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  • on 29.04.2014
  • at 04:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

South Sudan: how hate radio was used to incite Bentiu massacres 0

The spectre of ethnically-motivated killings, and the use of ethnic rivalry or hatred to mobilize and incite one community against another, hangs over the conflict in South Sudan. Coming just weeks after the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, which will forever be associated with the use of radio to incite hatred and help direct genocidal killings, the UNMISS report that a rebel commander in Bentiu used the local FM radio station to incite hatred against Dinkas, Darfuris and other non-Nuer, sent a shiver down my spine.

In a country with an estimated 80 per cent illiteracy rate, South Sudanese are particularly reliant on radio as a means of getting news and of communicating information.  It reaches those who cannot read or cannot access or afford to buy newspapers. It can be listened to throughout the day alone, or in groups and can have a mass effect if used to generate fear, mobilize support or, worst of all, incite hatred of others.

The Radio Bentiu FM station is a key source of news for the population. UNMISS said that the rebels had taken over the station and at times “broadcast hate messages declaring that certain ethnic groups should not stay in Bentiu and even calling on men from one community to commit vengeful sexual violence against women from another community”.  The UN mission roundly condemned the use of the radio to incite hatred and encourage killings or rape, though it did note that some rebel SPLA commanders had broadcast messages calling for unity and an end to ‘tribalism’. While UN radio stations and the Netherlands-funded Radio Tamazuj can be heard in Unity state, the local FM station is the key local outlet and so has a wide listenership in Bentiu.

Several hundred civilians were killed after the rebel occupation of the key oil town and most of the dead are believed to be Dinkas, Darfuris and a number of other Sudanese, deliberately targeted by sections of the rebel force as ‘enemies’.  At times the rebels have claimed that members of the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and other groups from Sudan have been fighting alongside the South Sudanese army.  UNMISS in its statement on the killings specifically referred to the targeting of Darfuris and to the killing of at least 200 and the wounding of 400 non-Nuer civilians in a mosque.  There were even reports, the UN said, of Nuer being killed for failing to show their support for the rebels. Among the targets for attacks were the mosque, the hospital and a World Food Programme compound.  The UNMISS personnel in Bentiu managed to rescue hundreds of civilians and it says it is now protecting 12,000 civilians at its base – part of an estimated total of 60,000 being guarded throughout South Sudan.

The use of radio to call on rebels and Nuer, in particular, to attack Dinkas and other groups does bring chilling echoes of Rwanda and of the use of local radio stations – especially vernacular ones in Kenya and the DRC – to incite fear, hatred or violence against particular groups. These include the Banyamulenge in eastern DRC or Kalenjin against Kikuyu and vice versa during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-8 (a Kenyan radio editor and presenter, Joshua arap Sang, is currently in trial at the ICC for using radio as part of the incitement of hatred and violence). The spokesperson for UNMISS, Joseph Contreras, said in an interview on UN Radio in South Sudan that the use of radio to fan the flames of hatred was to be deplored and made a direct reference to the role of hate radio in Rwanda.

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