August 23, 2006

PGA: Uganda

PGA: Uganda

If you tuned into the show knowing nothing about Uganda beforehand, how much would you really understand afterwards? Would you have a picture of people mercilessly tortured and mutilated? Would you understand the horror of thousands of kids who “night commute” every evening to escape the LRA? Would you have a sense of the complexity of the political situation, the complicity of the government, and silence from the international community? I’m not sure, but I hope so. One thing that made me really happy, though, was the online conversation. We had a number of outstanding and passionate posts we got from very knowledgeable people in the comment thread. People like dkr, Daniella from uNight, and photo-blogger Melanie Kotsopoulos really elevated the level of exchange on the blog.

I was very happy with our mix of guests, although dealing with the international phone lines to Uganda made the control room chaotic and created frustrating hiccups and false-starts as Chris tried to ask questions to Betty Bigombe.

Olara Otunnu turned out to be one of those rare talkers – knowledgeable, passionate, thoughtful, engaging – who also just sounds good on the radio. Aside from good content, his voice was rich and had an amazing tonal range (we radio producers pay attention to things like that). Given we had phone problems with Ms. Bigombe, and given that she was reluctant at times to discuss things related to her role as a mediator, part of me wondered whether we should have just stuck with Mr. Otunnu the whole time. I’m glad we had her on, though. From the start of researching the show I knew she was a dream get, because of her stature and experience. On the radio she was, as Chris put it, equally clinical and professional, masterful and engaged. And although Mr. Otunnu was an amazing guest, his views are not necessarily mainstream. His focus on the government overshadows the role of the LRA, and I felt that it was important to have someone like Betty Bigombe to balance out his perspective on what was happening in the region. I’m also glad we had on Marieke Wierda from the ICTJ, given her direct experience surveying people in Acholi, but I wish we had had more time to hear from her about just what people in northern Uganda want.

In general, I wish we had had more time to continue the conversation and let it breathe. Betty Bigombe is now working less on brokering a peace deal and more on issues of reconciliation and re-integration: how to re-integrate former LRA members back into the communities they came from. I wish we had been able to hear more about that. Can you just imagine how hard that must be? Something like 80% of the LRA is abducted children. Figuring out how to re-integrate them into their villages after what they’ve seen, what they’ve done, and what’s been done to them…good luck, Ms. Bigombe.

We started with a directive from Ethan Zuckerman. I hope he feels we did it justice, and I hope we can continue to answer the challenge he raised.

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