Radio has proven powerful in Africa to spark ethnic violence, but it can also promote peace . The Catholic Radio Network (CRN) started in 2006 as a joint initiative of the Comboni Institutes and the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC). It derived from the moral authority gained by the Catholic Church and the missionaries during the devastating times of war.
Local ownership and local insights
The CRN was spearheaded by the Comboni Institutes and owned by SCBC, which was credited with spiritually and morally supporting the marginalised communities in their struggle for dignity. Moreover, most church leaders were Southern Sudanese: they had direct experience of the effect of the war on relationships, and direct knowledge of the political context, of its dynamics, and of traditional mechanisms for security and peace. Parishes and chapels were active also in remote areas, and would sustain hope in the post-war order even there.
A feasibility study was conducted from July 2005 to March 2006 by the Combonis to shape the structure of the radio project from real-life situations. Missionaries had been active in remote areas of Greater Upper Nile, Bahr al Gazal, and Equatoria, and contributed to the field research. The Combonis proposed a network of community-based radio stations in each Catholic diocese: the decentralised structure would grant “unity in diversity” and enable each station to produce in loco culturally sensitive programs also in vernacular languages. Each Local Ordinary would take responsibility for the local radio station, providing personnel and any available structure, while the Comboni Institutes, under the auspices of the SCBC, would take responsibility for the coordination and administration of the whole network in its initial phase, with emphasis on staff training and production of common programs.
The Comboni Institutes, with their limited resources, developed the radio network progressively from 2006 to 2011, with contributions from a wide range of partners: Catholic organizations, non-confessional institutions, and even Christian churches of other denominations. The enormous joint venture put high demands on the central CRN office, acting also as a back-up system for individual stations, but enabled each station to partake in the project from its beginning, while each diocese would progressively take responsibility for it, at the most appropriate pace for its unique situation within war destruction.
Identity and aim
The policies of the network were developed progressively from June 2006, through consultation with the appointed diocesan representatives called by then “Diocesan Radio Coordinators”. Broadcasting licenses were requested by the President of SCBC in 2006, but were granted only by the GoSS and the Autonomous State of Southern Kordofan. In January 2008 the Board of Governors (BOG) of CRN, appointed by the SCBC Plenary from April 2006, approved the first registration of CRN as a Sudanese NGO with a remarkable peace-oriented identity:
Vision: A reconciled society, built on human and spiritual values, rooted in justice and honesty.
Mission: To reach-out to the people of South Sudan and Nuba Mountains with a means of communication and information that builds peace through reconciliation and healing of trauma. To contribute to the spiritual welfare of the people through good information and civic education, which foster integral human development and respect for human rights, paying special attention to vulnerable groups.
i. To reach out to the people of Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains through a means of communication of the Church that builds peace through reconciliation and healing, promotes spiritual growth and human development and offers good information and civic education.
ii. To be operative through local FM stations set up in all dioceses of Southern Sudan and in Nuba Mountains, based in: Juba, Malakal, Rumbek, Torit, Yei, Yambio Wau, and Gidel (Nuba Mountains.
iii. To foster peace in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, through timely and reliable news, and through radio programs promoting peaceful coexistence of the different ethnic groups.
When the radio project took off, communication was not considered an important element of peacebuilding and radio itself was still unchartered ground to many: it was hard to get support. Surveys by CRN (2005-6/2009) and BBC WST (2010/2011) had revealed high demand for local news; partners would fund civic education, especially in view of elections and referendum. Thus news and civic education programs were prioritised.
A timid attempt to produce and broadcast peacebuilding programs came only in March-April 2010, with support from the USA-based Catholic Relief Service (CRS). “Bit the drum of peace” featured short peace messages of 2-4 minutes; they were elaborated by CRS peace consultants and produced as radio jingles in English, Arabic, and 10 different local languages across the CRN stations in Juba, Torit, Malakal, Yei, Rumbek, Tonj, and Gidel. The catchy music made the messages easy to remember, even for children. The principle of “unity in diversity” in content/format (the same for all stations) and languages (diverse in the different locations) contributed to the success of the campaign.
The second round of programs for peacebuilding was elaborated by CRS and Solidarity with South Sudan (SSS) in partnership with CRN from September 2010 to January 2011. The peace campaign was in view of the Southern Sudan Referendum 2011 and envisioned community prayers, peace rallies, and weekly radio programs in local languages. The 15-minutes pre-recorded programs and the 2-hour live programs revolved around 14 chosen topics, in common across all stations. The actual broadcasting instead mirrored local needs and languages, and individual stations could publicise even very local events. It was indeed a success for an estimated audience of about 4 million people.
A more contextualised program to promote peaceful coexistence among rival ethnic groups was elaborated in Eastern Equatoria from October 2012 to March 2013 with CRS and UNICEF. It was entrusted to Radio Emmanuel, the CRN radio of the Catholic Diocese of Torit. Synergy between peace meetings and peace radio was explored, local narratives of peaceful coexistence before the war were gathered from elders, and traditional peace songs widely disseminated. The programs were in three local languages: Otuho, Didinga and Toposa.
People were eager to listen to programs they could understand and willing to air their views in mother tongue; their active participation was staggering.
Radio broadcasting costs were limited in comparison to mobility by road, thus more sustainable in the long term.
Contributor to Comboni Missionaries/VIVAT International
 Arsenault, A., Himelfarb, S., Abbott, S., Evaluating Media Interventions in Conflict Countries, Washington D.C., USIP, 2011, pp.10-13.