Peace-makers or Peace-wreckers? Discursive construction of domestic conflict and peacebuilding in the Zimbabwean diaspora media

Tendai Chari


For more than two decades, Zimbabwe has been engaged in a low intensity civil war compounded by multi-layered socio-economic and political crises that pushed about three million citizens into the diaspora (Miriyoga 2017; Tsarwe and Mare 2019). The bourgeoning diaspora population remains connected with the homeland through online media outlets. However, these media have occupied an ambiguous position in relation to the domestic political conflicts. On the one hand, they have been steadfast in contesting the authoritarian state in the country (Miriyoga 2017, 5) and have put the humanitarian situation on the international spotlight. On the other hand, they have been accused of stoking the fires of conflicts in the country through their advocacy journalism style (Skjerdal 2012).

This chapter examines the discursive constructions of conflict and peace by the Zimbabwean diaspora media. It analyses discourses employed by selected English language Zimbabwean diaspora media during negotiations for the 2008/2009 peace deal in order to illuminate on how diaspora influence domestic conflict and peace in fragile societies. The study utilizes Zimbabwe’s negotiations for a Government of National Unity (GNU) of 2008/2009 as a case study.

The peace negotiations in question were preceded by a disputed presidential run-off election held on 27 June 2008. In the first round of voting on 29 March 2008, the incumbent, the former and now late President, Robert Mugabe lost to his archival, the late opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, with Mugabe obtaining 43.2% of the plebiscite against Tsvangirai’s 57.9%. However, Tsvangirai failed to win the constitutional requirement of 50%, plus 1 vote, leading to a run-off between Mugabe and Tsvangirai (Kagwanja and Kondlo 2008). Tsvangirai pulled out of the race citing violence against his supporters, resulting in a one-man race election which was discredited by most election observers. Following Mugabe’s ‘victory’, the crises deepened, forcing ZANU-PF to negotiate with the two MDC factions. A GNU deal was signed in September 2008 but the deal could not be consummated until February 2009 due to disagreements over distribution of ministerial portfolios.

The negotiations attracted intense local, global and diasporic media attention not least because an agreement between seemingly irreconcilable parties was unexpected.

The term “diaspora” is elastic and depends on who is invoking it. BrinkerhofFs definition of diaspora which states that “Diasporas are immigrants who maintain a connection, psychological or material, to their country of origin” (Brinkerhoff 2009, 2) is preferred in this chapter. Thus, the diaspora is unified by a collective memory and myth about the home country, idealization of their ancestral home, a desire to return home in the future, strong ethnic group consciousness and a sense of solidarity with fellow ethnic members in other host countries (Cohen cited in Brinkerhoff 2009, 2). The specific focus of this chapter is a “conflictgenerated diaspora” (Lyons 2007; Brinkerhoff 2009), meaning diasporas “produced by a specific set of traumatic memories...that sustain and amplify their sense of symbolic attachment to the homeland” (Lyons 2007, 2). In consonant with this definition, diaspora media is conceived as media owned, controlled and operated by exiled Zimbabweans.

Typical of conflict-generated diaspora the Zimbabwean diaspora media adopted an adversarial posture against the Mugabe-led ZANU-PF government. They constructed Zimbabwe through the prism of loss, victimhood, entitlement and “citizenship crisis” (Miriyoga 2017). The precarious conditions of exiled journalists and their quest to return to a better Zimbabwe (one without Mugabe) could have influenced the diaspora media’s editorial stance. Being mainly Internet-based (and therefore, transnational) meant they were precluded from the country’s stringent media laws, and therefore the freest media, resulting in robust reportage that veered between “advocacy journalism” (Skjerdal 2012) and “war journalism” (Galtung 2002).

Diaspora media and domestic conflicts: bridging binaries

There is considerable literature on the role of diaspora population on homeland conflicts (Brinkerhoff 2009; Beyene 2015). However, literature on the influence of diaspora in domestic conflicts is scant. Thus, diaspora media’s role in homeland conflicts is largely deduced from characterizations of diaspora populations as either “peace-wreckers” or “peace-makers” (Brinkerhoff 2009). The miniscule literature available focuses on mediation of the Zimbabwean crisis in diaspora media websites (Moyo 2007; Mano and Willems 2010) while studies on diaspora media’s influence on domestic conflict hardly exists.

Available literature frames the role of diaspora media in domestic conflicts in binary terms, whereby diaspora media are constructed as either conflict escalators or peace builders (Skjerdal 2012). This Manichean lens masks diaspora media’s role in domestic conflicts. Turner contends that it is simplistic to pigeon-hole diaspora as either conflict-escalators or peace-makers (Turner 2008, 186). She cautions against essentializing the diaspora, arguing that “diasporas are not unitary factors- they are highly heterogenous reflecting different life experiences influenced by class, gender, age, ethnicity, religion and so on” (Turner 2008, 186). Osman (2015, 1) agrees that “diasporic media is more complex than existing scholarship has demonstrated”. Consequently, the debate on how the diaspora media influence domestic conflicts remains open. An exploration of diaspora discourses on domestic conflict in fragile contexts could broaden understanding of the diaspora media-homeland nexus.

Peace journalism or conflict sensitive? A conceptual framework

The role of the diaspora media in conflict could be illustrated through two competing journalistic frames espoused by Johan Galtung, namely, peace journalism and war journalism (Galtung 1998). Galtung distinguishes peace journalism, which favours peace, from war journalism which is war/violence, propaganda, elite and victory oriented (McGoldrick and Lynch 2000). Galtung depicts the conflict arena as consisting of two parties pitted against each other as epitomized by the “us-them” journalistic framework, whereby the “us” is humanized and the “them” dehumanized (McGoldrick and Lynch 2000). War journalism foregrounds elite news sources, the suffering of elite able-bodied males and peace-makers, who are humanized. War journalism is equated to sports and court journalism because of their tendency to represent conflicts as pitting two combatants who seek to outwit each other (Galtung 2002). He conceived peace journalism as an alternative to war journalism which amplifies conflict (Ting Lee 2010). Conflicts is viewed as pitting winners and losers, and emphasizes loss of human life and material damage and uses “military triumphalist language” and superficial and de-contextualized narratives with no or little “background or historical perspective” (Ting Lee 2010, 320). Instead of projecting conflict as a zero-sum game, Galtung advocated that reporters should take a win-win approach in their reporting of news contending that reporters should give all sides of the conflict space to ventilate their views. Thus, peace journalism is viewed as “truth” and people-oriented and focuses on the invisible effects of violence such as trauma and its negative effects on the social fabric. Youngblood (2017, 442) links peace journalism with the watchdog function of the media and perceives peace journalism as journalism that “serves the public, while being careful not to exacerbate tensions and fuel violence, can be an important tool, wherever peace is threatened...”. Ting Lee (2010, 363) contends that objectivity is an obstacle which hampers journalists from exercising their social responsibility as objectivity devalues ideas and distorts experience, thereby oversimplifying complex phenomena.

Despite the strong moral underpinnings of peace journalism, it has been criticized for being “naive” and “impractical” (Hanitzsch 2004). Some scholars have questioned the morality of journalists abdicating their responsibility of reporting factually by consciously seeking a positive impact on peacebuilding (Howard 2009). Hanitzsch’s argument that for journalism to be practical it must first address structural constraints of news production such as professional demands of objectivity instead of news values that stress conflict and commercial imperatives is plausible (Hanitzsch 2004).

Other scholars argue that the practical application of peace journalism, particularly in the developing context has been a dismal failure as attempts at peace journalism have resulted in “peace propaganda” (Maweu 2017, 168). The sharpest criticism of peace journalism comes from media practitioners who call it a “heretical abandonment of the integrity of journalism and its professional norms” (Loyn, cited in Howard, 2009, 11). Loyn does not believe that journalists can act like peace keepers. His view is supported by Hanitzsch who asserts that burdening the journalist with peace-making is unacceptable because it “diverts political responsibilities from politicians and policy-makers” (cited in Hanitzsch 2004, 484).

In the developing world, journalism training and practice is deeply embedded in Western culture which celebrates individualism at the expense of the collective, resulting in most journalists being culturally alienated from their societies. Having a nose for news, therefore, means being able to identify and report conflict. This journalistic practice is innately conflictual rather than conciliatory. This calls for the De-Westernization of conflict reporting in Africa.

A more nuanced approach to peace journalism, namely, “conflict sensitive journalism” is gaining currency. Lynch (cited in Howard 2009, 5) identifies the main tenets of conflict sensitive journalism as an analytical approach to conflict whereby journalists seek opportunities to identify parties, goals, needs and interests, projecting a multi-party conflict model rather than a Manichean “tug of war”, finding room for perspectives beyond the usual official sources and seeking out peace initiatives as well as opportunities to report on them. Although conflict sensitive journalism has affinities with peace journalism, it is more nuanced because it does not seek to make the journalist a peace activist. The Foucauldian Discursive lens contemplated in this chapter enables one to view conflict sensitive journalism theory as both a discourse and an everyday practice. It provides a lens for capturing ideological nuances which may not fit the binary classification of “aggravating” or “reducing” conflict. As a social practice, discourse functions through ideological constructions, and as Van Dijk (1995, 17) posits, ideologies are expressed through discourse and communication.

Methodological discussion

The chapter is a qualitative exploration of peace and conflict discourses in the Zimbabwean diaspora media using the 2008/2009 negotiations for a Government of National Unity (GNU) as a lens to unpack these discourses. The study sought to identify discourse used in the negotiations and to ascertain whether these discourses were oriented towards conflict resolution or peacebuilding and the extent to which this was the case. Data were drawn from a corpus of 83 purposively sampled hard news and feature stories published in six Zimbabwean diaspora media outlets, namely, SW Radio,1 Voice of America (Studio 7), firmOnline. com, The Zimbabwe, The Zimbabwean and These first two are satellite pirate radio stations which broadcast into Zimbabwe using Short Wave frequencies and are funded by Western governments and donors, while the rest are news websites owned and operated by exiled Zimbabwean journalists. Hard news and feature articles published between the 1st ofjuly 2008 and 12th of September 2008 were thematically coded and discursively analysed. The 1st ofjuly 2008 marked the beginning of media speculations about talks for a GNU between ZANU-PF and opposition parties and the 12th of September 2008 was the day after the signing of the peace deal.

The Foucauldian discursive approach adopted in this study enabled the researcher to utilize discourse as analytical scalpel to dissect discourses employed by the diaspora media in their reportage of the GNU negotiations. All the analysed diaspora media outlets are owned by exiled Zimbabwean journalists and many of them appear on a “blacklist” of online publications tabled at a ZANU-PF politburo meeting in 2007 (SW Radio 2007). Editorially, they are pro-opposition and anti-government and their ownership is traceable to former employees of privately owned newspapers, such as the Daily News, with a sprinkling of former state-owned media staffers among their file and ranks.

Negotiations as a Dead end

Diaspora media reporting of the GNU was characterized by negativity. This negativity found expression through discursive tropes that projected bleakness rather than hope. News sources cast aspersions on the ruling ZANU-PF party’s commitment towards the talks, throwing shadows of doubt on the legitimacy of the talks, their outcome and their ability to bring about change to the country. Words and phrases which signify lack of progress dominated in these stories. Thus, talks were described as a “daunting task”, “a stalemate”, “a Dead end”, “hitting a brick wall”, “deadlocked” or characterized by “sticky points”. Some headlines suggested that the GNU talks would spectacularly collapse. “Analysts See Stalemate in Zimbabwe Political Talks” (Voice of America, 04/09/08), “Stupid Talks going nowhere fast” (The Zimbabwe, 04/09/08), “Zimbabwe Talks collapsed” (Zimonlirte, 15/08/08) and “Zimbabwe negotiations falter” (VOA, 11 August 2008). Such pessimistic headlines suggested that the talks were futile, “hollow and meaningless” (The, 04/09/08) or “facade” (VOA, 30/06/08). These headlines could have engendered pessimism among the citizenry. This cynicism was also illustrated through headlines that cast aspersions on the ruling party’s sincerity in the talks. For example, The Z}m~ (31/07/08) had a headline which said “Zimbabwe bishop warns about Mugabe’s intentions”. A Methodist Bishop, Sebastian Bakare, reportedly warned the MDC to be wary of President Robert Mugabe’s intentions in the negotiations. He warned that the MDC could be swallowed in the same way PF ZAPU was after the 1987 Unity Accord between PF ZAPU and ZANU-PF. Mugabe and ZANU-PF were thus constructed as deceitful. Such discursive constructions could have demobilized citizens supporting the negotiations, thereby sowing the seeds of hopelessness. It would have been unwise for the opposition political parties to participate in a process fraught with chicanery, trickery and shenanigans.

Some news headlines projected the negotiators as fixated on power, implying that talks would not benefit the citizenry. Examples of such news headlines include: “Talks hit deadlock over Mugabe-Tsvangirai roles” (SW, 31/07/08), “Talks falter over power” (, 12/08/08), “Deadlock over cabinet posts delays settlement” (,, 10/08/08) and “Impasse in Zimbabwe Crisis Talks over Tsvangirai Power-Sharing Role” (VOA, 28/07/08). Such headlines implied that negotiators were motivated by selfish motives. This could have possibly eroded trust between the negotiators. Mandelzis (2007, 2) argues that “inappropriate discourse in a given time period may reduce the chances of building trust between peoples and nations”. Mandelzis (2007, 2) contends that “News discourse frames legitimate or illegitimate ideas and opinions by means of information selection and dissemination to mass audiences”. It is not surprising that the GNU remained in limbo for over six months after the signing of the peace deal. The diaspora media could have directly or indirectly contributed to the delay in its implementation.

There were also, however, moments of guarded optimism in the diaspora media whereby negotiators were described as “happy with the talks” (Zpnonline 29 July 2008). Examples of such news headlines include “Zimbabwe Parties Near Agreement” (VOA News, 05/08/08). Such headlines illustrate that diaspora media have potential to promote peacebuilding. Be that as it may, most headlines accentuated negativity rather than peace-building.

Playing hard ball: discourse of estrangement

Diaspora media framed negotiators as unwilling to compromise and insinuated that the talks would falter. Words and phrases like “obstacles” “non-negotiable”, “adamant” (Zimonline, 22 August 2008), “tricky hurdles” (Zimonline 25,July 2008), “little room for compromise” (SW Radio 25 July 2008), “digging in”, “insisting” and “reject outright” (The Zimbabwe Times, 24 July 2008) signified their hardline stance. Negotiators were described as “protagonists” (Thought Leader, 28 July 2008) or “political gladiators” (The Zimbabwe Times, 22 July 2008), thereby underscoring the entrenched polarity and irreconcilable differences between them. Examples of such discourses include: “Mugabe exit an indispensable precondition” (The Zimbabwe Times, 29/07/08), “ZANU-PF won’t give in to Tsvangirai’s demands” (Zimonline, 22/08/08). “Zimbabweans Reject Government of National Unity With Mugabe As Leader” (VOA, Studio 7) and “Nothing Will Change unless Mugabe goes - SA Refugees” (The Zimbabwean, 26/08/08).

Some news outlets speculated that the talks would suffer stillbirth. London-based academic, Stephen Chan, described the GNU as an “unholy alliance” between ZANU-PF and the MDC (The Zimbabwean, 26/08/08). In some instances, scepticism gradually morphed into cynicism. Such discourses evoke images of duplicity and the notion that the negotiations were fruitless. Such discourses could have engendered a sense of despair and desperation among the citizenry and might have jeopardized the negotiators’ chances for reaching consensus.

Reference was often made to “sticking points” that were likely to endanger the negotiations. For example, in a story titled “Leadership issue remains a major sticking point at talks” (.VIFRadio, 25/07/08) the UK-based pirate radio station, SW Radio Africa, reported that negotiations had been stalled because of disagreements on leadership roles between MDC and ZANU-PF. The newspaper quoted, University of Zimbabwe, political commentator and MDC activist, John Makumbe, saying “There is no little room for compromise and a semi-skilled mediator like Mbeki will have great difficulty bringing the parties to a certain position”. Makumbe maintained that “Zimbabweans are sick and tired of the old man. Zimbabweans know Mugabe is poison and anything he touches is destroyed”.

Demonization discourses such as this illustrate how diaspora media became soft weapons at the service of the opposition during the negotiations. This is in consonant with Lyons’s (2007, 530) view that conflict-generated diasporas “tend to compromise less and therefore reinforce and exacerbate the protracted nature of conflicts”. Thus, diaspora tend “to frame homeland conflict in categorical, hard line terms”, thereby undermining possibilities for compromise.

The enmity between diaspora media and the ZANU-PF government under President Mugabe is a matter of public record. Mugabe reportedly heaped scorn on diasporas when he once described them as “British Bottom Cleaners” - a contemptuous reference to the millions of Zimbabweans who do menial jobs, working in Western capitals {, 2015). Muntanga (2015) illustrates this enmity when he asserts that “the relationship between government and the diaspora is fraught with suspicion, accusations and sometimes fear”. It could be argued that reportage of the GNU negotiations was underwritten by the diaspora media’s victimhood identity which made diaspora media to project themselves as “cyber guerrillas” engaged in a technological warfare against the government (Mavhunga 2008). This line of argument, however, requires further empirical validation and falls outside the purview of this chapter.

Retributive justice discourse

Consistent with their hardline stance, diaspora media also advocated for retributive justice against ruling party politicians. This found expression through calls for the prosecution of ruling party personages, particularly President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe Times (08/08/08) advocated for refusal of amnesty for Mugabe while Radio Voice of the People (26/07/08) published an opinion piece rejecting any form of reconciliation with him. The author lamented the fact that the GNU negotiations would mean that Mugabe would “unlikely face justice” for crimes against humanity. He called for an equal retaliation if Mugabe lost power. The imperative for retribution was echoed in The Zimbabwean Times (10/08/08) with a headline which stated that the “Zim government would be liable for humanitarian crisis”. The publication reported that donor countries had warned that government ministers would be personally held liable “for any humanitarian crisis arising from the refusal to lift the ban on relief agencies”. In another opinion piece in the same publication headline titled “No amnesty should be granted to dictators” [The Zimbabwe Times, 26/08/08) the author advised the MDC not to condone any amnesty for Mugabe and described amnesty as “offensive” because it did not consider the feelings of victims of state terror. By opposing amnesty and reconciliation, the diaspora media could have hardened positions of the negotiators. The spectre of retribution could have forced the ruling party to adopt a hardline stance thereby prolonging the conflict. This illustrates the contention that discourse consequences and utterances may lead to certain actions or behaviour (Foucault, 1972), and “persistent negative framings are always a precursor to something evil” (Akpabio 2011, 46).

The anti-GNU stance of the diaspora media which found expression through the no compromise stance gave way to the retributive justice narrative. This is demonstrated in .VIГ Radio’s headline “Zimbabwe coalition government sets wrong precedence in Africa” (5/08/08) wherein it was argued that the GNU was a wrong precedent in Africa. The article quoted Dr Lamine, the President of the Africa Liberal Network, who argued that coalition governments should not allow a party (referring to ZANU-PF) that “has been involved in massive killing, leading to the continued suffering of the people of Zimbabwe”. The radio station also quoted the network’s former president, Aly Toure, saying that “it was unacceptable to allow despotic leaders to remain in power, and called on the international community to bring such dictators to justice”. Toure reportedly likened Mugabe to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who had been indicted by the International Criminal Court. He told SW Radio station that “I totally agree with the resolution to bring leaders like Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir to the Court ofjustice to answer the atrocities perpetrated by their regimes”.

By privileging retributive justice at the expense of reconciliation, SW Radio could have endangered the negotiations. The possible fear of indictment for “crimes against humanity” could have derailed the peace initiative. It could be argued that the diaspora media’s vendetta against the government and fear of losing their status in host lands could be some of the reasons (Brinkerhoff 2009) for their uncompromising stance. Adams (2012, 28) correctly asserts that most diasporas, particularly those displaced by conflicts or suffer from “collective banishment or trauma” and construct themselves as victims, harbour grudges against those perceived to have caused their displacement in the first place.

Human rights discourse

Diaspora media gave human rights violations considerable attention during negotiations for the government of national unity. Different discursive tropes were deployed to project the view that “despite” the ongoing negotiations there was political stagnation in the country due to human rights violations. Political violence signified political stagnation rendering the peace agreement inconsequential. Political violence was often projected as “escalating”. Examples of such headlines are: “Violence rife Despite Talks” (Radio VOP, 01/08/08), “As Zimbabwe Talks Begin, Abductions of Opposition Members Continue” (VOA Studio 7, 25/07/08), “Political Violence continues despite inter-party talks” (29/07/08) and “Political Violence, Intimidation Continue in Zimbabwe” (23/07/08). These headlines implied that the peace deal was impossible under the circumstances (Wolfsfeld 2004), thereby heightening mistrust among the negotiators.

News articles stressed mistrust emanating from discursive tropes like “duplicity”, “blame game”, “zero-sum politics”, ridiculing prospects for peace, selectivity as well as “discursive backgrounding” (Rutherford 2017). Some media outlets claimed that ZANU-PF was out to hoodwink its negotiating partners (SW Radio Africa, 29/07/08). VOA (Studio 7) (13/08/08) alleged that there was “bad faith” on the part of ZANU-PF because the party had failed to “disarm and demobilize” its supporters. A Human Rights Watch researcher was roped in to lend weight to the accusations of distrust and bad faith stating that

We have seen bad faith on the part ofZANU-PF as a political partner in that very little effort has been made to dismantle the torture camps and bases, to disarm and demobilize the armed ZANU-PF supporters and war veterans that are still rampaging through some of the rural provinces in Zimbabwe.

Scholars note that lack of trust is a major contributor to conflict and the media have a duty to reduce suspicion by presenting news in a manner that shows conflict resolution as a possibility (Howard 2009; Lynch 2015).

Confidence in the peace negotiations was also undermined by the skewed and relentless blame for political violence on one party (ZANU-PF). This bolstered binary discourses whereby ZANU-PF supporters were blamed for political violence while MDC supporters were projected as the victims. To give credence to this view, ZANU-PF’s human rights transgressions were chronicled and catalogued while transgressions of other parties were muted. ZANU-PF was blamed for “harassment”, “assault”, “Stealing of livestock belonging to MDC members, their agents and supporters”, “setting up torture bases” (Radio VOP 1/08/08), “abductions”, “murders”, “farm invasions” and “banning of humanitarian aid” [VOPStudio 7, 23/07/08). This binary discursive strategy made it possible to identify ZANU-PF supporters as perpetrators, while MDC supporters were the victims. Nothing was said about the other MDC-N faction, thereby entrenching the myth of two political gladiators. This means that the voice of one of the negotiating parties, the MDC-N, was jettisoned from the diaspora media. Geoffrey Nyarota labelled ZANU-PF in general and Mugabe, in particular, “the real culprits” in the perpetration of political violence.

Dichotomization of political violence into villains and victims oversimplifies violence and polarizes society, not least because it constructed a scenario of “Devils” and “Angels” which does not augur well in peacebuilding process. Projecting the arena of conflict in binary terms flattens out the diversity of conflict communities by constructing negotiations as made up of two camps pitted against one another, thereby “nullifying the existence” of the other players in the conflict situation (Peleg 2006, 7). In this case, the MDC faction led by Welshman Ncube’s existence was nullified through dichotomization - the observation by Peleg (2006, 7) that dichotomization of conflicts has the potential to solidify the antagonists against each other.

Dichotomization of political violence was cemented by one-sided news sources conscripted to lend weight to the diaspora media’s “regime of truth” in relation to ZANU-PF’s supposed “duplicitous” behaviour, “impunity” and culpability. Typically, these sources were opposition politicians, representatives of civil society organizations, human rights organizations and other anonymous elite sources sympathetic to the opposition. For instance, a story in the VOA, Studio 7 claimed that

officials of the same MDC formation headed by Morgan Tsvangirai said they were trying to establish the identities of 60 individuals whose bodies remained unclaimed at a Harare Hospital and who were believed to be opposition members slain in post-election violence.

(VOA Studio 7, 25/07/08)

News sources are critical in moulding public opinions and perceptions. In this study, news sources helped saturate public opinion with views that depicted ZANU-PF as “Devils” and MDC as “Angels”. Although ZANU-PF’s dominance and superiority in dispensing political violence is hardly a matter of contest given the historical conflation of party and state in Zimbabwe (Kriger 2005), it would be remiss to portray the opposition as innocent (see Sachikonye 2011). The dominance of one-sided sources in the diaspora media indicates that not all sides of the conflict were given space to express their views about political violence. Peleg (2006, 13) highlights the importance of giving all sides of a conflict access to the media when he notes that the media must present

all sides and allow common people, not elites or leaders to express genuine thoughts and ambitions. Equal access must be permitted not only to fanatics, who bomb their way into the news but to other sides to the conflict as well.

The diaspora media did not just jettison the voices of ordinary people - who are the ones mostly affected by political violence in Zimbabwe from the news, but also the voices of the diverse political groupings represented at the peace talks. Attributing blame to one party could have increased polarization in the negotiation space as this could have been perceived as blackmail by the accused party - thereby making the negotiators to drift apart rather than “finding one another”.

The search for common ground during the negotiations could have also been made impossible through use of, on the one hand, demonization discourses directed at ZANU-PF and on the other, the humanization of opposition supporters. While ZANU-PF supporters were nameless “militias”, “marauding militants”, “gangs” (VOA Studio 7, 23/07/08), or “thugs loyal to Mugabe” (SW

Radio, 29/07/08), MDC supporters who were victims of violence were humanized through naming. These dichotomous constructions had the effect of “oth- ering”, resulting in an “US and them” framing which is not conducive for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Wolfsfeld (2004) notes that the way in which the media frame conflicts is critical in the de-escalation of conflicts. Peleg (2006, 11) concurs, noting that if the tone set by the media is

.. .is vehement and ardent, accentuating the zeal of combat and the spoils of war, other parties might be enthused and drawn into the cycle of violence, thus expanding it. If, on the other hand, the tone is reticent and composed, underlying the anguish of battle and the affliction of warfare, the other parties would refrain from intervening or would interfere to discontinue the conflict.

The implications are that the media have great responsibility in peace and conflict resolution initiatives and can either fail or succeed because of the discourses they deploy.

Viewed from another perspective, however, that accentuating human rights violations had the positive in that it was a form of what McQuail (2013,113) refers to as “burglar alarm” journalism whereby the media become a sentry to alert the citizens about impending danger. Thus, reference to “human suffering”, “a badly suffering economy”, “astronomical inflation”, “dire straits”, “emergency food aid”, “human suffering that is worsening by the day” (VOA, Studio 7, 28/07/08) could have helped to put the humanitarian crises in the country on the international spotlight. Diaspora media reports about For instance, “17 MDC activists badly beaten by ZANU-PF militia in Buhera South...marooned in the area with Colonel Morgan Mzilikazi...” SW Radio (30/07/08) helped invite outsiders into the conflict arena, thereby forcing the state to desist from human rights violations.

Extensive reportage on “politicization of food aid”, impending “starvation” and government blockade of food aid distribution by ZANU-PF militia (SW Radio, 12/09/08) shined the search light in the dark alleys of the state, thereby preventing worsening of the humanitarian disaster. This exerted pressure on the ZANU-PF government to refrain from further human rights violations, paving way for the negotiated political settlement. This affirms the protective role of the media in conflicts whereby they expose human rights violations and highlighting the negative consequences of conflict (Onadipe and Lord, cited in Aho 2004, 25). It has been noted that the media have played a crucial role in influencing Western governments and other international institutions to intervene to arrest humanitarian crises such as those in Somalia, a situation referred to as the “CNN effect” (Jokosben, cited by Chebii 2015). Although such interventions tended to be reactive rather than proactive, the mere cry of “do something” (Chebii 2015, 23) has forced Western governments to militarily or otherwise intervene in some of the crises around the globe.

Concluding remarks

This chapter examined diaspora media discourses on domestic conflict and peace resolution processes, using negotiations leading to the formation of Zimbabwe’s GNU in 2008/2009 as an analytical lens. Although the diaspora media predominantly deployed polarizing discursive tropes, such discourses do not fit into the restrictive stereotype of diasporas as either “peace-wreckers” or “peace-makers” because reportage exhibited hybrid tendencies. It cannot be denied that their robust engagement could have caused tensions during the negotiations for a peace settlement, but they do not fit the classification of “peace-wreckers” or “conflict mongers”. The fact that there were episodes in which they foregrounded peace, even if such instances were negligible, signals that diaspora media “are neither exclusive saints nor sinners” (Brinkerhoff 2011, 138). That diaspora media can be many things depending on their positionality illustrates that diaspora media have potential to contribute positively towards peacebuilding and conflict resolution. The varied positionalities of interests and the heterogeneity of their interests and motivations signal the need for better theoretical frameworks to interrogate the diaspora media’s influence in domestic conflicts. This will enable a deeper understanding of the circumstances in which diaspora media either play a destructive or constructive role in domestic conflicts. The chapter did not however venture into questioning why diaspora media adopted the discourses examined in this study; hence, the arguments made in this chapter remain inconclusive. Future studies could combine different methodological designs aimed it curating data on diaspora media’s rationale for representing domestic conflict resolution processes in the way that they do. Such studies would be better poised to throw insights into the diaspora media identities, positionalities and interests, and how these are brought to bear in their discursive construction of domestic conflicts in fragile societies.


This chapter is part of a bigger study made possible by generous funding from the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). While the financial support is acknowledged, the views reflected in this chapter are those of the author.


1 Now defunct.


Adams, F. 2012. Constructing the Diaspora: Diaspora Identity Politics and Transnational Social Movements. In Politics from Afar, edited by Lyons, T. and Mandaville, P., 23-42. London: C Hurst & Co Publishers.

Aho, M. 2004. Media’s Role in Peacebuilding: United States Peace Support Operation. UN Certificate of Training Thesis, George Mason University.

Akpabio, E. 2011. Framing Them in Order to Hang Them? Journal of International Communication, 17(1): 37-49.

Beyene, H.G. 2015. Are African Diasporas Development Partners, Peacekeepers or Spoilers? The Case of Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria. Diaspora Studies, 8(2): 145-161.

Brinkerhoff, J. 2009. Diasporas and Conflict Societies: Conflict Entrepreneurs, Competing Interests, or Contributors to Stability and Development? Paper Presented at Global Effects and Local Dynamics of Intrastate Conflicts International Workshop Sponsored by the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations. Hebrew University and RSAND/GAT1 Research Group. Centre for Advanced Study of International Development, Michigan State University,Jerusalem, Israel, May 17-19.

Brinkerhoff, J. 2011. Diasporas and Conflict Societies: Conflict Entrepreneurs, Competing Interests or Contributors to Stability and Development? Conflict, Security & Development, 11(102): 115-143, doi: 10.1080/14678802.2011.572453.

Chebii, K. Z. 2015. The Role of Media in Conflict Management: The Case of Electoral Conflicts in Kenya. Journal of Global Peace and Conflict, 3(2): 39-61.

Foucault, M. 1972. Power/Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books.

Galtung, J. 1998. After Violence: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, Resolution: Coping with Invisible and Visible Effects of War and Violence. Princeton, NJ: Transcend.

Galtung, J. 2002. Peace Journalism - A Challenge. In journalism and the New World Order, Volume 2, edited by Kempf, W. and Heikki, L., 260-280. Gothenburg: Nordicom.

Hanitzsch, T. 2004. Journalists as a Peacekeeping Force: Peace Journalism and Mass Communication Theory. Journalism Studies, 5(4); 483-495.

Howard, R. 2009. Conflict Sensitive Reporting: State of the Art. A Course for Journalists and Journalism Educators. United Nations, Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Paris: France.

Kagwanja, P. and Kondlo, K. 2008. Saving Zimbabwe: An Agenda for Democratic Peace. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council and Africa Policy Institute Policy Report. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from

Kriger, N. 2005. ZANU-PF Strategies in General Elections, 1980-2000: Discourse and Coercion. African Affairs, 104(414): 1-34.

Lynch,J. 2015. Peace Journalism: Theoretical and Methodological Developments. Global Media and Communication, 11(3): 193-199.

Lyons, T. 2007. Conflict-Generated Diaspora and Transnational Politics in Ethiopia. Conflict, Security and Development, 7(4): 529-549.

Mandelzis, L. 2007. Representations of Peace in News Discourse: Viewpoint and Opportunity for Peace Journalism. Conflict & Communication Online, 6(1): 1-10.

Mano, W., and Willems, W. 2010. Debating “Zimbabweanness” in Internet forums: Technologies of freedom. In Zimbabwe’s New Diaspora: Displacement and the Cultural Politics of Survival, edited by McGregor, J. and Primorac, R., 183-201. London: Berghahn Books.

Mavhunga, C. 2008. The Glass Fortress: Zimbabwe’s Cyber-Guerrilla Warfare. Bulletin, No. 80, Winter. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from http://concernedafricascholars. org/docs/acasbulletin80-4.pdf.

Maweu, J. 2017. “Peace Propaganda”? The Application of the Chomsky’s Propaganda Model to Daily Nation’s Coverage of the 2013 Kenyan Elections. Communication, 43(2): 168-186.

McGoldrick, A. and Lynch, J. 2000. Peace Journalism, What Is It? How to Do? Transcend. Retrieved July 10, 2017, from McGoldrick_Lynch_Peace-Journalism.pdf.

McQuail, D. 2013. Journalism and Society. London: Sage Publications.

Miriyoga, L. 2017. The Fragmentation and Everydayness of Diasporic Citizenship: Experiences of Zimbabweans in South Africa and the United Kingdom (Year 2000 and Beyond). DPhil Thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.

Moyo, D. 2007. Alternative Media, Diaspora and the Mediation of the Zimbabwean Crisis. Equid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 28(1-2): 81-105.

Muntanga, D. 2016. Govt Must Tackle Trust Deficit, Not Just Remittances. The Standard, 9 October.

Osman, I. 2015. The Somali Media, Diaspora Communities and the Concept of Conflict Recreation. JOMEC Journal, 7(14). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://orca.

Peleg, S. 2006. Peace Journalism through Lens of Conflict Theory: Analysis and Practice. Conflict & Communication, 5(2): 1-17.

Rutherford, A. B. 2017. Farm Labour Struggles in Zimbabwe: The Ground of Politics. Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Sachikonye, L. 2011. When a State Turns on Its Citizens: Institutionalized Violence and Political Culture. Harare: Weaver Press.

Skjerdal, T. 2012. The Somali Media and Their Peace-Building Potential. Bildhaan, 11: 27-50.

Ting Lee, S. 2010. Peace Journalism Principles and Structural Limitations in the News Coverage of Three Conflict. Mass Communication and Society, 13(4): 361-381.

Tsarwe, S. and Mare, A. 2019. Journalistic Framing of Electoral Conflict in a Politically Fragile Society: A Comparative Study of the Zimbabwean Weekly Press. African Journalism Studies, 18-35. doi:10.1080/23743670.2019.1570297.

Turner, M. 2008. Three Discourses on Diasporas and Peacebuilding. In Whose Peace? Critical Perspectives on the Political Economy of Peacebuilding, edited by Pugh, M., Cooper, N., and Turner, M., 173 190. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Van Dijk, T. 1995. Discourse Analysis as Ideology Analysis. In Language and Peace, edited by Schaffner, C. and Wenden, A.L., 17-33. Dartmouth: Aldershot.

Wolfsfeld, G. 2004. Media and the Path to Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Youngblood, S. 2017. Kenyan Media Test Peace Journalism Principles. Peace Review, 29(4): 440-442.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >