Author: Gillies C Kasongo, March 4 2015 - Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) commends local radio stations that are transforming themselves into platforms that provide local communities an opportunity to engage in dialogue on various developmental issues that affect their lives, thereby shaping the developmental discourse towards their needs.

Over the past years, PSAf has witnessed a proliferation of community radio stations from an initial few church owned radio stations to the current over 68 licensed, state, private, community, diversified and development oriented radio stations in Zambia alone.

Fuelled by the demand and desire by the people of Zambia for platforms for knowledge sharing and engaging with policy makers and experts, community radio stations have also sprung up in most districts.

These radio stations have indeed, true to their design and mission, provided the people they serve with unequalled access to developmental information in the various areas of their like. For the first time in a long time, several communities now rely on the expert information from their local radio station on what seeds to plant and which crop to grow according to the demands of the markets in the city.

“Our desire as a communication for development organization is to see local radio stations in the SADC [Southern African Development Community] region provide a platform that allows local communities utilize to dialogue of pertinent issues of local concern,” says Media Development and ICTs Programme Manager, Elias M Banda. 

Rural communities that have worked with PSAf and local radio stations in the SADC region have used radio to spearhead cultural development. 

In Malawi for instance, or Mozambique and Zambia, where PSAf has running projects among other SADC countries, communities are using radio and the RLC  [radio listening clubs] approach in to participate in the development of their respective cultures, and reviewing certain practices they may find to be out of sync with the changing world. The input of RLCs has also helped radio stations to enhance their local language programming, which is a key aspect of cultural advancement. 

The RLCs have become conduits through which community members engage in debate on certain cultural practices and identify ways of improving areas they feel could be retrogressive or a violation of the rights of some sections of the community. The use of local languages in programming has increased the community members’ confidence in the stations as conduits for the exchange of development information.

Some RLCs in Mozambique have used their meetings through radio to challenge certain cultural practices they felt were hindering development in the area. Among them is a practice in the Shangani culture relating to marrying a deceased spouse.

“As soon as the club was established, we realised it presented us with a platform to discuss issues that have been bothering us for a long time as a community, issues bordering on cultural practices like the payment of bride price for a deceased spouse. Now we have a way of taking our views to the authorities, we just record our discussions and take them to the radio station. After some time, you will hear the authorities responding,” said a member of Inhacutse RLC in Mozambique. 

This has increased participation of the rural and marginalised in content production and feedback provision, and strengthened the relationship between the stations and their communities, and in the process positioned the stations to contribute to the cultural development of their respective communities.

Another example is in Mzimba district, Malawi, where the radio station (Mzimba Community Radio Station) is now at the centre of preserving the local language and the local culture. This has reinforced the relationship between the station and the local communities. 

“The establishment of radio listening clubs has enabled us as a station to reach out to many people across the district. We have recorded an increase in the level of interaction between the station and the community. We have now introduced a policy to ensure that 60% of our programming content is in the local Tumbuka and Ngoni languages. This has brought the communities closer to the station, and enabled the station to be at the centre of the cultural development of the district.” Mr Jere, programmes manager, Mzimba Radio. 

Participatory radio thus has increased the quantity of programmes featuring the voices of the rural and marginalised groups, and enabled the station to attract new listeners while retaining the existing one. 

There are so many examples of the impact of radio on community empowerment and youth. However, over a billion people the world over, still has no access to radio, a good portion are found in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Zambia, and other SADC countries, will do well to reflect over this year’s World Radio Day that focuses on “Youth and Radio”.

We agree with UNESCO that this day should seek “to raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters”.

Gillies Kasongo is PSAf’s Senior Programme Officer for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email gillies@panos.org.zm

See also: Radio Platform for Community Development (RPCD)

Using Radio to Drive Development in Southern Africa