For Good and Evil

Christian – Muslim riots leave over 300 people dead in Nigeria. SMS’ played a strong role in incitement to violence.

Im a strong advocate for media’s use for positive social change, but its worth remembering that its merely a tool – and like a hammer can be used to build peace as well as destroy it. A recent example is the role of SMS in stoking inter-religious violence in Nigeria. At least 145 different texts were shared on mobile phones in the central city of Jos. Over four days of Muslim-Christian clashes 326 people died. Much like Radio Milles Collines incitement to violence in Rwanda, in Nigeria SMS messages fuelled the flames of hate. A report by Susan Njanji in iAfrica.com has the following:

“The messages helped escalate the violence in Jos in that some of them instructed people on how to kill, dispose of and burn bodies,” said leading rights activist Shehu Sani.

The texts were aimed at “spreading rumours and inflaming tensions,” said Sani, who heads a coalition of 32 Nigerian civil and human rights groups called the Civil Rights Congress.

One of the messages seen by Agence France Presse read : “War, war, war. Stand up … and defend yourselves. Kill before they kill you. Slaughter before they slaughter you. Dump them in a pit before they dump you.”

Whats interesting is that the Nigerian government is now pressing for compulsory registration of SIM cards – registration that will mean any text message can, in theory, be tracked back to its user. While compulsory registration – increasingly popular in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh – helps authorities track users, its argued that it also infringes on people’s right to privacy.

But the biggest question is about accountability. Those behind Radio Milles Collines were held accountabile by the International Tribunal and convicted of genocide, incitement to genocide, and crimes against humanity – because it was established unequivocally that they were responsible for the broadcasts that studies suggest were responsible for 9% – 45,000 – of the Tutsi deaths in Rwanda. Should the same attribution, and retribution,  to apply to those behind the text messages Jos?

What do you think – should all sim cards be registered? Should those behind sending hate messages that lead to violence be held accountable?

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