Jeannine Nahigombeye – Burundi

Linked with Radio Isanganiro .

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Her mother said: “You are half Hutu and half Tutsi. If you identify yourselves as Hutus, then you must hate me, and if you identify yourself as Tutsi, then it is as if you killed your father a second time”.

Jeannine Nahigombeye, Director, Radio Isanganiro: Jeannine Nahigombeye has worked since 1997, when she joined Studio Ijambo in Bujumbura, Burundi. Studio Ijambo, a project of Search for Common Ground (headquartered in Washington, DC), produces radio programming designed to promote interethnic harmony and cooperative problem solving. She also worked as a stringer for the Voice of America and Canal Afrique (South Africa). During Ms. Nahigombeye’s four and half years at, Studio Ijambo, she initiated several programs, including programs on AIDS and vox-pop (popular voice), and co-produced programs on justice, truth and reconciliation, political and social programs, and human rights. In November of 2002, Ms. Nahigombeye was elected by her peers as director of Radio Isanganiro a new independent radio station created by the journalists of Studio Ijambo. (full text, scroll down).

Jeannine Nahigombeye.JPG

Jeannine Nahigombeye – Burundi

She works for Radio Isanganiro.

Nahigombeye, the daughter of an accountant at the Central Bank of Burundi and a schoolteacher, grew up in a family of eight children. On still afternoons, she and her older sisters often listened to the radio, fascinated by a thriller series titled “Anthology of Mysteries.” She taped the program and replayed it time and again, play-acting along with the characters.At 20, she began studying French literature at the University of Burundi and frequently appeared in drama productions. She graduated in 1996. In explaining why she chose journalism as a career, she said: “The fact of talking to people who are listening, registering what you say and do, was an interesting connection. In Africa, you cannot live from theater, but it was a way of communicating.”

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, which includes Burundi, 85 percent of the people rely on radio for news and entertainment. In 1995, Search for Common Ground, a conflict resolution organization based in Washington, established Studio Ijambo, which means “wise words” in the Kirundi language. When the group advertised for female contributors to the independent radio studio, Nahigombeye joined. (full text).

“A défaut d’entendre nos appels au calme, le président Pierre Nkurunziza doit enfin prendre conscience du mal que cette campagne agressive et absurde entretenue par ses partisans cause à son pays. La violence verbale, les menaces et la haine sont extrêmement dangereuses pour la démocratie. Radio Isanganiro et ses journalistes ne font que leur travail et les accusations portées contre eux sont infondées. Il est urgent que ce climat d’hostilité s’apaise”, a déclaré Reporters sans frontières. (full text).

Jeannine Nahigombeye (32) is a journalist. Since 2003, she has been the director of Radio Isanganiro, a national broadcaster. She uses the media for conflict resolution and as a means to get all warring parties involved in peace negotiations in her country. Despite several government bans she has continued using the radio as her weapon against conflict. The radio provides its listeners with information that helps them in their daily lives and keeps politicians and the army accountable for their actions. She is a Burundian, is married and mother of a girl.

She has seven brothers and sisters. Her Hutu father, who worked at the Central Bank of Burundi, was killed in 1972 along with 300,000 others, during the bloody coup attempt that was suppressed by the Micombero regime. Her mother, who is a Tutsi, raised Jeannine and her siblings to be ethnic-neutral. She never harbored any feelings of vengeance nor taught her children to be vengeful.

At the beginning of the 1993 conflicts in Burundi, Jeannine’s mother told her children they were half Tutsi and half Hutu and that they could therefore not afford to align themselves with either of the two ethnic groups. ‘You are half Hutu and half Tutsi, so who can you love, the Hutus or the Tutsis’ If you identify yourselves as Hutus, then you must hate me, and if you identify yourself as Tutsi, then it’s as if you’ve killed your father a second time. No member of our family should ever be aligned with one ethnic group or the other, said Jeannine’s mother. Jeannine has committed herself to follow that advice.

She has a diploma in French Literature from Burundi University, the College of Arts Sciences Language Department. She has been a journalist since 1998 when she worked at Studio Ijambo. This was the year when president Buyoya, who took power in a coup, had begun dialogue between two Hutu rebel groups. The atmosphere was tense, and the local media was forbidden to allow rebels on air. Burundi had been in a civil war since the assassination of the first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.

Jeannine was later a correspondent for Voice of America (VOA). Since 2003, she has been the director of Isanganiro radio station based in Bujumbura, the capital. Radio Isanganiro reaches almost 90% of the entire population. This radio station was created out of the initiative of a group of journalists who elected her as director. The focus of her work is on problems relating to community development, issues of everyday life and issues linked directly to the civil war.

Jeannine uses the media to assist in conflict resolution. At the height of the conflict, the station was a means to get all warring parties involved in the peace negotiations. She was engaged in this proactive but risky situation despite several bans by the government against her radio station. Jeannine found it unacceptable that the government involved the people of Burundi in the negotiations, but banned the rebels from expressing their views on local radio.

In September 2003 Radio Isanganiro received a second broadcast suspension of seven days. The suspension was ordered by the Ministry of Defense alleging that in one of their broadcasts the station had sided with one of the leaders of the rebel movement. Radio Isanganiro ignored the suspensions and accusations. Jeannine made sure even in the worst of times for Burundi, that she reported positive news in order to keep the dream for peace alive and to give hope to the people. It took a long time for the government to understand that the media had a right to ask the citizens for their opinions on issues concerning them. On the other hand the citizens also finally began to understand that the radio station was not a mouth-piece for the feuding parties.

Jeannine has often denounced human rights abuses and embezzlement. She has balanced it by broadcasting positive events happening in the communities. Through her broadcasts, people get information about their rights and the law. It has been an interactive communication with listeners often calling in to react to stories or to share information. However it has not always been easy.

For instance there were contradictory reports from the government about people who were killed after an attack by rebels in one location. Jeannine happened to see the dead with her own eyes. Among them were a mother and a baby. She reported what she had seen to the army spokesperson and she was told, ‘you are misinformed’.

Following the denial of any deaths by the military authorities, Jeannine filed a story that was broadcast the next morning on Voice of America. When questioned for the second time about the deaths, the Defense Minister acknowledged that stray bullets had killed at least 15 people.

Today, Radio Isanganiro continues to assist in resolving the needs of its listeners and keeps the citizens, politicians and army accountable for their actions. For instance, a section of the population now has access to clean drinking water thanks to the radio station’s campaign about their plight. In addition, some displaced people have been settled after Radio Isanganiro highlighted their problems. Jeannine’s work has promoted truth and reconciliation over the airwaves. This has been essential to the healing process and continues to inspire hope for peace throughout the country. (1000PeaceWomen).

Burundi: In 1995, we began a multi-pronged initiative on the ground in Burundi to help defuse ethnic violence, including a Women.s Peace Center, a project to work with young people who had been involved in violence, and a radio production facility, called Studio Ijambo (Wise Words). In 2002, we supported the launch of an independent radio station, Radio Isanganiro (Crossroads) by an ethnically mixed group of former Studio Ijambo journalists. The station’s motto is: Dialogue is better than shooting. Here are two examples of the dozens of programs that are produced to encourage tolerance and reconciliation: (full text, scroll down).

Ending conflict through education is also one of the goals of radio director Jeannine Nahigombeye. Her country of Burundi was devastated by the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s. “At one time people said that the life expectancy of a Burundian was 24 hours,” recalls journalist Specs Manirakiza. With the genocide encouraged by hate radio stations, Jeannine decided to found her own radio station dedicated to combating hate. “By giving information in a country at war like Burundi we truly discourage rumours,” she explains. (full text).

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