The role of communication and the media in inter-religious conflict between Christians and Muslims in Kenya
This study set out to investigate the critical role that religious leaders and the media play in bringing about or exacerbating religious tensions and conflict in Kenya. In particular, the study sought to establish what role communication plays in creating animosity and in fomenting conflict between followers of the two major faiths in Kenya – Christianity and Islam. The role of spiritual leaders from the Christian and Muslim traditions in the conflict, and how the slanting of media reports on religious issues affects perceptions that could either stem down or raise religious tensions. The study based itself on the Two-Step Flow Theory of Paul Lazarsfeld and his colleagues, which basically states that opinions expressed in the mass media are first synthesized by opinion leaders, who then influence the rest of the people. Within the context of this study, Christian and Muslim religious leaders would be the critical opinion shapers who influence perceptions of their followers regarding other faiths, consequently determining whether adherents of these two religions live together in peace or not. The findings of the study indicate that materials intended for mass consumption addressing the issue of inter-religious tolerance are few and far between. Regular newspapers do not tackle this sensitive societal issue with the same level of seriousness accorded less dangerous territory such as sports or travel. Reporting on religious issues is also heavily slanted in favour of Christians, and does not portray the level of knowledge and sensitivity required of such an important coverage. While religious groups have been holding interreligious dialogue for years, the study found that more needs to be done if rising interreligious violence is to be nipped in the bud. Religious leaders, the study found, generally have a strong influence on their followers, and it is important that those involved in campaigns for peace between Christians and Muslims should be more focused if they are to counterbalance their more radical counterparts. Arising from this study, it is recommended that current efforts at inter-religious dialogue need to be strengthened in order to counter the rising tide of inter-religious conflict and the negative influence of some radical spiritual leaders. Moreover, media houses will need to re-examine and strengthen the reporting of religious issues in order to overcome the many weaknesses pointed out in this study. These recommendations will help Kenya to avoid sliding down the path of serious religious confrontation between Christians and Muslims, a danger that the country has so far avoided despite the lack of a clear strategy and focus.