Media, Elections and Political Violence in Eastern Africa: Towards a Comparative Framework

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Stremlau, Nicole

The problem of post-election violence seems to be ever-more present as complexities of nation-building and democratic development arise. This report deals with some relevant questions. It is based on the outcome of discussions at a December 2008 workshop organized in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at the University of Oxford, the Center for Global Communications Studies at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania and the Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research. Our objective was to examine the role of the media in the aftermath of competitive elections. The workshop provided the opportunity to explore the election experiences of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Somaliland, Tanzania and Sudan in a comparative framework. The focus was on understanding why election violence occurred after some elections, what the role of the media was in either exacerbating or resolving disputes, and what this suggests about the broader political project and the state of the media in the countries under examination. This report is only an introduction to the subject. Additional structured research will be important in furthering our understanding of these important issues, but we hope that this provides a starting point from which to launch deeper studies. As a way of furthering research in this area, this report suggests three ways of analyzing the role of the media can play in post-election violence: 1) as an amplifier, facilitating and accelerating the spread of messages that both encourage violence or appeal for peaceful resolutions; 2) as a mirror, offering either an accurate or somewhat distorted reflection of the state and nation-building process; and 3) as an enabler, contributing to the process of nation-building. We conclude by offering media policy recommendations.

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