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The role of media in ethnic violence during political transition in Africa: The case of Rwanda and Kenya

Zenebe Beyene, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The experience of some new democracies clearly demonstrates that democratic transition can be violent and destabilizing, particularly in its early stages. Some countries make successful transitions; others become violent. Scholars and policymakers nonetheless agree that news media can contribute to this variation. Many examples show of news media's alleged contribution and/or intensification of ethnic violence. From Central and Eastern Europe to the heart of Africa, countries that have recently undergone political change experienced ethnic violence due in part to the role of news media. While the growing trend of media's alignment with elites during political transition suggests a role in ethnic violence, specific factors influencing media's behavior remain unclear. Using comparative case study and process tracing, this dissertation: a) examines whether media contributed to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, and b) analyzes factors responsible for media's role in either constraining or exacerbating ethnic violence during political transition. This study reveals that media contributed not only to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda but also to the 2007 violence in Kenya. Media's contribution to the genocide is clearer in Rwanda than their contribution to the ethnic violence in Kenya. The analysis to discern the central and defining factor responsible for media's role in the genocide in Rwanda and the violence in Kenya reveals inconclusive findings. A significant factor in one context (for example, media ownership in Rwanda) is less significant in another setting. Nonetheless, these inconsistent findings have clear implication. Focusing on one factor and disregarding others will not help to explain the role of media in ethnic violence. The inability to determine which factor is solely responsible for Rwandan and Kenyan media complicity in genocide and ethnic violence respectively suggests that attribution to a combination of well-defined factors should be further examined.

Subject Area

Political science|Sub Saharan Africa Studies|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Beyene, Zenebe, "The role of media in ethnic violence during political transition in Africa: The case of Rwanda and Kenya" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3522072.