Crackles of Hatred

Silencing murderous messages is not as easy as it sounds

LAST year, as Kenya slid into mayhem, the words that sputtered forth from crude transmitters were cryptic but, to those in the know, horrifying. “People of the milk”, a reference to the cattle-owning Kalenjin people, were urged to “take out the weeds in our midst”— in other words, the Kikuyus. Meanwhile Kikuyu broadcasters inveighed against the peril posed by “animals from the west”: this meant the rival Luo (from which Barack Obama originates) and Kalenjins.

In East Africa this use of radio to incite ethnic slaughter recalled an even darker episode: the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which a station called Radio Mille Collines (Thousand Hills Radio) seemed to be directing the massacres. It not only poisoned the general atmosphere but urged on the killers, with phrases like “cutting the tall trees” and “killing the cockroaches”.

In an era of drones and spy satellites, it may seem odd that crude simple radio transmitters can still make huge mischief.

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