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Email: / Phone: +31 (0)20 673 4774 / Mobile: +31 (0)6 520 66 499

Institute for War & Peace Reporting – thinking outside the box, working inside the circle

Thinking outside the box, or as the Rwanda country director of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting  puts it, ‘working within the circle’, is a refreshing strategy for NGOs working in developing countries.

Brice Rambaud, Africa director for the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) – and a friend of mine from his days at Internews in Nairobi – explains that in a country like Rwanda, a confrontational approach to press freedom doesn’t work.

“So we work for change from within the circle and try to make sure the circle expands,” he told a group of 35 or so invited guests at De Balie earlier this week.

Anthony Borden, founder of IWPR, was at the meeting too. He said that by taking the trouble to create a dialogue with the government in Rwanda, his organisation has been instrumental in introducing six key changes to the media sector including reforming the state broadcaster and introducing access to information legislation.

Best in the world

But Borden stressed that the starting point was to ask the government in Rwanda what sort of media it wanted in five years’ time. The answer was inevitably “the best in the world”, said Borden.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Changes in legislation and don’t mean journalists are automatically less afraid to ask questions. Or that they suddenly have the necessary research skills or interview techniques.

Journalists are also often crippled by self-censorship and a reluctance to change the habits of a lifetime. Which of course is the biggest challenge when it comes to training. And it’s not an unique situation – as I know from training journalists in Moldova, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya and many other countries.

brice & dianne new

Brice Ramboud of IWPR and Dianne Dusaidi, producer of tv show Rise & Shine, made a flying visit to Amsterdam this week to talk about how the media is changing in Rwanda.

Another speaker at the meeting was Dianne Dusaidi who produces a breakfast tv show in Kigali. Rise & Shine, is very different from ‘traditional’ tv programmes in Rwanda and has just celebrated its 100th show.

All this has been made possible by another IWPR initiative in the country – Dusaidi is one of the beneficiaries of a grant from the IWPR Rwanda Creative Hub (more about that in a minute).

Dusaidi said something that I have heard many times before from journalists around the world, which is basically that criticising the government isn’t part of ‘the culture’ in Rwanda.

Business accelerator

I think I know what she means – deference and respect are an integral part of many cultures and are values that not all Western NGOs, journalists or trainers understand, let alone appreciate. But there’s a more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed and that is, what is – or should be – the role of the media in your society? And how do you make sure you fulfill that role? That’s a universal question journalists around the world should constantly ask themselves.

And then there’s the IWPR Rwanda Creative Hub. This is essentially a business accelerator for start-ups in the creative and IT sector run by IWPR with funds from the Dutch and Swedish embassies in Kigali.

The idea is to promote freedom of expression in a broader context and create sustainable businesses. But ‘sustainability’ isn’t so easy for media companies in a country with just 11 million people, no advertising industry to speak of and no way to collate statistics on audiences.

The IWPR event at De Balie in Amsterdam on 31 March was organised by Dutchman Derk Sauer, chairman of the IWPR supervisory board in the Netherlands (and owner of  “the largest independent foreign media company in Russia”).

The aim was to find sponsors and mentors for the Rwanda Creative Hub (US$ 200,000 seed money invested in 2014).