Do No Harm: "Radio gives voice to communities"

NB: Excerpt from World Bank linked site (May 2005):

Imagine members of a Pygmy community in the Congo Basin in Central Africa gathered around a radio listening to programs in their own language and featuring their own people. Both of these scenarios are now set to become reality through the World Bank's Development Marketplace - a competitive grants program recognizing innovative environmental ideas...Pygmy Community Radio: A total of $US150, 000 has just been granted for the establishment of the first-ever indigenous forest peoples' language radio station in Central Africa. For Scott Poynton, executive director of the Tropical Trust Fund, it's a significant move. It is about giving the Pygmy communities a voice in the decision making process involving forests in their area - something they don't have at the moment, Poynton says. The Tropical Trust Fund is working with a private company, Conglaise Industrialle des Bois (CIB), which manages 1.3 million hectares of forest in the Congo Basin in Central Africa. Poynton says CIB is seeking certification to an international standard, which requires that they work very closely with indigenous people. "The problem you have with indigenous people in this part of the world is that they are very hard to contact," Poynton says. "They don't have a written tradition, so you can't send them a letter. They move around the forests - you see them one day and the next day you go back to talk to them and they are not there. "They are an egalitarian society so you can't just talk to the village head, you've got to talk to everyone."..."How to overcome all these obstacles and bridge the literacy divide is very difficult. So we talked with some experts who know the pygmy communities very well, and they said let's have a radio station. We said okay, let's try that." Poynton says the radio station will be run by the community, with the project distributing portable radios throughout the area. "It'll be run by the Pygmies. They gather the broadcast material themselves. We'll train them how to do that. So they'll have their own material on the radio and as part of that we'll also get in some debates or some discussion about forest management. They'll start getting a voice into forest management decision making which today they don't have." Poynton says at the moment, the indigenous population feels disenfranchised from the planning process for the forests. "When the company is about to harvest an area, they don't go out and sit down in the forest community and say, look, we're going to put a road through here, is that okay. They could be passing through traditional sites, religious areas -anything that's special to these communities. It just doesn't happen at the moment. The road goes through. So the Pygmy communities tend to feel a bit disenfranchised. "We can turn that around pretty quickly if we start having some dialogue."

NB: Tort in progress? The actors and modalities do raise some red flags. Commmunity radio is a powerful medium and Tropical Forest Trust in partnership with CIB is not overstating the potential impact of the project when they say "We can turn that around pretty quickly". As a mechanism for shaping perception, dialogue and attitude, community radio represents an enormous potential for positive change - as well as its opposite. In the context of the conflict-prone Congo Basin (and the specific experiences of indigenous peoples in the DRC) one wonders about the capacity of these actors to implement this potentially sensitive initiative. In a fragile, transitional environment one can only cross one's fingers and hope that the World Bank, Tropical Forest Trust and CIB are aware of what is a heightened risk of "unitended negative impacts". Do No Harm (DNH) is an analytical framework for identification and mitigation for programs to inadvertently contribute to destabilization that is recognized by humanitarian practioners as basic and fundamental "safety mechanism" in the design and implementation of programs in fragile contexts. As an elementary program "safeguard", DNH is a fundamental "rule of the road" that is about as basic as knowing the significance of the changing color of a traffic light for a driver. In this case, one can only hope that World Bank is fully cognizant of Lessons Learned by development actors that have been implementing community radio programming for the past 15 years in Latin America where such a program is not deemed a "novel innovation". If not, World Bank has effectively issued a drivers license to color-blind parties whose feet may not reach the pedals. In the event these "good intentions" backfire to the detriment of the indigenous communities involved, World Bank will be morally responsible - if not formally accountable - for what are forseeable consequences in the Congo Basin context.

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