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The sound of hatred

BBC News, 30 March 1998

United States President Bill Clinton, on his high profile tour of Africa this month, reminded the world of the horror of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

He stopped briefly in the Rwandan capital Kigali and met survivors of the massacres which left up to a million people dead.

The next day, as the media spotlight followed him on to South Africa, a brief news agency report from Rwanda attracted comparatively little attention: "Suspected Hutu rebels" had killed five high school pupils and wounded eight in an attack in the northwest of the country.

The killing in Rwanda has not stopped. There, as in neighbouring Burundi, clashes are reported almost daily.

"They come to kill us"

Recently there has been another sign that the climate of suspicion and fear which still poisons Central Africa's Great Lakes region may be worsening.

At the end of last year, a radio station calling itself Voice of the Patriot was heard broadcasting in the Bukavu region, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, near the borders with Rwanda and Burundi.

The radio, thought to be using a mobile transmitter in the mountains above Bukavu town, issued warnings that Tutsi soldiers from Rwanda and Burundi were coming to massacre local residents.

Though it called itself a "political radio", Voice of the Patriot was a new manifestation of a phenomenon which has accompanied, some say fuelled, the region's violence in recent years: Hate Radio.

The message it broadcast was simple, and insistent: "These Tutsi killers who invaded our country continue to prepare themselves to plant their flags on both sides of the border ... you know the cunning of those people ... They come with guns, they come to kill us."

The Tutsi-dominated armies in Rwanda and Burundi blame continuing clashes and deaths on extremists among the Hutu population, which in both countries makes up about 80 per cent of the population as a whole.

Relations between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi-led governments in each country are increasingly polarised, and the resulting instability threatens to spill over to the rest of the region.

Militant Hutu groups have organised themselves across the borders in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire.

Broadcasting in local languages, French and the local version of Swahili, Voice of the Patriot was reportedly run by an opposition group in eastern Congo's South Kivu region comprising Hutu rebels from Rwanda and Burundi, and Congolese opposition factions.

Broadcasts stopped and have not been heard again this year, but sources in Bukavu quote a technician with links to the radio as saying it will resume its broadcasts "at an appropriate time."

Rwanda's "final war"

At the time of the Rwandan genocide, a radio calling itself Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines became infamous as a result of its broadcasts inciting Hutus to kill Tutsis.

Established in 1993, the privately-owned radio initially criticised peace talks between the government of President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Tutsi-led rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Army. Hardline Hutus saw the peace process as a threat to their power base.

After Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down in April 1994, the radio called for a "final war" to "exterminate the cockroaches." It played a role in organising militias, broadcast lists of people to be killed and, above all, incited hatred:

"In truth, all Tutsis will perish. They will vanish from this country ... They are disappearing little by little thanks to the weapons hitting them, but also because they are being killed like rats."

As the forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front moved down through the country during 1994, the broadcasters of Radio Mille Collines fled across the border into what was then Zaire.

"The radio that tells the truth"

Around the same time, Burundi too got its own hate radio. Using the same formula as Radio Mille Collines, a station calling itself Radio Rutomorangingo ("The radio that tells the truth") began broadcasting catchy music interspersed with messages to rise up against "the Tutsi oppressor".

Initially based in the forests of southwestern Rwanda and northwestern Burundi, the radio was run by the National Council for the Defence of Democracy, or CNDD, a Hutu rebel group.

After some months, the radio changed its name to Radio Democracy and toned down its broadcasts. Article 19, the anti-censorship human rights organization, argues that the radio did not directly incite genocide.

But listeners were left in no doubt about the radio's message of hostility towards the Tutsi-dominated military authorities: "All Burundians, make bows and poisoned arrows, remain alert and fight the ... soldiers," it said in a broadcast in late 1995.

The radio eventually moved to eastern Zaire, where it continued broadcasting until the CNDD's armed wing lost its rear bases with the advance of Laurent Kabila's forces through the region in 1996.

Peace radios

Others have recognised the power of radio as a medium for spreading a message among the region's poor and mostly rural population, where literacy levels are low and there is little access to other sources of information.

There have been several initiatives to target the region with "peace radios" - broadcasts providing impartial information in an attempt to counter the messages of hatred.

Radio Agatashya was set up by the Swiss charity Fondation Hirondelle in 1994 to broadcast regional news to hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees in Zairean camps, in their own language.

The radio has since expanded its operations to Burundi, where it works with an NGO running Studio Ijambo radio in Bujumbura. Radio Umwizero, started by European Commissioner Bernard Kouchner, is another such initiative.

The BBC set up a service broadcasting in the local vernaculars, Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, to provide news "untainted by a hidden agenda", and Voice of America set up a similar service aimed at reuniting families.

Stopping the broadcasts

These are signs that the international community, still blamed by the current Rwandan leadership for failing to intervene to stop the killings in 1994, takes the threat of hate radios seriously.

Some of the most prominent figures associated with Mille Collines radio have been put on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, though many others, who fled Rwanda after the genocide, are still at large.

General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, is one of those who has testified at the hearings. He has argued that a stronger mandate and better equipment for his forces could have prevented the killings.

He also had something to say about the role of hate radios: "Simply jamming [the] broadcasts and replacing them with messages of peace and reconciliation would have had a significant impact on the course of events."

As the violence in the Great Lakes region shows signs of escalating once again, the world might do well to heed his words.

This report was written with help from BBC Monitoring's East African Unit, BBC Monitoring Research and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for Central and Eastern Africa.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.