Relieving minds and hearts in Rwanda through radio
Radio has proven to be a powerful communication medium in the dissemination of information. However, it can be a double-edged sword, contributing to both peacebuilding/conflict resolution and inciting conflict.
The latter can be seen during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, where the media played a pivotal role in inciting hate among Rwandans during that period.
As Rwandans continue the journey of reconciliation and healing, International Alert Rwanda came up with a radio drama as one of our many approaches for effective peacebuilding. The ability of radio to reach a wider audience both in urban and remote areas, as well as Rwandans love for radio dramas propelled the idea of using radio as a peace-building tool in Rwanda. This led to the birth of Shirimpumu.
Shirimpumu (which means relieving minds and hearts in Kinyarwanda) is a radio drama developed by International Alert Rwanda supported by USAID. Episodes have aired every Thursday on Rwanda’s national radio station since late 2020 and are uploaded on International Alert’s YouTube page.
The radio drama’s purpose is to address the lack of understanding some Rwandans have about their history, as well as the fact that some have sought to misrepresent the truth for their own gain. It does this by providing an account of the genocide and the events that surrounded it, whilst also defining a path forward for healing and reconciliation.
I am a 24-year-old young man – I didn’t know the history of my country. Our parents do not also tell us the truth. I am thankful to Shirimpumu because I have been educated and made to appreciate the truth regarding the history and the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi.Participant of the Duhuze Project
Young people, in particular, have benefited from this radio drama. Each episode is refined in a way that is engaging, educational, and gives room for dialogue. One of the challenges often faced by young people is the different narratives regarding the 1994 genocide played out by their peers, communities, and families. The radio drama continues to help change the perceptions of many youths and expand their knowledge of Rwandan history.
Between 3 and 5 million Rwandans listen to this drama every week and, with nationwide coverage, Shirimpumu’s impact is not only on Rwandan youth but Rwandans of all walks of life. Every episode invokes dialogue around peacebuilding and conflict resolution which is one of the objectives of the drama series. Dialogue is an effective approach that brings healing and reconciliation; for example, some families of perpetrators have expressed understanding of the reasons why their parents are in prison due to the radio drama. They have also changed their attitude towards community members who they did not like because they thought they engineered the imprisonment of their parents.
Responding to one of the episodes passed during the mourning week, an annual event where Rwandans commemorate the genocide, a young woman had this to say:
I am 28 years old; I lost my parents while I was a baby. I didn’t have a chance to cast my eyes on my mother or father and, it caused a deep wound in my heart. I didn’t like speaking about it and, it had boxed me in a corner of disbelief and hatred. I am happy about this drama because it has touched my heart by the way people are asking for forgiveness. Ever since I started listening to this drama my life has changed and I can go out and talk to friends so often which was not the case before this drama series.Participant of the Duhuze Project
Long-held grievances can damage the social fabric. If left unaddressed they can lead to future conflict. Providing a space for discourse on sensitive issues can help communities forgive, heal and move forward peacefully. It can improve the social bonds that tie people together in communities and enhance the chances of long-term peace.
Feedback on each episode received through messages from a provided telephone number and comments through International Alert’s YouTube page, indicates that the radio drama has played an important role in educating young people on the history of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, reconciliation, and the need for peace. It has also helped address the critical issues affecting reconciliation.