Radio Bakhita in Sudan

A Radio Station for Peace

The people of southern Sudan are currently voting on whether to secede from the North. The euphoria surrounding the prospect of independence is masking social conflicts in the region. Meanwhile, a Catholic radio station attempts to promote peace. Thomas Kruchem reports

A member of Radio Bakhita staff in the studio (photo: DW)
A voice for the voiceless: "We let people express their feelings, fears, and dreams. This is why listeners call Radio Bakhita their parliament," says editor-in-chief, Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido

​​"Everything will be better after the referendum. Then we will be independent." This is the message blaring from the loudspeakers of a passing car in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. In the shadow of the euphoria, however, discontent is growing. For the past six years, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has ruled the South. Yet living conditions for the desperately poor population have hardly improved.

The region's dilapidated hospitals and schools are constantly crippled by strikes. Many people have expressed bitterness towards the new political elite, who drive around Juba in their Hummer SUVs and are building luxury villas for themselves on the outskirts of the city. Social conflicts are growing in southern Sudan even before it has officially become an independent state – conflicts between rich and poor, between various ethnic groups, and between herdsmen and farmers.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Radio Bakhita, the first Catholic radio broadcaster in southern Sudan, considers its key tasks to be mediation in such conflicts, combating their causes and, in so doing, making a contribution to social peace. Named after the first Sudanese saint, the station began broadcasting in 2006.

"We give a voice to the voiceless," says editor-in-chief, Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido. "We let people express their feelings, fears, and dreams. This is why listeners call Radio Bakhita their parliament."

All important social issues are addressed in the station's discussion programmes, explains Sister Cecilia. "Ministers, members of various commissions, party functionaries, and Christian activists come to us every day. Whoever turns on Radio Bakhita will hear southern Sudanese from all sections of society encouraging reflection and discussion among their fellow citizens."

"Feelings of guilt consume the psyche"

An especially important task that Radio Bakhita has set for itself is to help people come to terms with the countless traumas that have taken place over the decades of civil war. Many rape victims still feel shame, as do those who fled in panic, says Sister Cecilia. "Feelings of guilt consume the psyche of these individuals. Our programme Tell us your story focuses on these issues."

Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido (photo: DW)
According to Thomas Kruchem, Radio Bakhita fights for the rights of the poorest in society in accordance with the Gospel of Saint Luke: "He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (and) to set the oppressed free."

​​During this live programme, many studio guests reveal their most painful recollections. They often admit that they ran for their lives when the bullets started to fly and only later, when they were in safety, realised that they had left their mother or brother behind. "These people only understood very gradually that in moments of fear and desperation, we all run first and only later think that we could have reacted differently."

Just as important to Radio Bakhita as healing the wounds of memory is fighting for the rights of the poorest in society in accordance with chapter 4 of the Gospel of Saint Luke. "He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (and) to set the oppressed free."

Consistent with this position, the station encourages the poor of southern Sudan to demand the right to free tuberculosis examinations and treatment in state-run hospitals. In short radio plays, listeners can also learn about the causes of malaria or how to protect their families from cholera.

Voice of reconciliation

In Dinka, Arabic, English and other languages, the station issues calls to prayer for a peaceful referendum, peaceful solutions to social conflicts, and friendly coexistence with Muslims in southern Sudan – an issue that is particularly important to Angelo Lokoyome, head of the Justice and Peace Commission.

Lokoyome admits that there are conflicts here and there between adherents of different faiths. At the same time, there are families all over southern Sudan that include both Christians and Muslims.

"When, for example, a Muslim fasts, his Christian sister will, as a matter of course, prepare his meal punctually for sunset. Christians and Muslims celebrate feasts together. It is not uncommon for a Muslim to drive his Christian brother or sister to church on Sunday."

Threats and violence

Radio Bakhita is by far the most popular radio station in southern Sudan, among Christians and Muslims alike. It is also a station that does not shy away from conflicts with the powers that be.

A Radio Bakhita editorial meeting (photo DW)
Editorial meeting: Radio Bakhita trains young, enthusiastic students to become critical journalists

​​Catholic priests openly criticise on the radio the rampant growth in prostitution and criminal gangs in Juba. They demand to know why the streets of the city remain in such poor condition, even though the government has benefited from high oil revenues. They denounce arbitrary state measures and corruption. There is a high price to pay for such commitment; Radio Bakhita has made enemies among the new political elite.

"Some 20 policemen once forced their way inside and assaulted one of the young members of my staff," says Sister Cecilia. "They threw the women into the mud on the studio building site and beat her up. We were all stiff with fright."

A few weeks later, an officer came to the studio with a group of armed policemen and demanded that the editor-in-chief accompany them. She recalls how she was driven in a police car to an office and was left to wait for many hours before another officer brought her back to the studio. "I hope you have understood," he said, "no more talk about politics." Then he grabbed me by my clothes and began to scream, "You haven't understood, have you? We will come again and shut everything down."

Thomas Kruchem

© Deutsche Welle 2011

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

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