The below message floated across the Twitter feed the other day and caught my eye:
The full official article from MINUSMA – that is, the United Nations Multi-Dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali – is here. It describes how eight community radio stations are getting kits with laptops, microphones, antennas, and other equipment.
On the one hand, this kind of project is inspirational. MINUSMA’s support is going to expand the physical reach of community radio stations in Mopti, the most violent region in Mali today. In other words, broadcasts will increasingly reach the isolated rural areas where violence is severe. The article is full of moving quotes from Mopti radio broadcasters and listeners, such as the following: “Getting timely, effective, true, and exact information in each village, each community, headed for each citizens, is essential for reducing tensions” and “The radio changes our lives. It gives us the feeling of being part of a society.” The radio broadcasters and staff put themselves at considerable risk in order to disseminate information, and that is extremely admirable.
On the other hand, I question the assumptions that MINUSMA seems to embrace. I’m sure there will be “monitoring and evaluation” galore, but to me one can never really evaluate whether something like this is making a difference beyond an anecdotal level. If overall violence in Mopti gets worse in 2019, does that mean the project failed? And if violence declines, did the project succeed? But even beyond the monitoring and evaluation component, what is the theory of change? Is it that people who are already desperate enough, or angry enough, or ideologically motivated enough, or opportunistic enough to kill will be dissuaded from doing so by a radio broadcast? I believe that media can incite and encourage violence – but does it follow from that proposition that media can also reduce and constrain violence? I’m not so sure. I believe that media can be a powerful tool that rebels and jihadists use to win recruits and sympathizers – but does it follow from that that government-backed or UN-backed media can reverse or effectively counter such recruitment? Again, I’m skeptical. Picture yourself as a twenty-five-year-old bandit in the Youwarou cercle, or a sixteen-year-old jihadist in the Tenenkou cercle, or a forty-eight-year-old hunter in the Bankass cercle – is there a radio broadcast, or even a succession of radio broadcasts, that would make you lay down your arms? Picture yourself living deep in the bush, trusting only a few people, grieving losses of relatives or friends who have been killed by others, grieving (consciously or unconsciously) over those whom you yourself have killed – what could a radio broadcaster say to you?
And is it not possible that the newly equipped community radio stations will now be more attractive targets? New laptops, new antennae, MINUSMA funding…
Why not just give this money directly to the poor in Mopti?