Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How can the development of media contribute to peace in Mali? With this question in mind, Daniela Russo travelled to Mali’s capital Bamako, exploring new possibilities for media development projects.

Mali was politically stable for a long time, until in the nineties, when the nomadic Tuareg people started to rebel in the north of the country. Their goal was to gain independence of the region Azawad.

Fragile state

The conflict took a turn when Islamic groups in the north became more influential, and a military coup took place in March 2012. The Islamists and Tuareg rebels took the three largest Northern cities, Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in three succeeding days and declared the independence of Azawad. When further conflicts arose between the Tuaregs and the Islamists, and the capital of the south was under threat, Mali sought for international help.

Although the situation stabilized after foreign interventions, in which The Netherlands took part, Mali is still considered a fragile state. The crisis affected not only the access to information, but also its quality. Media and civil society organisations were not able to guarantee the transparency of the political decisions.

Reconciliation

To explore how the development of media can contribute to peace in Mali, Free Press Unlimited decided to organize a three day workshop, in collaboration with URTEL, an umbrella organization for community radio and television. Over 40 journalists, local authorities and media and civil society representatives from all regions of Mali participated in the workshop, to reflect on the most important political, social and cultural developments in Mali. 

During the event I interviewed different participants about their motivation to come to the event. While people from Bamako reported the opportunity of training and sharing experiences as their main reason to come to the workshop, people coming from thenorth of the country were attracted by the word "reconciliation" in the title of the workshop. Abdoulaye Traore, working at the NGO Reseau des journalists et comunicateurs pour la paix, says: “I saw the word 'reconciliation' and I travelled two days to come here to Bamako to participate in the workshop. Reconciliation is a big issue in Mali, as well as religious tolerance."

Professional journalism

All participants agree that among the most urgent issues in Mali that need to be addressed is the need for more professionalism in journalism. Aissata Ahmadou, journalist at the Sahalien.com explains that print media are mostly based on rumors. “Even worse”, she says,  “radio programs diffuse the information contained in the written press without checking the sources. People think that it is the truth but in reality it's just the opinion of a journalist. Malian people look at journalists as a necessary evil." Other common needs have to do with basic rights as a media professional, like a regular contract or an adequate salary.

Vision

Ciwara Infos doet verslag van het congresThe reflections collected during the three day conference resulted in a common vision on possible media development projects focused on peace building. The priority seems to be the professionalism of journalism. This includes tailor-made trainings, improvement of the management of the media outlets and application of the collective labour agreements for journalists.

Participants were clearly driven by a lot of passion, considering the bad job conditions for journalists in Mali. All the people I interviewed reported that being a journalist had been their dream since they were young. As participant Astan Diawara Kledu said: “Being a journalist was my ambition since I was a kid. Journalism is a noble profession and gives you a lot of power.”