On May 29, the Centre Jean-Bosco in Sevare moved to the beat of "Festi-blogueurs", an unprecedented event that welcomed the local blogging community. The mini festival —held under the auspices of the 2023 edition of International Peacekeepers' Day— served to empower participants to become actors of peace by separating myth from fact.
Organized by MINUSMA in collaboration with the Conseil régional de la jeunesse de Mopti (the Mopti Regional Youth Council) as well as the Mopti branch of the Union des radios et télévisions libres (URTEL) (Mali Union of Free Radio and Television stations), the aim of the event was to mitigate the spread of misinformation and reinforce digital content creators’ fact-checking skills.
Peace begins with the blogging community
This trailblazing event brought together almost 400 participants from a dozen urban centers throughout central Mali, who gathered in the heart of the region to celebrate peacekeepers and show their commitment to fight against misinformation.
Bloggers, activists, animators, journalists, religious leaders, civil society representatives, traditional and customary leaders alike, all gathered as part of a lively audience to exchange their own views on MINUSMA's mandate. The rich variety of points of view prompted animated discussions on the proliferation of misinformation within both the online and offline spheres, while eventgoers were treated to cultural performances and photo exhibitions mounted by peacekeepers themselves between discussions. A comedy skit that described the mandate of the mission was an audience favorite; showing that laughter is not only the best medicine, but perhaps also the best teacher.
Misinformation is not a new phenomenon in the central regions of the country. What’s more, it has gained momentum since April 22, when a complex terrorist attack shocked the town of Sevare. From this date on, the most prevalent misinformation narratives have explicitly targeted the UN peacekeeping mission, its personnel and facilities nation-wide.
Boubacar Koungoulba, a blogger from Douentza who runs the popular digital channel Douentza Infos, is well aware of the role that online media play in the fight against misinformation. "With the advance of technology, digital media is increasingly being used to spread misinformation. A festival to combat misinformation such as ‘Festi-blogueurs’ is an innovative approach to overcome this challenge, a useful means for deconstructing hate speech and fake news. MINUSMA should provide us digital content creators with more support in terms of capacity building, so that bloggers as well as online media can help them communicate on their mandate in return, and why not also provide assistance with fact-checking?”
Aminata Cissé Keïta, a radio host from Niono, believes the key to combating misinformation offline is in the hands of women. "Women exert a significant influence on their audience and entourage, as they interact with many people on a daily basis. They are members of many social groups, such as grassroots associations, support groups and collectives. Their active participation in the social fabric of communities serves to reinforce their potential impact,” she asserts.
Aminata suggests that specific initiatives geared towards women are vital to win the battle against misinformation. To that effect, and in full alignment with the theme of International Peacekeepers' Day, a spokeswoman for the Conseil Régional de la Jeunesse was selected to read out the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres that launched the day-long event.
Unraveling the facts about MINUSMA
At the Festival, Colonel Major Abass Dembélé, Governor of the Mopti region, took the podium to recall before the event participants that the presence of peacekeepers consisted of an expression of international solidarity towards Mali. He also stressed that peacekeepers play an active role in preventing violence, reducing conflict and protecting civilians.
"Today, the challenges facing peacekeepers in Mali are greater than ever. Conflicts are becoming more complex, social tensions are rising and the proliferation of false information is hampering their work. Despite these difficulties, peacekeepers continue to persevere, working alongside Malians in line with the National Stabilization Strategy for the Center Region," he stressed.
Peace begins with the celebration of cultural diversity
The first edition of “Festi-blogueurs” ended on a cultural note, given the latter’s importance in entrenching lasting peace and upholding social cohesion. A display of traditional dances that showcased the rich cultural heritage of the countries that contribute peacekeepers to the UN mission in Mali, captivated the eventgoers. This colorful celebration of multiculturalism closed the festival; strengthening the ties between the diverse cultures present and fostering mutual understanding.