Barring the Lizard from entering the Crack

How the Ouatagouna community in Mali overcame internal conflict around their radio station to unite against violent extremism

A Project of
Voices for Peace (V4P)

Voices for Peace Success Story

On July 11, 2020, Radio Goura, the community radio station in the town of Ouatagouna in Mali’s Gao region, reopened after being closed for five months. The reopening of the radio station was possible thanks to Voices for Peace’s (V4P) mediation around a fierce intra-community conflict over the management of the station and its resources. The opposing parties, with the director of Radio Goura on one side and the town’s mayor on the other, committed to strengthen the role of the radio for social cohesion and its resilience against the influence of violent extremist groups, especially after realizing that their conflict had been exploited by these groups to gain a foothold in the community and further exacerbate tension. After nearly half a year of silence, Radio Goura was able to launch its first broadcast, addressing COVID-19 in the context of violent extremism.

Radio Goura is vital to address insecurity

Radio Goura has a direct impact on addressing insecurity in this highly volatile Liptako-Gourma zone. Ouatagouna is situated just 30 kilometers from the border with Niger and 70 kilometers from Burkina Faso and is the site of frequent attacks by violent extremist groups. Radio Goura is the only radio station in Ouatagouna and the last station before the border with Niger, so it is a vital platform for dialogue between communities and authorities. The recent redeployment of the Malian Armed Forces to Ouatagouna to reduce insecurity has underlined the need for such a platform. V4P has been present in Ouatagouna since 2018 thanks to one local media producer and community mobilizer who supports Radio Goura.

Transforming conflict is possible despite escalation

The resolution to the conflict is a major breakthrough, given that tensions had been escalating for over six months, resulting in the breakdown of dialogue, mutual accusations of deliberate acts of violence, and even a formal complaint at the tribunal in Gao. Moreover, previous attempts by Radio Goura’s high-profile partners Operation Barkhane and IMS Sahel to convince the adversaries to reconcile and reopen the radio station had not been successful. V4P was able to lead a process of mediation and reach an agreement in part thanks to its reputation for impartiality, effective interventions in the past, and the trust it had earned at the radio station, with local authorities, and in the community at large. The mediation culminated and the conflict was resolved in a face-to-face meeting on June 27. The director of Radio Goura presented V4P with a traditional Touareg gift to express his gratitude for the mediation.

When you see the lizard go through the wall, the wall must have a crack.

— Malian expression pronounced by the director of Radio Goura at the mediation meeting after the group acknowledged that violent extremism had increased in Ouatagouna. His words conveyed that the extremists had already infiltrated the community as indicated by the lack of cohesion among its members. The participants in the room agreed.

Community cohesion built around violent extremism threat awareness

The shift toward conflict resolution can be partially explained by a process that allowed authorities, the radio team, and community representatives to become aware of how their divisions opened a crack in the cohesion of the community, and how this crack had been exploited by violent extremist groups. Given the heightened awareness of the threat by violent extremists against their community, over a dozen stakeholders, including village chiefs, local authorities, and civil society leaders committed to a second written declaration on July 23 to collaborate closely with Radio Goura in its role to strengthen social cohesion. V4P organized and facilitated this community engagement process, in line with its strategy to foster sustainable community ecosystems around partner radio stations.

Mobilizing partners for quick reopening around countering violent extremism and COVID19

To relaunch broadcasting, the radio station faced technical and production challenges, which it overcame by mobilizing various financial and technical partners. First, the technical equipment, degraded by the long period of inactivity, was partially replaced by Operation Barkhane and set up by a service provider who was funded by V4P. Second, as a new radio program had to be produced quickly, V4P provided recently produced radio shows that addressed the linkages between COVID19 measures and disinformation efforts by violent extremist groups.

The radio [Gourma] is a vector for peace; it reunites the communities.

— Local official of Ouatagouna during a community gathering to support social cohesion and the radio community system