Skip to content Skip to navigation

Radio Soaps Stop Hate

African Tutsis sit

Problem

Nearly 20 years after war and genocide killed 75% of Rwandan Tutsis, the accused perpetrators and their survivors must now learn to live side by side.

Solution

A radio soap opera that shows people how to speak out against corrupt leaders and reconnect with their neighbors helps communities heal after genocide... 

Details

Social psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck, along with La Benevolencija, randomly assigned 12 Rwandan communities to listen to one of two radio soap operas. Participants in the intervention group gathered weekly to hear Musekeweya (New Dawn), the story of two fictional Rwandan communities that closely resembled Rwanda’s own ethnic groups. Characters crossed group lines to form friendships and to challenge leaders who attempted to sow violence. (In the Rwandan genocide, leaders abused their power to arouse aggression.) Participants in the control group gathered weekly to hear a soap opera about reproductive health and HIV prevention called Urunana (Hand in Hand).

After one year of following these soaps, intervention group participants more strongly endorsed cross-ethnic marriages and dissent against authorities than did control group participants. The intervention group was also more open to talking about their traumatic experiences and the mistrust that lingered in their communities.

The project is still ongoing, with the objective of developing a new intervention.

Why This Works

We often look to characters on radio and television shows to understand how people should think, feel, and act in uncertain situations, such as after a genocide. Musekeweya gives its listeners a new and more peaceful script to follow in their own lives.

When This Works Best

The writers, directors, and actors who created Musekeweya were from the communities represented in the soap opera, and so their characters and stories strongly resonated with audiences. Likewise, mass media campaigns work best when audiences can identify with their characters. 

The Original Study

Paluck, E. L. (2009). Reducing intergroup prejudice and conflict using the media: A field experiment in Rwanda. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 574-587.

In the Press

The New York Times

Credits

Photo by Anoek Steketee