Covering Post-Conflict Elections: Challenges for the Media in Central Africa

Marie-Soleil Frère

Abstract


In the past ten years, elections were held in six countries of Central Africa experiencing “post-conflict” situations. The polls that took place in Burundi (2005), the Central African Republic (2005), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2006), Congo-Brazzaville (2002, 2007), Chad (1996, 2001, 2006) and Rwanda (2003) were crucial for peace-building. In some cases, they were widely supported and supervised by the international community, being considered the last step of a peace process and the first step toward establishing a truly representative “post-conflict” regime. The media were expected to play a large part in supporting these elections, both to inform the citizens, so they could make an educated choice, and to supervise the way the electoral administration was organizing the polls. This paper attempts to show the many challenges faced by the media while covering these post-conflict electoral processes. In a context of great political tension, in which candidates are often former belligerents who have just put down their guns to go to the polls, the media operate in an unsafe and economically damaged environment, suffering from a lack of infrastructure, inadequate equipment and untrained staff. Given those constraints, one might wonder if the media should be considered actual democratic tools in Central Africa or just gimmicks in a “peace-building kit” (including “free and fair” elections, multipartism and freedom of the press) with no real impact on the democratic commitment of the elite or the political participation of the population.

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