcasting area covers around 13,000 square kilometers  ̶  the whole of western Tanzania  ̶  where the large refugee camps of Nyarugusu and Nduta are located. Around nine million people can tune in to the station. Reliable information is vital in crisis situations such as displacement.

"Our correspondents from the border region conduct interviews with aid organizations, refugees and experts on the ground. There is a real risk of a major war," said director Dema. "The situation is very tense. We are trying to give people orientation."

This is how Radio Kwizera got started, as Ngara is only a few kilometers from the Rwandan border. In 1994 during the genocide, hundreds of thousands of people seeking protection crossed a nearby checkpoint. Huge refugee camps quickly developed leading the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to open a radio station called Kwizera, which means "hope."  The refugee camps of the past no longer exist, but there are now large camps on the border with the Congo instead. And Radio Kwizera is the most important source of information for many people there.

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Kanyesha Faustine, editor at Radio Kwizera

Training on trauma and mental health

"Due to armed conflicts and poverty, there are many problems with mental illness here," said Dema. "Our journalists need to be trained so they can deal adequately with these issues."

In a two-week workshop held by DW Akademie, members of the editorial team learned special interview techniques for dealing with traumatized people, among other skills. The Kenyan trainer even organized a live stream with a renowned psychiatrist so that the journalists could ask their questions.

"The training on trauma and mental health was very important for us. People usually view mental disorders with suspicion. Either they laugh at the people affected or they say someone is jinxed which results in social ostracism," said editor Kanyesha Faustine. The 29-year-old recently became a mother and continues to work full-time.

"Now we are better equipped to deal with these topics," she added. "I think people need to learn more about trauma and mental health crises in order to better understand [these topics] and seek professional help."

Radio Kwizera focuses on finding solutions

It is not only war and displacement that can cause trauma. Poverty also has a very negative impact on mental health. The Radio Kwizera team is preparing a radio series on this topic. Editor Elias Zephania speaks about the issue with Clemensia Gwassa, who lives in a remote hut with her daughter and grandchildren. The old woman's daughter has severe mental health problems.

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Radio Kwizera reporter Elias Zephania interviews Clemensia Gwassa

"She can't work or look after the children," said Gwassa. "We don't have enough to eat."

As Radio Kwizera employs solution-oriented journalism, the program also offers listeners useful information about social services.

Listener groups, called "Salaam Clubs," are spread throughout the region and are part of the DW Akademie project. There are a total of 41 clubs with around 650 members, consisting of ordinary people from the surrounding villages. They meet on a monthly basis and discuss the topics they have heard on the radio. Radio Kwizera produces a two-hour weekly show just for the Salaam Clubs when members can call in and go live on air.

"I used to hate refugees"

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Listeners' clubs meet every month to discuss what they have heard on the radio

All of these clubs also have agricultural projects. For example, they receive seedlings procured from donations to the station to plant trees. This means that the listener clubs also contribute to the food supplies of their members. In this poor region, such efforts are of central importance. Resources are scarce, which is another reason why displacement and the issues of local communities living with refugees are much-discussed topics.

"I used to hate refugees," said an old man at a community meeting, "but after listening to Radio Kwizera broadcasts, I realized that they are simply people in need who are fleeing to safety. I started to see that we are brothers." This listeners' club now donates part of its harvest to refugees.

Journalism for the community

Radio Kwizera has a great deal of influence throughout the region. A study conducted by DW Akademie in western Tanzania clearly shows that this radio station is by far the most popular and also the one that people trust the most.

This is mainly due to the professionalism and commitment of employees such as Samuel Samsoni, editor at Radio Kwizera. He is the first person from his village to become a journalist.

Tansania | Radio Kwizera

Samuel Samsoni is the first person from his village to become a journalist

"This has always been my passion," said the 24-year-old. "For me, journalism means that I can do something for my community. On the radio, we can point out social problems and help to find solutions."

This project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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