Doing Northern Uganda Justice

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IWPR radio programme on transitional justice provides survivors of the LRA insurgency with a platform to air their views on efforts to restore stability to northern Uganda.

By IWPR - International Justice - ICC
8 Apr 11

As the people of northern Uganda seek to rebuild their lives after the brutal, 20-year insurgency waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, IWPR’s radio programme on justice and issues surrounding the resettlement of those uprooted by the conflict provides sought after information on post-conflict developments in the region.

Facing Justice is a regular, feature-length radio broadcast that seeks to fill a void in investigative reporting on human rights and transitional justice issues in northern Uganda.

“There is a great lack in northern Uganda of in-depth, analytical programming on these important issues,” said David Okidi, manager of Gulu-based IWPR partner Mega FM, part of a network of five radio stations which broadcast Facing Justice across northern Uganda. The programme goes out in English and three local languages - Luo, Ateso and Lugbara.

Mega FM, Voice of Teso, Radio Palwak, Radio Pacis and Rhino Rhino have a combined regional audience of an estimated 4.6 million listeners.

“The people of northern Uganda suffered a lot at the hands of both rebels and government troops – but nobody seems able to hold the perpetuators accountable,” said Facing Justice reporter Arthur Okot, who also works for Mega FM. “The victims have given up but the programme now brings them life and renewed hope. Through this programme, [audiences can] listen to the victims and hold [those who persecuted them] accountable for their actions.”

The IWPR Uganda Radio Project – of which Facing Justice is a part – has trained a network of 12 reporters from the regions of Teso, Acholi, Lango and West Nile. The project is run by IWPR reporter Simon Jennings and project coordinator, Moses Odokonyero, with the Facing Justice programme produced by Susan Kavuma.

IWPR media training held in Gulu, northern Uganda, in 2009 and 2010 has equipped reporters with skills in investigative journalism, reporting legal and justice issues, as well as technical production techniques that have enabled them to produce high quality reports for the programme.

“Following the launch of Facing Justice in 2009, new training modules in investigative reporting and technical sound production for radio have raised the standard of reporting among the local journalists,” Odokonyero said. “It has also equipped the journalists with specific editorial skills necessary for them to choose topics and story angles relevant to the local audience.”

IWPR’s work in the region has taken place against a background of attempts by authorities to undermine press freedom, which has been widely condemned by international watchdogs, particularly in the run-up and aftermath of the recent presidential elections held in February 2011.

Despite the often intimidating atmosphere, Facing Justice reporters produce accurate, fair and balanced reporting that informs local audiences of the facts around northern Uganda’s post-conflict recovery process.

"As a journalist I know it is my duty to inform and educate people but when denied that right I feel like I am doing public relations work and not sticking to the real issues,” Facing Justice reporter Florence Ogola said. “Even when they have the facts right, journalists in Uganda often sit on them because they fear the consequences of publishing. Facing justice deals with real issues, that's exactly what every journalist should be reporting on.”

Bill Oketch, who has reported extensively for IWPR on the mismanagement of development funds earmarked for the reconstruction of war-scarred areas of northern Uganda, cited Facing Justice’s independence as one of its most important merits.

“Journalists are intimidated by government officials who have been implicated over the allegations of corruption related to rebuilding programmes in the north. But we are just professionals doing our work,” Oketch said.

“Communities affected by the two-decades of LRA conflict are our fans. They love the Facing Justice programme because of its balanced, well researched and comprehensive approach that highlights challenges the war survivors are facing as they rebuild their homes and lives. Now many are calling for the establishment of an independent Facing Justice radio station in northern Uganda.”

The largely commercial nature of the radio landscape in northern Uganda means the interests and information needs of a critical section of the population - particularly in rural areas - are often not catered for. The financial and technical limitations of radio stations in the region also mean they struggle to produce high quality, well-researched programming that draws on the experience and views of ordinary people. As a consequence, the communities of northern Uganda seldom get a chance to have their voices heard.

Facing Justice - which embarked on its second series in November 2010 - has sought to fill this gap across the Acholi, West Nile and Teso regions. IWPR sends reporters to rural settlements to hear residents’ views on everyday issues such as access to clean water, gender-based violence and the availability of health services. By also engaging relevant experts and government stakeholders, Facing Justice provides much-needed analysis on these important issues and addresses the concerns of its target audience.

The programme has also produced stories on the prevalence of weapons left over from the LRA war era, widows’ inheritance rights and other transitional justice issues such as the formation of a possible truth commission in the north and war victims’ reparations claims.

After each episode, partner radio stations host a phone-in for listeners to give their views about a given topic live on air or send in text messages to be read out.

Not only has Facing Justice prompted lively debate on the issues it covers, but local stakeholders say the programme is making a real difference to communities in northern Uganda.

“It is really a programme that is good,” said Hassan Juma Nyene, the police spokesman for the mideastern region. “It is very educating for our listeners. We can see that they are getting in touch with whatever is happening. Sometimes, there is a problem and the outside world doesn’t know. The programme is on air and they begin to feel that help is going to come because people are aware.”

A recent programme about formerly displaced citizens struggling to access clean drinking water in villages they’ve returned to prompted particular acclaim from local officials.

“The radio programme is good. It is telling others that we who live in the villages need clean water. But are those responsible bringing us the clean water?” Okello Mateo, an elder from the village of Koro Abili in Gulu district, said.

Facing Justice is seen as an increasingly vital source of information, delivered through a medium which can effectively highlight key issues.

“This is a programme that addresses real issues that affects the community,” Simon Oyet, member of parliament for Nwoya County in Amuru district, told IWPR.