Media Briefings

RADIO BROADCASTS: Ending civil conflict through ‘defection messages’ to rebels

  • Published Date: March 2018

Radio broadcasts can be instrumental in ending civil conflict, according to research by Alex Armand, Paul Atwell and Joseph Gomes, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018. Their study focuses on the use of ‘defection messaging’ in the fight against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony in central Africa.

The results show that such messaging has the potential of encouraging defections among rebels, and reducing overall violence. In areas covered by the radio signal, an hour a day of broadcasting reduced fatalities by up to 7%, which was mainly driven by a surge in the number of returnees from the LRA.

But the effectiveness of the programme is closely linked to economic incentives driving fighters. In areas where the predation of natural resources is more profitable, radio messages are less effective in encouraging defection and reducing fatalities.

The researchers conclude: ‘While Europe reels from the effects of conflict-driven refugee inflows and the international community looks for effective ways to bring peace in the numerous regions across the globe, radio broadcasts present a low cost, easily replicable tool to give peace a chance.’

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We know the adage that words are more powerful than weapons, but is this true in modern civil conflicts? Convincing rebels to give up arms is not an easy task, especially in remote and impenetrable areas not conducive to conventional military operations.

In recent years, radio broadcasts have been used as an alternative medium to draw combatants out of war. While this has received limited media coverage, radio broadcasts encouraging demobilisation have been central in a number of conflicts, for example, against the FARC in Colombia and more recently against the Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The new study shows that indeed these broadcasts can be instrumental in ending civil conflict. The study focuses on the use of defection messaging in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in central Africa.

The group led by Joseph Kony gained infamy for brutalities that affected hundreds of communities in Central Africa. It has been a costly and bloody conflict, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths and displacing more than two million people since the late 1980s.

The results of the study show that such radio defection messaging has the potential of encouraging defections among rebels, and reducing overall violence. In areas covered by the signal, an hour a day of broadcasting reduced fatalities by up to 7%, which was mainly driven by a surge in the number of returnees from the LRA.

But the effectiveness of the programme is closely linked to economic incentives driving fighters. In areas where the predation of natural resources is more profitable, radio messages are less effective in encouraging defection and reducing fatalities.

The use of radio in the LRA insurgency started soon after the Ugandan government signed a blanket amnesty law for combatants in 2000. The goal was to encourage amnesty claims by giving information on the logistics of surrender, immunity offers and the willingness of families and communities to accept returnees.

Following the 2008 US-led strikes against the LRA (Operation Lightning Thunder) and the dispersion of the group into DR Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations, and other international NGOs, began expanding capacity at small community radio stations. The objective was to intensify radio broadcasts with defection messages and convince fighters to surrender.

A mother appealing to her abducted children from a local radio in DR Congo: ‘I will not talk much, but I do appeal to you, my children who are still in the bush, that if you hear my voice, you should not have any doubt. If you can hear me now please come back home because home is very good, girls have become tailors, others are builders and others are doing different useful work.’

While Europe reels from the effects of conflict-driven refugee inflows and the international community looks for effective ways to bring peace in the numerous regions across the globe, radio broadcasts present a low cost, easily replicable tool to give peace a chance.

ENDS


The Reach of Radio: Ending Civil Conflict through Rebel Demobilization
Alex Armand (University of Navarra and IFS)
Paul Atwell (University of Michigan)
Joseph Gomes (University of Navarra)

For more information, contact:
Dr Alex Armand (aarmand@unav.es)