The Boko Haram Conflict: A Communication War

According to the Hausa services of the Voice of America (VOA), the Islamists group, Boko Haram has succeeded in launching a radio station in the conflict area. Villages in Tolkomari, an area in Far North Cameroon testified of receiving the radio on FM 96.8 frequency modulation.

The news has left the Cameroon government worried as per some online reports, even though the former is yet to officially comment on the situation. However, investigations are ongoing to determine the exact location of the radio. The news first made online has received so many comments with some doubting where the radio could be located, while others are now challenging Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari who last year declared Boko Haram “technically defeated”. Added to this is the fact that even after the arrest of Biafra movement leader, Nnamdi Kanu the Biafra communication empire is still on and emitting messages.

In her book Lifeline Media: Reaching Populations in Crisis, Loretta Hieber argues that in this communication world of today, the media has a pivotal role in conflicts as communication has become an extremely powerful tool. While commenting on the United States invasion of Iraq, celebrated authors, Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick in their book Peace Journalism described how the invasion of Iraq was first of all a communication war that the United States and allies won before the actual war. The Boko Haram conflict has been no different as politicians can still remember how RTLM inflamed the Rwandan genocide by calling on Hutus to slaughter Tutsis.
Since the advent of the Boko Haram conflict all the four major countries affected (Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger) have also sought to win the war through communication. Boko Haram has been branded names like devilish, barbaric, blood thirsty and terrorists just to name a few. All these deter it from winning the support of people locally and internationally. In a country like Cameroon, state radio and television, the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), has created special programs either to project the military high against Boko Haram or to bring to the ground the image of the latter. Awareness campaigns have been organized and every gathering aimed at condemning the group is given wide coverage.

While writing on the connection between terrorism and the media, Tjadé Eoné in his book Et Si le Terrorisme Manipulait les Médias stated clearly that terrorists need the media to tell their own story and in order to seduce these media organs to their side they need to perform spectacular operations. Boko Haram has also won this but in order to communicate based on its own editorial policies, the group has decided to launch its ‘own’ radio; a radio that will not just present its spectacular operations, but tell its stories in a manner that will win more support for it. During the Liberian war in the 1990s, then rebel leader turned President, Charles Taylor understood this media power and launched his own radio station. Radio is the most effective medium of communication as even the illiterates listen to and understand messages from the radio. Majority of the people in rural areas own a radio set, and for Boko Haram to choose the radio means it is actually targeting and reaching many more persons.

Since July 2009, the North Eastern of Nigeria area has not known peace as Boko Haram launched its violent spree that took away the life of many including its founding leader, Muhammed Yususf. The group went international by effective presence in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Thousands have been killed and even though the conflict is witnessing a lull, it is, however, not being managed which may see it being carried from one generation to another. More of what goes on air is propaganda which is not helping the situation on the ground. Now, Boko Haram itself has joined in the propaganda system with its own radio station. It promises to be a long story.