Author: Fennovia Matakala, June 19 2015 - A sea of serious faces looked to the front of the local council chambers. Shuffling in anticipation, the crowd exchanged excited whispers.
Looking like they were attending the start of a high-profile court case, over 100 residents of Katete District in Eastern province of Zambia turned out for Mphangwe Community radio’s first ever live, public debate to question local leaders - including the local MP.
As the floor opened for questions, the key community concern was clear.
Last year, the community had been allocated K1,000 (around £90,000) from a local development fund for the construction of a much needed 15km road - a project which would make it easier for children to get to school and patients to get to hospital.
Despite the selection of a contractor, the road had yet to materialise and the community was losing its patience.
As the microphone was passed around, the audience’s frustrations were made clear.
“You are aware that the contractor working on the roads is taking his time but why haven’t you pulled them off the contract? Have they corrupted you?” said a local hospital worker.
His colleague weighed in, complaining that the state of the roads around the hospital “is not conducive for our patients during emergencies, there are no alternative routes and it becomes very difficult at night to drive”.
Sighing in exasperation, a head teacher added that his school had no roads to get in or out easily - ending with a simple plea, “please help.”
The MP apologised and assured the audience that he was also “concerned with the slow pace of works.” He vowed to pull the contractors off the project and replace them with a more competent alternative.
Sugar coated promises
It was clear that residents of Katete weren’t interested in sugar-coated promises, they wanted action. As the radio debate went on, the audience became more confident and vocal, expressing their needs and sharing their experiences. The possibilities of what could be discussed started to seem limitless.
Overwhelmed by the number of issues raised, the MP assured the audience that he would work on all concerns raised.
With each person having an opportunity to speak, residents took away more than the novelty of being on radio. They went home knowing that their voice, among others, might actually cause change.
Located at the foot of the Mphangwe hills, Mphangwe community radio station is the only one of its kind in the small Katete district. The station faces many challenges - lack of equipment, power outages and limited internet among them - but the remote and rural setting mean its programmes provide essential information for the community. Sometimes the broadcasts provide the only way of reaching key leaders and decision makers.
My role as project officer and community station mentor means I will work on many more transformative projects like this. I gain huge satisfaction that my training in financial and production know-how is helping community radio - a vibrant part of life in Zambia - to flourish.
The road through Katete may not yet be finished but I’m hopeful that the power of radio and public debate has shone a light on the issue, that promises will be kept - and that the community’s businesses, schools and hospitals will benefit from a new road soon.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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