Adventist Promotes Rwandese Reconciliation
in Genocide’s Wake
Radio show aims at community healing
BY ANSEL OLIVER, Assistant Director for News, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
ahati Prince, a refugee from Rwanda's 1994 genocide, is now in a unique position to help his nation. Each Tuesday morning he hosts a program about reconciliation on a radio station he founded.
The program, called "Comforting," aims to bring healing to the Central African nation, which has experienced intermittent war for decades between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.
Prince, 31, who also serves as vice president of the country's High Council on the Media, says most younger generations are now trying to look past the tribal distinctions and seek unity and reconciliation.
"I think I share some of the same views as many young people," he says.
PROMOTING RECONCILIATION: Bahati Prince, right, with co-host Ruth, during a recent broadcast of "Comforting" on FM 106.4 in Kigali, Rwanda. The program focuses on healing for the community, which has experienced genocide. [photo: Jacques Nkinzingabo/ANN]
Radio is still a primary news source in Rwanda, Africa's most densely populated country, where few people have television or Internet access.
Prince's co-host, Ruth, lost her parents in the 1994 violence. Each week, they host the two-hour program with a guest psychologist. The second half of the show is reserved for callers.
One recent Tuesday, a 19-year-old woman called in, saying she hadn't seen her parents since 1994. She was four years old at the time and still doesn't know what happened to them. She wept on the air.
April 2009 will mark 15 years since the violence, which took the lives of between 800,000 and one million people. The station broadcasts consecutive remembrance shows the first two weeks of every April.
Prince started the radio station in 2005 after graduating from college with a degree in journalism. He took equipment from his dorm room, which had been donated by Adventist World Radio, and launched SDA Radio on FM 106.4.
The station's reach covers three fourths of the country, Prince says. Next year he hopes to put programming online.
The station's two goals are evangelism and community education, Prince says. He reports that the Ministry of Health named the station's healthful living program the second-best such show in the country. Other programs focus on children, education and women's issues.
"Women were neglected for so many years, especially because of the genocide," he says. Now, he notes, 53 percent of the Rwandan parliament is comprised of women, the first legislature in the world to have a female majority.
While many in the country are offering forgiveness and trying to move on, the healing process might take longer than some realize.
Carl Wilkins, at the time a relief worker and reportedly the only American not to flee the country in 1994, says past genocides may offer a clue to how deep-seated the pain for many in Rwanda is. He cites Holocaust survivors revisiting their former concentration camps, only to learn that they hadn't moved beyond the pain as much as they had thought.
"The healing process in Rwanda is so individual," says Wilkins, who directed operations for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Rwanda in 1994, and is now a chaplain at an Adventist academy.
Many church denominations have tried to help in the healing process, some developing reconciliation projects and training counselors to conduct mediation between killers and survivors, says Laura Waters Hinson, producer of the 2008 Rwanda documentary "As We Forgive".
The fact that even one person could forgive a genocide murderer is incredible, Hinson says. "To know that thousands of people are deciding to do this in one country is all the more encouraging."
Prince was 16 in 1994 when his parents fled to neighboring Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). He came back to Rwanda on a scholarship from the National University of Rwanda. Prince wanted to study law but he was only offered an education major. He later passed a test for one of the university's 30 openings in a journalism program.
Prince launched SDA Radio and worked by himself for two years. Now the station employs five people. And, someday, he hopes to complete his original goal of studying law.