II: The good and bad of traditional media in conflict and peacebuilding

A critical reflection on the role of the media in conflict in Africa

Dumisani Moyo


While conflict has always been a feature of the human existence, today’s world is distinctly characterized by a multiplicity of complex and intensified conflicts of various nature. This perception is attributable to both the rapid expansion and globalization of traditional/mainstream media as well as the explosion in recent years in social media through which most of these conflicts are manifested and mediated. Africa, in particular, has witnessed numerous conflicts of various nature and scale since the end of colonial rule, with huge impact on both developmental and democratization efforts in a number of countries. Despite significant progress, it is evident that a number of African countries remain fragile and prone to different forms of conflict that pose threats to societal wellbeing. Apart from a few armed conflicts, most conflicts on the continent take the form of internal contestations over a range of issues. These include contestations over political power (which often turn violent as those in power seek to crush any form of dissent from opposition political parties or civil society); cross-border migration, which brings up strife over questions identity and belonging; service delivery in rapidly expanding urban spaces; historical inter-ethnic feuds over resource allocation; among others.1 This study takes a broad view of conflict to encompass different forms of what Simon Cottle refers to as “struggles between opposing interests and outlooks” (2006, 4).

In many African countries, elections inevitably bring with them heightened conflict because politics appears to be the only way to access not only power but also resources. Opposition politics and civil society work that is often taken for granted as critical pillars of democracy in the West is in many African countries often criminalized. Migrants fleeing either conflict, famine or economic collapse in their home countries find themselves facing new forms of conflict, including xenophobic and racist attacks. All these forms of conflict invariably find expression through the mainstream media (especially radio and newspapers) - and, in more recent times, increasingly through social media. By titling their book The Media of Conflict, Tim Allen and Jean Seaton (1999) underscore the fact that the media are not mere stenographers of conflict, but can also be active drivers of conflict.

This chapter critically analyses the role of media in conflict in Africa. It is premised on an observation that while regional and international efforts aimed at resolving conflicts have focused on a range of causalities and possible solutions, little attention has been paid to the role of the media. It argues that a closer look at the role of the media in mediating conflict would be critical to any discourse on conflict resolution on the continent.2

Media power has been widely acknowledged, and it has often been argued that the media can be manipulated to serve the interests of those who own and control them, depending on the nature and effectiveness of the regulatory framework in place, as well as the political and economic environment they operate in. Critical political economy scholars particularly emphasize the media’s role in ‘manufacturing consent’, where the media are seen as privileging dominant views of ruling and business elites while marginalizing other groups such as the opposition or civil society (Garnham 1990; Golding and Murdoch 1997; Herman and Chomsky 2002; Mosco 1996). As Andrew Puddephatt has argued,

Which role the media takes in a given conflict, and in the phases before and after, depends on a complex set of factors, including the relationship the media has to actors in the conflict and the independence the media has to the power holders in society.

(Puddephatt 2006, 4)

It is important to add that in some cases, the media do not necessarily have to align themselves to particular interests for them to promote conflict. The embedded structures and routines of gathering news, lack of or poor training on ethical standards, for instance, have often resulted in the media inadvertently fanning conflict. For example, obsession with negativity (‘if it bleeds it leads’), choice of words to describe actors in the conflict, selection of images to tell stories, and what has often been described as ‘pack journalism’ have led to the media to becoming both theatres and active agents in some conflicts.

Drawing on a few widely documented violent conflicts where the media played a prominent role, this chapter explores the various ways in which the media have been used to fan conflict in Africa. It attempts to explain, using political economy approaches, how and why it has been possible for various power centres to manipulate the media into weapons of hate and violent conflict. It argues that an end to state ownership and control of the media, introduction of sound regulatory systems and improved journalism training are critical ingredients for media systems that can promote peace on the continent. In addition, in the case of new/ social media, increased social media literacy would be critical to minimizing conflict, and some degree of reasonable social media regulation pertaining to key moments such as elections would be critical in minimizing conflict.'5 The explosion in fake news, spurred by the increased use of social media bots4 to drive discourses on critical aspects such as electoral and other campaigns, contestations over national identity and belonging, etc., means that social media users need to be more sophisticated in how they engage information accessed on these platforms. Mainstream media, too, have a bigger role to play - especially through exposing artificially generated discourses that have the potential to divide society and heighten conflict. The case of the ‘white monopoly capital’ discourse in South Africa illustrates this point, where public relations consultancy firm Bell Pottinger used bots to deflect attention away from mounting corruption charges against its clients - the Gupta family and then President Jacob Zuma. ’ It also means that drivers of conflict can now be more invisible and far removed from the scene of the conflict, and that the media can be either willing or ignorant accomplices in peddling these discourses. Ordinary people too, who have become active producers, distributors and users of social media texts have become key agents in amplifying conflict through unscrupulous forwarding, sharing and ‘liking’ of unverified information on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube.

The chapter is divided into five sections: the first looks at the normative role of the media in society, in relation to how they operate on the ground. The second looks at how the media have been used as tools to fan conflict during the political disturbances that have come to be known as Gukurahundi atrocities in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, and during the period leading to the Rwanda Genocide of 1994. The third explores the factors that make it possible for elites to manipulate the media and use them for propaganda or fanning conflict; while the fourth provides some reflections on policy interventions at the regional and international levels. The final section looks at the various lessons learnt and concludes the study.

Normative roles versus practical operations of the media

There are several expectations of how the media ought to be organized and to behave in the wider public interest or for the good of society as a whole (McQuail 2006, 162). These include the media playing the role of disseminating information and interpreting complex developments; providing a platform for diverse voices and opinions; facilitating debate; being a watchdog - exposing corruption and other wrongdoing in both public and private institutions, thereby entrenching democracy; serving as gatekeepers and agenda setters; and as educators - and so on (see McQuail 2006). Some of these normative perceptions have allowed a view of the media as neutral players in an otherwise complex society where these institutions wield enormous power, not only to set the agenda for society, but also to name and define events and processes, and are owned by positioned players in society whose interests often shape and inform their viewpoints.

The media’s claims to objectivity, neutrality and balance have reinforced their self-appointed status as the ‘fourth estate’ that oversees the performance of the other three branches of the state. Yet studies in sociology of news and critical political economy of the media highlight that the media are not neutral recorders of our daily reality, but that there are various imperatives that make them select and report events the way they do (McNair 1998, 2003; Schudson 2003). As McQuail and others have argued, the media in a free society are often not obliged to carry out any of the positively valued purposes that society generally takes for granted. Commercial media, for instance, are driven more by profit motives, and the desire to satisfy shareholders, while media owned by politicians have a stake in advocating the political agenda of their owners.

In particular, sociology of news scholars talk about news values as critical in informing the ways in which the media select and report on events (Galtung and Ruge 1965; McNair 1998). Gadi Wolfsfeld (2004), following Galtung and Ruge (1965), observes how reporting of peace processes is shaped by news values, specifically, ‘immediacy’, ‘drama’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘ethnocentrism’ - values that tend to “favour violence, and are intrinsically inimitable to the need for calm, incremental progress and the recognition of the multisided composition and cultural complexities that should ideally inform peace negotiations” (2004, 15-23). For instance, it has become an entrenched journalistic principle that, “if it bleeds it leads” - meaning dramatic events such as violent conflict will always be preferred over process-driven and uneventful developments such as peacebuilding. Simon Cottle used the phrase ‘mediatized conflict'’ to capture the essence of the media’s role in conflict - in sharp contrast to a view of them as mirrors that merely reflect society:

The media ... are capable of enacting and performing conflicts as well as reporting and representing them; that is to say, they are actively ‘doing something’ over and above disseminating ideas, images and information.

(Cottle 2006, 9, my emphasis)

More importantly, these scholars have argued that news media necessarily play an ideological role in the sense that, “the process of ordering the ‘disorderly’ events which news undertakes, is also a process of assigning meaning. It operates by placing those events within ‘maps of meaning’ into which our social world is already organized and which it is assumed we all share” (ibid.). Numerous studies have illustrated how ideology is also embedded in the entertainment purveyed by the media. In this chapter, I focus on the news media in general, mainly because of their claim to truthfulness and objectivity, and also because, as Cottle illustrates, “journalism remains the principal convenor and conveyor of conflict images and information, discourses and debates” (2006, 3).


This study is based on a meta-review of existing literature on the selected conflict cases to reflect not only at the role of the media in these conflicts, but also on why it was possible for the media to be manipulated the way they were. It deliberately analyses studies of well-known conflicts on the continent to inform its underlying arguments as well as project some theoretical perspectives on the subject. While meta-analysis uses statistical approaches to combine and aggregate results from multiple studies in an effort to increase statistical power and reliability of results, a meta-review approach enables a systematic review of qualitative results from multiple studies, with similar objectives of amplifying those results. The selected conflicts referred to in the study include the Rwandan genocide, the Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe and the Kenyan post-election conflict in 2008.

Media as drivers of conflict in Africa: some examples

As the media work, they amplify the sound of guns rather than muting them. Is this because we have the media we deserve? Hardly. It is more because the people who run them are badly trained, looking only upward in society, registering the sudden and the negative, not the patient, long-term work of thousandmillions of citizens.

(Gaining, 1993: xi, cited in Cottle, 2006)

The Rwanda Genocide of 1994 has been widely used as an example of the extreme role that media can play in fomenting conflict and inciting mass violence. Media outlets such as Radio Rwanda (a state-owned station) and Radio Alille Collines (RTML) (a private station linked to senior Hutu government officials) were used as tools of mass propaganda, fanning ethnic hatred against Tutsis. Although both radio stations were broadcasting anti-Tutsi propaganda, RTML has been singled out as the main anti-Tutsi megaphone, which provided “the most extreme and inflammatory messages” (Yanagizawa-Drott 2014). It propagated perceptions of “them” and “us” between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, and of the latter as the enemy, thereby legitimizing ‘them’ as a target for extermination.(> Denigrating and dehumanizing language became one of the powerful weapons of exclusion. The Tutsis, for instance, were referred to as inyenzi or cockroaches that needed to be crushed or eradicated. While many scholars have not been able to empirically prove the extent to which these “hate radio” broadcasts influenced the mass killing of the Tutsis, there is evidence to suggest that these broadcasts played a role in catalyzing the violence that ensue (Hatzfeld 2005 and Strauss 2007 cited in Yanagizawa-Drott 2014, 2). Yana- gizawa’s study is significant in that it establishes that approximately 10% of overall participation (in the violence), and almost one-third of the violence by militias and other armed groups can be attributed to the RTML’s broadcasts (2014, 30).

Yet the use of media in fanning ethnic hatred and violence did not begin and end in Rwanda. Little has been written, for instance, about the role of state propaganda in the post-independence conflict in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland province where thousands died at the hands of government forces in the early 1980s. The Gukurahundi, as it was known, was a state-sanctioned military campaign to stem out resistance from opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) elements and pave the way for a one-party state in newly independent Zimbabwe. The state media, both print and electronic, became a critical player in this conflict, presenting a one-sided view that exaggerated the dissident threat and justified a military intervention. As Alexander and McGregor write,

During the conflict itself, state-controlled media reproduced and popularized the Zanu government’s views on violence in Matabeleland. The media portrayed the conflict in predominantly political terms, casting the minority party Zapu and its former guerrilla army, Zipra, as the aggressors, and blaming them for instigating a violent insurgency in Matabeleland out of anger over their 1980 electoral loss. Zanu and the government forces, on the other hand, were cast in a legitimate and reactive role: they were defenders of a hard-won independence ..they were upholders of law and order in the face of armed dissent from former Zipra guerrillas and a treacherous Zapu.

(Alexander and McGregor 1999, 246)

As a way of simplifying the ‘enemy’, the state-controlled media “blurred distinctions between the armed ‘dissidents’, the civilians among whom they lived and Zapu supporters” - branding them all as subversive and dangerous elements (ibid.). As in the Rwandan case, language was also strategically deployed to justify the indiscriminate killings that took place. Alexander and McGregor (1999) relate how the Bulawayo-based state newspaper, the Chronicle, reported a government Minister telling a rally that the government had come to burn down “all the villages infested with dissidents” and that, “The campaign against dissidents can only succeed if the infrastructure that nurtures them is destroyed” (ibid.: 252).' Further, the dissidents were referred to as cockroaches, and the army (the North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade) as the ‘DDT’ - which would be used to eliminate them (ibid.).8 The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) report estimates that at least 6,000 were killed in this conflict, 98% of whom died at the hands of government forces, and only 2% at the hands of dissidents (CCJP/ LRF 1997, 156-157 cited in Alexander and McGregor 1999, 251).9

An interesting dimension to the 1980s Zimbabwe conflict was the deafening silence from the international media, which meant that many in the international community only got to know about the conflict some years after. Part of the reasons is that Matabeleland province was closed off to the media during these disturbances. What is remarkable, however, is how business interests can trump the public interest even in cases where human lives are at stake. Then owner of London’s The Observer, Tiny Rawland, for instance, instructed his editor, Donald Trel- ford to withdraw an article from the paper criticizing the Gukurahundi campaign in order to protect his business interests in Zimbabwe (Cameron 2018). When Trelford proceeded to publish the story anyway, he was roundly condemned in other British media, including the BBC, which chose to carry an apology from Rawland to the Mugabe regime for what he said was irresponsible journalism.10

The Zimbabwe crisis that started around 2000 also provides some important insights into the role of the media in fanning conflict, and how the state has continued to use the media as a critical tool in navigating that crisis (see Chiumbu and Moyo 2009; Moyo 2010). The Zimbabwe crisis took on political, economic and social dimensions, and was characterized by the breakdown in rule of law, inter- and intra-party violence, and unprecedented economic decline which have led to a view of Zimbabwe as a failing state. As in the previous examples, the

Mugabe government extensively used the vast state media empire under its control to define the crisis, persuade the nation and the international community to see the crisis from its point of view, and at the same time denigrate its “enemies” (mainly the opposition and civil society) as “sell-outs”, “western-sponsored regime change agents”, “traitors”, “enemies of the state”, “puppets of the West” and so on.11 The ruling party itself was invariably projected in the state media as the revolutionary party that is doing everything to defend national sovereignty, which is under threat from these undesirable elements. Regulatory restructuring, institutional rearrangements and deployment of propaganda were at the core of the state strategy in fighting what it terms the Third Chimurenga (see Chiumbu and Moyo 2009 for a more detailed analysis of this). This too has been a conflict that has seen thousands die of curable diseases and a few hundreds from violence perpetrated by the state and the leading political parties, and over a million others forced to seek refuge abroad.

Another more recent and widely cited case of media as agents of conflict is the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, where both mainstream and social media played a part in fuelling ethnic violence. Over a thousand people were killed and 500,000 displaced following the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya (Makinen and Kuira 2008). Hate-filled radio broadcasts played a hand in the mayhem, helping to incite ethnic violence. Some ethnic language broadcasts in local radio stations, for instance, urged listeners to “take out the weeds in our midst” and referred to other ethnic groups as “animals from the west” who want to take over “our kingdom” (Musungu 2008a). As in the previous cases above, the mainstream media simplified the post-election crisis in Kenya as a Kikuyu-Luo or Mwai Kibaki-Raila Odinga issue, thus promoting the perception of the crisis as an ethnic conflict (Musungu 2008b). The international media similarly reported the story from an ethnic dimension, which several scholars view as an oversimplification of what was obviously a complex crisis.

The ban on live broadcasts of election results by the Kenyan government allowed new avenues of expression to emerge which were outside the purview of direct state control - notably social media (including blogs, SMS, wikis, Face- book and Twitter). While social media was a lot more dynamic than the timid and self-censoring mainstream media, providing “swifter, more subjective, and more detailed coverage during a fast-moving and changing situation” (Makinen and Kuira 2008), they also played a role in stoking ethnic tension. As Makinen and Kuira go on to write,

The social media was not politically innocent. Although some blogs aimed to promote peace and justice, others were used as channels for biased information, tribal prejudices, and hate speech... Similarly, while SMS has been a powerful tool for good during and after the elections, it was also used to spread rumours and messages laden with ethnic hatred. It was reported that SMS predicted attacks and called recipients to act on the basis of their ethnicity.

(Makinen and Kuira 2008, 8)

Thus the Kenyan case is significant here because of the social media dimension, where new approaches are required to ensure that the so-called ‘new technologies of freedom’ do not end up becoming new avenues of amplifying conflict.

These are cases of direct and more overt abuses of the media - which typically fall outside the norm. Cases of more subtle abuses of the media to fan conflict are often left out in both general and scholarly discussion on media and conflict, largely because of the difficulty of establishing causal links between media coverage and violent behaviour. For instance, in the 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the media, which many have argued were complicit in the attacks, did not directly advocate the attacks on foreign nationals. Rather, it was through an accumulation of particular images and ways of reporting on foreign nationals over time, that they contributed to the hatred of foreign nationals, and to the normalization of foreigners as criminals, job-stealer, etc., and hence legitimate targets of hate speech and violence.

Similarly, the cumulative stereotypical reporting of Nigerians as crooks in the South African media has made it easy for them to extend a similar lens in the wake of a Nigerian church collapse in 2016, which left some 80 South Africans dead, thereby exacerbating the already tenuous diplomatic relationship between the two countries. What is striking in all this is that policymakers have not been quick enough to see the power of the media in influencing conflict, and how that power could equally be harnessed for the good in terms of creating conditions for peace.

Why the media have been pliant tools for fanning conflict

The cases cited above illustrate how the media have, on several occasions, been used as tools for amplifying conflict in various parts of the continent. A number of factors can be proffered to explain why the media have been such ‘willing accomplices’ in fanning conflict and prone to manipulation by various power centres, most notably political elites with an agenda to eliminate perceived threats to their ambitions. Below, I single out some three major factors that have made it easy for the media to be used as handy tools in fanning conflict on the continent.

Inherent tendency of media toward simplification

The tendency to reduce reality to the stereotypical is one of the defining traits of mass media. This is what Adorno and Horkheimer (cited in Powell 2006) called “ticket thinking”, the tendency “to reduce complex public and political questions to facile polarities and (often hysterically moralized) oppositions” (Powell 2006, 148). The above examples of conflict underscore this tendency of the media in Africa to simplify complex realities through ethnicization or tribalization of issues ^ pitting one group against another and not looking for any grey areas in between. This ethnical/tribal shorthand creates an easy ‘them’ and ‘us’ dichotomy for reporting, which inadvertently solidifies previously held stereotypes.

At the same time, language is deployed as a powerful tool to name the ‘undesirable other’ in such hateful language that justifies the need for their eradication. Often, this entails a total dehumanization of the ‘undesirable other’ by associating them with despicable/nuisance creatures that are invariably meant to be destroyed upon detection, such as cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes and others.

The bane of state ownership and control of the media and absence of diversity

Media ownership and control is always a critical factor in how conflict is reported in any society. While state ownership of media institutions has become history in many parts of the world, this continues to be a dominant model across the African continent, particularly in relation to broadcast media. Justifications for continued state ownership have included the need for developing states to have media systems that allow the dissemination of developmental messages, and the need for institutions that promote nation-building and national unity. However, in reality, these media have invariably become the mouthpieces of the ruling elite, reduced to serving the narrow interests of perpetuating their stay in power. This has made these public media (invariably captured by ruling elites) sites of contestation everywhere across the continent, particularly in the run-up to national elections.

That broadcasting institutions continue to be guarded by military personnel almost everywhere across the continent is an illustration of their perceived role as institutions of the power architecture. Voices of opposition political parties, civil society, women and other marginalized groups are systematically excluded from these media. A stark example is the statistics on access to these institutions ahead of critical national elections; where inordinate amount of positive coverage is given to the ruling parties at the exclusion of opposition parties and voices from civil society. As a UNESCO report points out,

Media regulation in much broadcasting in the region has lacked independence, and this general consistent trend throughout the region has amounted to political licensing, as well as inhibition of new entrants. Broadcast regulatory bodies have usually remained under the authority of the president or have been part of the Ministries of Information or Communication, which have continued to directly or indirectly influence the awarding of licences. The regulators’ lack of independence has hampered transparency in the acquisition of broadcast licences. State-owned or public broadcasters have mostly been unable to operate with editorial independence from governments, and only a few countries have had laws to protect the neutrality of these broadcasters.

(UNESCO 2014, 21)

As we have seen in the examples given above, state media have been used by those in power as tools of domination and exclusion, often directly contributing to conflict.

This confirms Yanagizawa-Drott’s observation that, “Elites in control of autocratic states have repeatedly used mass media - often under their control with the intention to induce citizen support of, and participation in, violence against other groups” (2014, 2). In many countries, state ownership of media has engendered polarized media environments — creating pro and anti-government media that are easy to manipulate in periods of conflict, as journalists get embedded in the various factions involved in the conflict. This focus on public/state-owned media does not, however, necessarily exonerate the private media as potential contributors to conflict. Licensing of broadcasters in countries that have liberalized the airwaves has often been skewed in favour of those aligned to the ruling elite, thereby creating a de facto expanded state media apparatus that advances the same narrow party political interests at the expense of the public interest.

Poor or weak regulatory systems

The rapid liberalization of the media sectors in a number of countries on the continent since the 1990s has not been accompanied by strong, independent and efficient regulatory systems. Most countries still have statutory regulatory bodies that are subject to state control, and hence make partisan decisions on who they licence (UNESCO 2014, 21). This poses a serious threat, as poorly regulated media are prone to capture by both political and business interests. The DRC is a stark example of rapid liberalization without the attendant efficient regulation. Many community and commercial radio stations, for instance, are owned by individual politicians, who openly use them to advance their personal political interests (Frere 2012). DRC tops the continent when it comes to media diversity, be it in print, radio or television (ibid.). However, as Frere points out, “The legal and regulatory framework does not provide sufficient guarantees and basic regulations to ensure that media outlets abandon their ‘informal’ practices” (Frere 2012, 6).

Most of these regulatory bodies do not have the capacity to enforce strict adherence to regulations, especially on content. That a radio station in Rwanda could continue to carry hate broadcasts over a sustained period of time without the regulator intervening is clear indication of this lack of capacity. Sadly, self-regulation has failed to take root in most countries on the continent, owing to a number of factors, not least the continued state interference and an inability to appeal to both state and private media sectors. The lack of sanctioning powers in self-regulatory bodies has also made them more of toothless watchdogs. As the UNESCO report points out, “Self- regulatory bodies have often lacked universal recognition and authority, and have been accused by governments of being ineffectual” (UNESCO 2014: 21).

Poor or lack of training for media practitioners

Poorly trained journalists with little or no understanding ofjournalism ethics can also contribute to serious ethical lapses that can fuel conflict. They are like the proverbial fool with a gun. Such journalists can take bribes or other inducements to report in certain ways. This is also linked to the challenge of poor salaries for journalists across the continent. The Unesco study on World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development further points out that,

In a large majority of African countries, journalists have continued to display regular ethical lapses in reporting, usually attributed to inadequate professional training and the willingness of many to accept or solicit bribes. Where most journalists have earned very low salaries, if they were paid at all, and where media institutions have often been politicized, journalists have reportedly regularly succumbed to accepting inducements in return for publishing distorted media reports. As a result, bribery has reportedly continued to be a common feature within the journalistic profession across the Africa region and this widespread problem does not appear to have declined significantly, if at all, within the period of study.

(UNESCO 2014, 23)

The report further points to the slow increase in opportunities for education and training ofjournalists, both at university level and through professional development training (ibid.).

New challenges of weaponized social media

When it comes to social media, it is important to note that these platforms have been growing and changing at a rate faster than most regulatory systems could keep up with. In addition, these are new spaces of communication that have brought to the fore the challenge of balancing free speech rights and social responsibility, therefore creating some form of paralysis when it comes to regulatory intervention. Evidently, social media have become handy tools for mobilization and instigation of protests in countries where communication has traditionally been restricted. However, a combination of poor or lack of digital literacy and the rise in fake news has left these platforms prone to manipulation for fanning conflict. In electoral contests, for instance, political parties and individuals alike are creating social media ‘armies’ that manufacture and deploy various ‘arsenal’ to target their ‘enemies’. The role of disgraced data mining company, Cambridge Analytica in Kenya’s 2017 and Nigeria’s 2015 elections is illustrative.12 Examples abound where social media have been at the centre of electoral conflicts on the continent. In the extreme of cases, repressive regimes have responded by shutting down internet services, as has happened in Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe — when opposition elements are accused of‘weaponizing’ social media.


Overall, this study has illustrated that media can serve as agents of conflict. As such, any serious peacebuilding efforts should necessarily have a media strategy for mitigating conflict and building peace. This should start with deliberate efforts to transform media structures to ensure diversity of ownership that can create opportunities for pluralism of voices to be heard - especially the voices of the marginalized groups in society. The study illustrates that the media tendency towards simplification has implications for their ability to tell stories that dig deeper and provide ample contextualization. Rather it lends them into creating false dichotomies that forces society to perceive events in polarities and oppositions. At the same time, the dominant tradition of state ownership of media institutions on the continent needs to be seriously interrogated in light of the failure to make these institutions independent from governments of the day, and the resultant skewed coverage of political and social issues in these media. Journalism training would also need to be broadened to include what can be termed another journalism - that is peace-oriented journalism that allows journalists to provide more contextual information and reflect the multiple dimensions in the conflicts they report. Above all, strong and independent regulation is critical not only for registration and licensing of players, but also ensuring conflict-sensitive reporting. Similarly, the increasing weaponization of social media to advance partisan interests that could be harmful to society, including hate speech and other anti-social forms, means carefully crafted interventions are needed to ensure that these platforms serve the greater good of society.


  • 1 In terms of armed conflict, the fact that of the 15 UN peacekeeping missions in place in 2015, 8 were in Africa underscores this point. See Alusala, Nelson and Pane- ras, Riana (2018) Silencing the Guns by 2020 - Ambitious but Essential, https:// issafrica.org/iss-today/silencing-the-guns-by-2020-ambitious-but-essential. Accessed 22.09.2018.
  • 2 The African Union’s ambitious drive towards “silencing the guns” and “ending all wars in Africa by 2020” was partly informed by this understanding. At the third annual dialogue on silencing the guns held in Dakar, Senegal in October 2014, specific attention was paid to analysing the role of the media in fuelling conflict on the continent and how the media could be harnessed to as forces of good to minimize conflict.
  • 3 However, this need not be extreme, as in the case of Egypt where a 2018 law treats social media account holders and bloggers with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, and hence liable for prosecution for publishing information deemed to be fake news or inciting others to disobey the law.
  • 4 These are parts of software that use artificial intelligence to gather information and automatically interact with social media users.
  • 5 Bell Pottinger used social media bots to create the impressions that white monopoly capital was a major issue on the South African national agenda at that time. See, for instance, Cameron (2017) Bell Pottinger white monopoly capital plot: Damning EVIDENCE of Gupta conspiracy #GuptaLeaks. https://www.biznews.com/guptaleaks/ 2017/06/09/bell-pottinger-white-monopoly-capital. Accessed 12.03.2019.
  • 6 For many years, the RTML case has been used by repressive regimes on the continent as an alibi for not opening up the airwaves - including in countries such as Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
  • 7 The said Minister is Emmerson Mnangagwa, who rose to become President through a military coup in 2017. His role and utterings during the Gukurahundi campaign have remained key defining elements of his personality.
  • 8 DDT is an insecticide that was used to kill mosquitos that spread malaria. It is banned worldwide for the danger it poses to wildlife and the environment.
  • 9 It is important to highlight that the figures of casualties in this conflict remain speculative and contested, with some suggesting as low as 2,000, and other as high as 30,000.
  • 10 See: The Patter of Tiny’s Feet, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/mar/12/ zimbabwe.featuresreview; and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/ uk-downplayed-killings-zimbabwe-mugabe-guard-interests-study-claims. Accessed 12.03.2019.
  • 11 Terms such as ‘sell-out’ or ‘traitor’ bear significant meaning in Zimbabwe, where during the liberation struggle anyone bequeathed with that term deserved to be killed.
  • 12 See, for instance: https://www.voanews.com/africa/cambridge-analytica-played- roles-multiple-african-elections. Accessed 28.08.2019.


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