There is indeed a diverse ethnolinguistic composition in the country, the main one Gbaya and Banda (accounting for around 60% of the population). French and Sango are the official languages, being Sango a lingua franca spoken by the majority. What turns the context challenging are the religious affiliation, the Christian affiliation (Catholic and Protestants) correspond the majority of population (around 70-80%) and Islamic-Muslim affiliation (around 15%). There have been tensions throughout the last decade among these two religious affiliations. It is increasingly challenging to foster dialogue forums since indeed in the case of CAR it tends to have a dominant group.
I have seen in this radio program some carefulness in having a more equitable and balanced proportion of participants according to some religious affiliations, and also animists groups. But this radio program (once a week) broadcasted both in Sango and in French is one example that attempts to use to radio as an arena for a more participatory dialogue. It is a real challenge to turn such dialogues more diverse and participative, these dialogues should become more scalable in the country, mainly, outside the capital since 60% of the population is rural. One strategy would be to foster through community radios such types of debates.
The moderator of the programs was a female journalist, but indeed I observed that the debates were mainly male dominated. Within the 15 programs (total 38 participants), 17 was the number of invited participants with some religious affiliation, nine were Christians and five Muslims.
– 9 with Christian affiliation (among priests, coordinator of Catholic Christian women, young Catholic Christians, episcopal commission for the family, Catholic movement of conjugal spirituality, young Baptists and Protestant women).
– 1 representative from a national (ecumenic)faith platform;
– 2 animists
– 5 with Islamic affiliation (imam, Islamic theologian and representative of the national Islamic council)
Although there was a predominance of Christians who joined the debates, it was observed some variety among Christians (also related to age and gender). On the other hand, the Islamic guests were often the same joining repeatedly programs.
Regarding no religious affiliation, there were 3 academics from the Bangui University, 2 artists, 1 political representative, and 1 community leader from a particular neighborhood in the capital Bangui.
As for local non-faith-based NGOs, there were 5 participants that joined the programs from different fields such as food, peacebuilding and women. In addition, there were four members of civil society with unknown affiliation – two related to prevention of violent extremism and two international participants from Rwanda and Burkina Faso. There was 1 representative of international organization. The fact that there was only one representative of international organization indicates some willingness from the radio’s producers to engage more local agents in discussing the country’s challenges rather than relying solely on the judgement and recommendations from international actors.
Contrastingly, there was only one community leader from a particular neighborhood that was invited. In order to engage more with different communities and address particular problems, tensions and challenges, community and neighborhood leaders and local NGOs could be invited to the show on a more regular basis.
It is still a challenge to turn such radio program more participatory since it is recorded in the studio of the radio in the capital. There used to be some attempts (not among this sample) to broadcast from public spaces. And the participants are mainly invited by the radio producers and they represent social groups, collectives or associations, little individual guests. And the scope of this program does not have a ‘call in’ format by the people.
Within the programming grid of the radio, there is a weekly space open to broadcast content produced by community radios. The challenge would be to make this space more community led produced content.
I understand that there is still space for individuals to act rationally and ethically, but (trying not to be naïve and too uthopian) I do agree that it is within the human nature to act as well according to one’s own selfishness and narrow-mindedness. People are driven by their own agenda, but also by their family / community / ethnic/ religious interests as well. I do acknowledge the need for the existence of social norms to guide conviviality.
I also understand that dialogue is necessary and that they need to be plural and diverse – meaning that is often that dialogue might be contentious with opposing and different views. I would say that the most profitable debates/ dialogues are the ones that embrace a plurality of views, even clashing ones. Differences will always exist and they need to be acknowledged and respected. Dialogues should be always the first and the last resort for coming to a common ground envisioning a ‘way forward’. It is better that grieves and sorrows are put openly on the table and expressed rather than disputed being ‘forcely resolved’ by arms or through violent ways.