Monday, October 20, 2014

Rongo students embrace, appreciate Peace Journalism

Media class, Rongo, Kenya
Here on a hill overlooking the picturesque East African countryside, up a rutted dirt road, is the last place one would expect to find a university. In fact, until about three years ago, the large tract housing Rongo University was indistinguishable from the surrounding fields of corn and sugar cane. Now, the area is bustling with about 5,000 university students.

Rongo University is interesting in many respects, including its commitment to peace journalism. Rongo houses the Center for Media, Democracy, Peace, and Security, which is run by Dr. Fredrick Ogenga, a peace journalism devotee. The 200 or so communications/journalism students take a curriculum that is infused with sophisticated instruction and discussions about the role of responsible media. Media responsibility is an especially salient topic here in Kenya, which has seen its share of media-inflamed violence, most notably after the 2007 elections.

Gloria Laker, peace journalist, addresses Rongo class
At Dr. Ogenga’s invitation, I had the privilege of working with students and professional journalists here in southwestern Kenya last week.

My first lecture to a packed house of about 45 students went well thanks to the contributions of Dr. Ogenga, who discussed his center’s goals, and Gloria Laker, the director of the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa based in Uganda. Laker chronicled various peace journalism projects in Uganda and Kenya, inspiring the students while underscoring that peace journalism is more than just theory. I talked about how journalists can use their influence as a tool of reconciliation—something that, according to the students, is sorely needed here.

The day after the lecture, I had a fascinating discussion with an extremely bright young lady who quizzed me at length about PJ and about the practice of peace media following the 2013 Kenyan elections. Her conclusion, one that I shared, was that media took one extreme in 2007 (inciting violence), but went to the other extreme in 2013 (ignoring election irregularities—rigging—for fear of inciting violence). The happy medium, I told her, would be media that carefully exercised its watchdog role without inciting. Certainly, it’s possible to point out rigging while simultaneously encouraging non-violent responses to that rigging. She agreed that this is possible, but pointed out that such reports would have to be worded very delicately, avoiding words like protest that could be misinterpreted.
Dr. Fredrick Ogenga discusses peace journalism in Kenya

I led discussions about peace journalism in two other classes later in the week, and even threw in a peace journalism writing lesson for Rongo’s new writing students. They did a great job.

My stint at Rongo University reminded me of my love for teaching, and the importance of peace journalism instruction in East Africa. I can’t wait to share my experiences and impressions with my peace journalism students at Park University.

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