“Before the community radio station, when my husband lost a camel, the family would have to stop what we were doing and go look for it. Even my eldest son had to drop out from school to search for it. When my husband’s camel walked off last month, he just went to the radio station paid some small money, made an announcement and his camel got returned.” – Mother of five, Amina, near Tahoua, Niger.
This is one of the hundreds of wonderful and meaningful stories that we’ve been told as to why radio remains the most practical and important communication medium right across Africa. And for community radio it’s even more so. Although there are many here are our top 6 reasons why community radio remains both a vital personal and mass communication medium for information and social justice.
It informs people on what’s going on in their own community, not just in the capital city or another country. A farmer in northern Mozambique told us that she doesn’t care what’s going on in Maputo, she’s never been there.
People want programmes – whether it’s news, chat shows, music, sports or announcements – in their own language. Secondary school learners in Schoemansdal, a border town with Swaziland in South Africa, spoke to us about listening each week to death announcements on the radio. This is an area with more than 25% HIV/AIDS prevalence.
It helps build a sense of community, giving a voice to the voiceless. Listeners are empowered to express their point of view on what matters to them. In Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, for example, women’s listening groups call the local station stimulating debate on controversial topics in Somali culture like female genital mutilation, early marriage, violence against women and women’s rights – all social justice issues.
Anyone with interest can get involved in the station’s activities. Local people become board members, managers, technicians, admin support or even journalists. In Chikuni, Zambia, local agroforestry expert, Boniface Hangala, created and narrates radio programmes for farmers. He advises them on conservation farming practices like natural pesticides, crop rotation, tree planning to stave off erosion and warning of climate disruptions that could impact rural livelihoods. Listeners know his voice and trust what he as to say.
It promotes economic growth via local entrepreneurs and traders who can advertise their businesses. (Political parties are not permitted to advertise on community stations.) In Sengerema, Tanzania, Ezekiel, a furniture maker saw designs on the IKEA website at the community radio station’s Internet kiosk. He told us how adopted these ‘modern designs’, advertised on the community station, more than doubled his business and hired two additional wood-workers.
It preserves local culture and traditions. In rural Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, a community station broadcasts a programme “Voices of the Ancestors”. Grandmothers and grandfathers tell stories of their Zulu ancestors and pass along traditional wisdom. In an area with a disproportionately high number of orphaned children and vulnerable households, a programme like this helps them understand, value and take pride in their cultural identity.
Community radio puts community issues front and centre. Although community radio stations are not allowed to broadcast political content or promote political parties, it can bring elected leaders to account.