The International Institute of Journalism of INWENT, the German government’s capacity building organization, has trained 15 West African journalists for conflict sensitive (or peace reporting) in their respective countries and the region at large.

The two-week intensive training, which ran from April 17-30 was held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, with participants coming from Liberia (2), Nigeria (2), Sierra Leone (4), Togo (1), Gambia (3) and the host country (2).

The author of this blog, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh and FrontPage Africa’s legislative reporter Moses Varfee Kowo represented Liberia.

They were selected through a vigorous screening process in Germany, following the submission of applications by scores of applicants in the West African region.

INWENT said it was providing the training to empower journalists of the region with requisite knowledge and skills to enable them professional and adequately report on conflict situation, especially resolution.

The major objective of the course was to teach journalists how to prevent or quell conflicts at all levels, in their reportage instead of reporting in a way that would escalate conflict.

West Africa is branded as one of the hotspots for violent conflicts in the world. For the past two decades, civil wars and violent political conflicts have engulfed the region including those in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Cote d’Iviore, Senegal, Niger, and Guinea, among others, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying millions of dollars worth of properties.

These conflicts have also forced millions of people predominantly women and children into refugees and displaced camps, increased poverty and retarded development in the region, according to Brigadier General Francis A. Agyemfra (retired), former Defense Minister of Ghana.

He was among several lecturers during the training course.

“There is no denying the fact that West Africa stands out as one of the most unstable sub-regions in the world,” the Ghanaian and West African military expert stated during his presentation.

“In the last two decades,” he added, “Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau have been embroiled in civil conflicts that have resulted in mass murder, massive cross-border refugees and arms flow, internal displacement and other degrading forms of treatment to the population.”

He said Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Guinea, as well as other states in the sub-region have also been plagued by persistent internal conflicts that have impacted negatively on both state and human security.

It is reported that the media has played a significant role in either escalating or resolving these uprisings, based on their reports, stressing the need for training of journalists in the region to report in such a way that conflicts can be avoided or resolved.

The journalists learnt the theory of conflict, conflict mapping, conflict dynamics and conflict resolution. The role of the media in conflict resolution; framing and angling of conflict sensitive stories, gender issues and the building of Africa’s image, among others, were menus of the course.

During the training, the journalists were admonished to be cautious in reporting on conflict situations in the sub region that has been engulfed by wars and instabilities for the past two decades.

The journalists were told that they have to practice conflict sensitive and peace reporting and avoid forms of reportage that have the propensity to fuel and escalate violence and destruction.

The reports of the media has the propensity to escalate conflict…therefore “media practitioners need to demonstrate professionalism in the use of language when reporting on conflict situations,” Mr. Albert Sam, Public Relations Officer of the Graphic Communications Group, Publisher of the largest newspaper and publishing house in the Republic of Ghana, admonished participants.

Mr. Sam gave the admonition when he addressed the journalists who had gone to tour the Graphic, as part of the training exercise.

Mr. Sam, a veteran Ghanaian journalist who covered the conflict in Liberia and the country’s 1997 elections, said the role of the media in conflict resolution or escalation can not be overemphasized, as “the pen, used by journalists is mightier than any weapon of mass destruction”.

“My advice therefore is that in any conflict situation, we [journalists] must try to be neutral while it rages on,” he said, adding, “For that is not the time to pass judgment on who is wrong or right.”

Presenting certificate to the participants, trainer Sabine Hammer, an experienced German female journalist, urged the participants to put into practice what they have learnt.

She said journalists have a great responsibility to inform and educate the public and to help find solutions the problems arising in society, and as such they should practice to be professional and peace journalists.