Peace of Christ for All – Also for Ugandan Muslims
The Ugandan radio station "Radio Pacis" has won several BBC prizes as the best non-commercial station in East Africa, and recently the station was awarded the "Best African New Radio" prize in Nairobi. Erhard Brunn visited the station in Arua
The Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was certainly the most famous Muslim from Uganda. He hailed from the border region where northern Uganda, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo come together.
As a son of this region, he fled here when troops from neighboring Tanzania overthrew and attempted to capture him in 1979.
Large parts of Arua were destroyed, tens of thousands fled over the border into southern Sudan or Zaire and took refuge there. The region saw unrest over the next twenty years.
But with the increasing liberation of southern Sudan and northern Uganda, the region experienced a boom, and Arua became a gateway to southern Sudan. And it is from there that the Catholic station Radio Pacis has been broadcasting for the past three years.
"It was the diocese's decision that the church should found a radio station as soon as peace had returned in order to contribute to reconstruction," says Sherry Meyer, a lay missionary from the United States and station manager of the broadcast.
Financial support from Germany
Already in 2001 Bishop Frederick Drandua had entrusted two missionaries with the task of planning not only a radio station but also an information center. Construction of the center began the following year and the main building was opened in 2004.
Broadcasting officially began in November 2004. "The money for it," says the station's director, Father Tonio Passolini, "was coming from and still comes in large part from Germany and Austria. Missio Aachen and Missio Munich are the biggest sponsors, having given 85,000 euros for various measures during the initial phase. This enabled us to finance the printing plant, the building for the studios and also a large part of the studio equipment."
Station manager Sherry Meyer previously worked in the pastorate. Then she was appointed assistant to Father Passolini and became responsible for the radio project:
"The radio station was never conceived as Catholic radio in the strict sense. It was intended as a radio station for everyone and as way of helping with social development in the region. In contrast to other radio stations, we are not subject to commercial forces. We offer programs on health questions, nutrition, agriculture, women's rights, domestic violence and education."
Reaching out to Uganda's Muslims
The idea was thus to avoid creating a missionary instrument, like other Catholic radio stations in the country, she explains: "What is our work about, really? Not simply about spreading the word, but supporting schools, health centers and much more, things that benefit everyone here."
She emphasizes that Radio Pacis would also like to reach the Muslim population: "We have employed several Muslims at the station. And many of our listeners are Protestants and Muslims, which must be considered a success given that these groups already have their own radio stations in the city."
She is perhaps referring in particular to the work of Amina Attako, a young Muslim journalist who served as deputy news director for over two years. She recently resigned with the intention of entering into politics.
"I studied at the Islamic University Mbale, where there are also many Christians," says Attako. "The goal there was to fight poverty in our country and to educate people who could contribute to rural development. With this in mind, I was in the right place at Radio Pacis."
Mass broadcast has reassured Muslims
Attako also reported on Islamic topics. "When Ramadan or other religious festivities came around, I was given the additional task of creating programs to explain to Christians what these Muslim holidays are about, but Easter, Pentecost or Christmas were also explained to Muslims."
And the response among listeners? Sherry Meyer has seen many positive reactions from Muslims: "Many Muslims used to think that during the service bad things were said about Islam. But since we began broadcasting Father Passolini's Sunday mass, everyone can hear what he has to say. And it has reassured Muslims."
Positive attitudes toward the station among Muslims have been confirmed by Attako: "If there were Muslim reactions at all toward my work for Radio Pacis, they were only positive. People were proud that I was entrusted with this work as a Muslim."
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Christina White
Erhard Brunn works for the German Development Service (DED) and is currently compiling a study on the DED's refugee work in the West Nile region.