Just last week, there was an international outcry over Burundi’s approval of a new media law that forbids reporting on matters that could “undermine national security, public order or the economy.” A number of organizations like Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have condemned the new law as an assault on press freedom. According to the BBC, party officials in Burundi believe the law will prevent journalists from inciting ethnic hatred and endangering national unity. A number of media advocates have argued that this legislation has regressed important progress in the country’s reconciliation process. Burundi, a country struggling to restore peace after more than a decade of civil war, faces a challenging process of establishing citizen state relations. As noted in a report by Henriette von Katenborn-Sachau, in 2005, Burundi’s private media played a significant role in facilitating public trust and building support for the acceptance of the Arusha Accords.
“The Missing Link” is out and I am somewhat relieved – it was such a long process.
I started working on this publication more than a year and a half ago. The field research took me to Timor-Leste and Liberia, while a colleague went to Burundi. My goal was to demonstrate the relevance of public sphere dynamics to governance and political stability, particularly in countries emerging out of violent conflict, and to offer practitioners a tool-kit that would help assess and address public sphere capacities and challenges. The unrest that broke out in Timor in spring 2006 had been the trigger to this thinking. I had lived in this country during the transitional period and sensed what had gone wrong: the international community, in its desire to quickly build governance institutions, had forgotten to ensure that these were connected with the people. To the Timorese leadership, used to the hierarchical “closed” communication environment of a military resistance movement, the lack of national dialogue and a culture of “closed” institutions seemed fine. The violence of 2006 proved that they were not; the government and people of Timor paid a high price for this oversight.