Columnists

Community information services can help end political violence

EPHRAIM Banda.

Analysis: EPHRAIM BANDA
IN THE recent past Zambia has witnessed a growing trend of political violence. President Edgar Lungu is concerned that if not dealt with conclusively, violence can extend to the 2021 general elections. He has on several occasions called on stakeholders to put a stop to violence.
While the appeal may seem like it is only intended for the electoral commission and political parties, the truth is, it encompasses members of the public as they constitute a major stakeholder in the electoral process.
While elections are meant to be a platform which provides health competition governed by rules they are turning out to be a catalysts of conflict as observed during some elections.
However, the fact that people involved in the actual political violence are members of the public from different communities makes this issue a community problem too.
We can therefore all resolve to develop interventions right at community level to prevent members from engaging and being used as elements of violence.
There are various reasons why citizens engage in political violence. For instance, lack of information on citizen’s role in the political and electoral process.
Some citizens also lack information on the dangers of political violence to national stability and growth. Hence those perpetrating violence take advantage of this information gap to manipulate and use citizens as elements in political violence.
Between 2011 and 2016, mercy corps a leading global organisation powered by the belief that a better world is possible, conducted a research in Kenya and Somalia on understanding political violence among youth, in which the results reviewed that citizens especially the youth are less likely to involve in violence when conflict management and peace building skills are shared and social integration programmes facilitated.
One intervention which can help fight political violence is to keep communities well informed about the dangers of political violence through community information services.
To bridge this information gap and supplement the efforts of the mass media, a well-established community information service centre has potential not only to inform but change citizens’ mind-set on political violence.
Community information service centres provide solutions to problems and enhance participation in the democratic process. The need for effective community information provision is especially critical in urban areas.
These, particularly; tend to include concentrations of communities affected by poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, and below-average educational standards. Such communities are usually a target for those purporting political violence.
In the most ideal sense, public libraries were intended to provide advisory and local information services for the community.
However due to the capacity of our public libraries, they may not be able to provide community information services at a large scale, thus partnership with other organisations are required for such interventions to take place.
Community information services combined with other civil engagements should be established to provide information on the electoral process, the role of citizens and the dangers of political violence.
Such a service is intended for people at the grassroots and does not depend on printed materials alone, but includes oral communications reinforced in the form of posters, charts, photographs, slides, films, audio tapes and regalia to cater for all community members.
The library professionals have to consider this as a social commitment. Libraries as major stockholders in information provision and agents of social change should take community information services as their social responsibility seriously.
Besides providing information services in the library; they should be able to bring together other players and mobilise networks for such ventures in future.
Political violence must be a concern for everyone regardless of status in society and political affiliation.
Business organisations will do well to support community information services as part of their social cooperate responsibility.
Businesses can directly fund public libraries and civil society organisations working with communities.
For instance, businesses can work with faith-based organisations among other stakeholders to establish community information services in a bid to provide information and end all forms of political violence. It is also hoped that librarians though the Library and Information Association of Zambia (LIAZ) will be able to help the nation by establishing operational frameworks on the role of information services in fighting violence and promoting peace in their agenda for 2019 activities.
The author is a library and information specialist.

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