Rwandan radio soap opera might help end violence


Rwanda on April 6, 1994: Hutus gave the order to start the extermination of the Tutsi tribe over the radio station RTLM. For the next 100 days the station was devoted purely to spreading Tutsi hate propaganda. When the attacks stopped after two months, the radio station was silenced.

Fast forward to July 6, when National Public Radio’s “On the Media” reported RTLM is back on the air after a 10-year ban. But now, the format is just a little different, changing from hate propaganda to hope – specifically, a radio soap opera.

Since the genocide in 1994, tension has been a continuous problem. As the Africa News on Sept. 4 reported, there are small Hutu and Tutsi militias still trying to eradicate each other in Rwanda and its neighboring country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amidst this violence, RTLM radio has re-emerged with its new show – “Musekeweya,” or “New Dawn.”

The show is described as “a Rwandan version of Romeo and Juliet.” But beyond mere entertainment, the producers claim a larger purpose – by understanding how violence starts, they hope people will understand how to avoid it and begin reconciling their differences.

Running twice a week, the July 9 Rwanda Wire reported “Musekeweya” to be the most popular show in the country. It claimed a 90-percent audience share.

The show has found an interesting time in Rwanda’s development to try and piece together problems from the past and avoid repeating the same problems in the future.

“Musekeweya” takes place in a pre-genocide time, and the narratives represent a way for people today to talk about how to avoid the next round of violence without having dealt with the past directly.

Noteworthy in Rwanda right now is U.N. Resolution 1503, which calls for International Criminal Tribunals for genocide suspects. These criminal tribunals have brought new insight to the 1994 genocide. “Musekeweya” is trying to remind people how to avoid the mistake they made in the past.

One key aspect to the show is the avoidance of two very important names – Hutu and Tutsi – to avoid alarming the Tutsi government.

However, anyone can recognize which village is Hutu and which is Tutsi, and the characters deal with the real-life issues of fires, thefts, murder and the constant threat of one village attacking the other.

As Newsvine stated on Aug. 4, the show is continuously on the edge of all-out violence – stopped only by communication.

The stories incorporate issues that used to and continue to divide the people, but every time they’re on the edge of violence, the narrative’s moral is that, through communication, people can prevent violence.

The show is helping the people and government reconnect and is acting as a reconciliation tool for the entire country. The show is also broadcast in English on the Internet to reach a more diverse audience.

Hutus and Tutsis have been taught to hate each other for close to a decade. Perhaps now the station that helped start the violence could be the same one to end it.

Kevin Phillips is a senior in legal communication. Please send comments to