Burundi Conference Report (2008)
The Media Project conference in Burundi’s Northern Province of Ngozi.
April 10-11, 2008
Report submitted by Appolinaire NIYIRORA, General Conference Rapporteur & Déogratias NDAYISHIMIYE
The conference gathered Burundian Christian journalists, university academics and church leaders, three of the major stakeholders of the Burundi civil society.
First day, April 10th 2008
I. OPENING REMARKS
At the opening of the media conference, a representative of the Burundi Association of Journalists (ABJ) emphasized on the role of journalists in bringing a positive change to communities. Mr. Alexandre Niyungeko, the ABJ Secretary General, said Burundian journalists are today facing challenges notably those related to reporting conflicting events or the situation of post conflict that Burundi is today crossing.
II.PRESENTATIONS & DISCUSSIONS
The first presentation dealt with the very title of the conference, that is, “Challenges and Opportunities of Media in Post Conflict Societies”. This presentation was given by Mr. Déogratias Ndayishimiye, a Burundian media professional.
In his introduction, Mr. Ndayishimiye raised the biggest concern of a post conflict situation which is the national recovery on the political aspect. This is achieved through advocating democratic governance based on participation in taking and implementing decisions.
Characteristics and challenges in a post conflict period were also discussed. They include economic recovery and risk mitigation. However, the sought stability by any post conflict country lies on three levels: political, economic and social. However, this stability will only be achieved when the country leaders take into account the desire of the population. It has been noticed that in many countries, leaders do not have a common understanding on the causes or nature of the conflict.
The information on the conflict casualties can therefore be transformed according to who is speaking or providing that information. In Burundi, accurate data on the people killed in the 1993 crisis are not available; some people say the crisis left some 300,000 victims, while others say they are far less than the above figure.
Throughout this presentation, some opportunities of a post conflict state to move ahead were pointed out. They include the attraction of other states and organizations by responding to the appeal made by that post conflict country that needs urgent aid. This was the case for Burundi given the number of round tables that were held to assist the country.
Another opportunity raised, thanks to the return of peace, was the beginning of the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers that had come to Burundi during the war.
Besides, in a post conflict country, leaders get the support from local actors like civic society organizations which now commit to accompany the process. Therefore, local and international cooperation goes on the rise. With regard to challenges that media face in a post conflict country, we can mention the tendency to create a conducive environment for mechanisms of media responses towards stability challenges and risk mediation.
To be able to successfully cross this crucial period, media have to accompany the government action through its activities of working hand in hand civic society organizations and local people. However, among the leaders, there are some from former rebel movements who are responsible for war crimes. Media have a lot of opportunities in a post conflict country. These include their testimonies of real situations, their advocacy for the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), etc.
The second presentation whose title is “Challenges and Opportunities of Christian Journalists” was given by Reverend Dr. Arne H. Fjeldstad, CEO The Media Project.
This presentation mainly focused on the value of truth in journalism, especially for a Christian journalist. As God is the supreme communicator, journalists should be researchers and communicators of truth. Truth should therefore be clearly communicated with love. In so doing, lying has to be avoided. Truth is linked with justice and honesty. What Christian journalists say or write should therefore be truthful and avoid lies and fabrication. They should be encouraged to denounce violations of truth, but at the same time, take into account what could be possible outcomes of the story. Censorship and self-censorship were also discussed during the presentation. It was noticed that censorship is due to lack of media freedom.
Opportunities for Christian journalists to report truth include the existence of a media agenda-setting for the community. Christian journalists also advocate reconciliation whose foundation is truth. Reconciliation is only possible when the news given is true.
The third presentation entitled “Media Challenges in Conflict Areas: The case of Northern Uganda” was given by Mr. David Sseeppuuya, Communications Manager at World Vision Uganda.
Participants were informed about the origin of the rebellion and the atrocities like killings and abductions carried out on the population in the Northern Uganda. David Sseeppuuya said the rebellion broke out in the North because of an unfair power sharing among Uganda’s regions in 1986.
The rebellion known as the Lord’s Resistance Movement (LRA) has been fighting the Ugandan government for 22 years and has cost the government over US$2 billion.
There has been a series of peace talks, which some Ugandans have called “peace jokes” that will hopefully culminate in the signing of a peace agreement.
With regard to challenges that journalists face to report atrocities made on the population in Northern Uganda, these are notably linked with the fear of publishing news stories, articles and features. Thus, the publication of a truthful story in a conflict situation is going to please one side (the “winner”), while the “loser” in that reported event might ill-treat the journalist who published the story. Nevertheless, a Christian journalist should not fear to report such atrocities as it is our way to transform the societies. Christianity should not necessarily be divorced with journalism. When writing such a story, a Christian journalist should be able to choose a right angle; that is, a spiritual aspect.
Participants to the conference were shown pictures of mutilated body parts of people who underwent atrocities in Northern Uganda regions.
For the first three presentations of the first day, some questions were asked to the presenters to deepen the understanding of the participants.
One of the questions insisted on the truthfulness of a story given the fact that every truth is not good to be said. Here, one of the examples given is that reporting “same-sex marriages” or “rape” cases may encourage such bad manners to people who did not know them. Other news reports might cause “incitation to violence” or “retaliation”.
Reacting to this question, Reverend Dr. Arne said that sometimes we cannot say everything. We must have a spiritual discernment. There are truths that we do not say.
But truth and love always have to be combined. Whatever we see should be told with truth and love. Truth being a gift from God, journalists should not be afraid of hard situations.
In situations of conflict, the reporter has to be objective and truthful as the Bible says in John 8. Censorship is generally an obstacle to saying the truth. Truth is complex. We need to be humble when we talk about truth.
In any post conflict society like Burundi, truth is not always comfortable. When we write a story or make a radio or TV news report, we should think first about the objective of the story, i.e., what might be its impact on the audience. Truth ought to lead to the transformation of people.
Concerning the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that is soon to be operational in Burundi, participants noticed that reconciliation is always hard. Participants said there are many versions of truth in Burundi. Truth is rather unique. We have to use the information from archives to discover truth. In Burundi, participants recommended that adequate mechanisms should be put ahead for the success of the TRC.
Still on reconciliation, another question was to know whether we can forgive without forgetting. As a reaction to this issue, it was said that if a person honestly and humbly apologises, please forgive and forget. But it can happen that you have deep wounds. In that case, we need to pray in order to forgive completely as the Bible says in Corinthians. When we forgive, we become a new creature.
Second day, April 11th, 2008
Three other presentations were given on the second and last day of the Media conference.
The fourth presentation which reads as “Challenges and Role of the Christian Church in Reconciliation and Peace Building in a Post Conflict Period” was given by Pastor Pascal Irandagiye.
In his presentation, Pastor Pascal Irandagiye said members of the Christian Church (Christians) should behave like Jesus Christ, and be His image on earth. Recalling the mission of Jesus Christ on earth, Pastor Pascal stated that Jesus had come to reconcile God and people on the one hand, and people amongst themselves on the other. To be able to effectively represent Jesus Christ on earth, members of the Christian Church should comply with the Shepherd’s commandments.
This means that the Christian Church should be a mediation organ between conflicting parties either in a conflict or post conflict period. It has to be entirely neutral in its facilitation duty.
With regard to the Christian Church in Burundi, Pastor Pascal Irandagiye believes that it has done very little in playing its role of reconciliation and peace building during one decade-long crisis. According to him, there should not have been massacres if the Christian community members said to represent 90 percent of the whole population were real Christians.
Some of the biggest challenges the Christian Church is facing include the real representation of Jesus Christ on earth, lack of training in the Word of God, biblical school and theological studies for church leaders.
This presentation raised a lot of criticism with regard to the role of the Christian Church in the crisis in Burundi and its contribution in the reconciliation process. Participants said we should however appreciate the little effort the Church is doing in the reconciliation process. Some names of Church leaders who saved thousands of lives were mentioned. These include Monsignor Joachim Ruhuna who hid people at his home, and who told the attackers to stop violence. Monsignor Joachim Ruhuna was later killed by rebels.
Today, the Church is involved in the reconciliation process by preaching the Word of God. Pastor Pascal Irandagiye said Many Burundian Christians do not unfortunately practice the Word of God. A research shows that only 7 percent of Burundians are real Christians.
“The Challenges Facing the Church in Democratization of the State” is the fifth presentation developed by Mr. David Sseeppuuya, Communications Manager at World Vision Uganda.
This topic was supposed to be developed by Dr. Charles Kitima from Tanzania, but he was unavailable at the last minute. This presentation given by Mr. David Sseeppuuya insisted on the influence of religion on the state policy. In Tanzania, Islam and Christianity are well structured religions. Government affairs in Tanzania are much influenced by the importance of each religion in the Tanzanian society.
The Church deserves the respect by the state to advocate human dignity. Thus, religious institutions have a divine mission to educate, promote and respect human rights for the social cohesion. To achieve this, the Church has to inculcate citizens with human values such as democracy, good governance and the respect of human rights.
Once people are educated, they will be able to choose the type of their government which will respect and protect human dignity.
The relationship between the State and Religion was asked. Participants were informed that Religion on its side focuses on the moral aspect. Both the State and Religion should co-operate and serve the community. Two tools that should serve primarily the communities were pointed out:
1.The Bible and
2.The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Another question raised was to say whether the Church can stand up and say what is going wrong with the State. The mandate of the Church is not to lookout what is wrong with the government. It rather has to do its own business, i.e., to teach moral principles to the believers. The Rwandan Church during the 1994 genocide, for example, failed its mission by not protecting people who had sought refuge in churches. Church leaders did not respect the principle of love amongst brothers and sisters.
The sixth presentation whose title is <strong>“The OCRPL Media Project and why Religious Reporting?”</strong> was given by Reverend Dr. Arne Fjeldstad, OCRPL, CEO Media Project.
The main objective of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life (OCRPL) is to provide a context to cover religious events in public life. This is because religion is very important in the life of millions of people throughout the world, as it gives the meaning to reality.
The OCRPL has been training many journalists with the aim of exploring the role of religion in public life, and has been providing resources to efficiently cover religious issues. The OCRPL main goal is that every Christian journalist should include a religious dimension in his/her story.
The other target population of the OCRPL is journalism lecturers as well as students. To achieve its goal, the OCRPL Media Project uses four ways: conferences, Internet, publications and education.
Religious reporting is more important than ever before because people today tend not to understand the role and the importance of faith. Religion is nowadays criticised as an old way of making social order. It is not enough covered because amongst educated people, very few consider it as a form of real knowledge. Media are only interested to cover religion in case of scandals made by Church leaders.
III.Way forward, recommendations and commitments<em>
A set of questions was raised to look at the way forward. One of the questions was to know whether there is media freedom in Burundi capable of preventing future conflicts.
All participants (especially journalists who took part in the conference) agreed that there is today media freedom if we compare to that of the past. They assured that future conflicts can be easily avoided. According to them, Burundian media companies are today committed to fighting for peace than ever before. They are indeed aware that in the past (in the 1993 crisis), some media houses incited some sort of hatred amongst