|The Courier No. 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid Country Reports Sao Tomé-Principe-Senegal (European Community, 1992)|
by Pascal Berquamp; Samba Ousmane Tour
Rural radio. The term can conjure up broadcasts devoted to extension work, remote from the self-expression and needs of the population and closeted in a broadcasting studio to the detriment of the field - a negative image which has been around for 10 years, ever since the sad revelation of the shortcomings of Africa's rural radios. Now that the media are diversifying and getting their freedom, it is time to do justice to rural radio, which is and will long be the African rural populations' main, if not only, source of information in their own language. A new-style rural radio is emerging. It is closer to the people, run from a network of regional and local stations, and will both involve the rural population and be open to the world at large.
Peul shepherds with their transistors on straps and their eyes on their herds are a common sight all over the Sahel. They listen to the radio without worrying about administrative frontiers. What nationality is the station? If it is broadcasting in the right language, what does the nationality matter? It might be Malian Radio and Television (RTM) and it might be Burkina Faso's rural radio or the Senegalese TV broadcasting office, depending on the area. Radio is the tenuous link between these people and the rest of the world, so how can it be ignored?
Despite competition from television, radio is still the commonest medium of mass communication in the world, particularly in rural Africa. The average is 100 sets per 1000 inhabitants, as against only ten TV sets and, although there is considerable variation within this of course (19 radios per 1000 in Burkina Faso, 173 in Ghana and 215 in Algeria in 1983) i, radio is popular everywhere.
In Africa, the popularity of rural radio is related to a number of different parameters - the size of the rural population, the strength of the oral tradition, the wide diversity of national languages and a high rate of illiteracy. Radio is the best medium in a situation of this kind, but, financial resources being what they are, the job of the national broadcasting systems is difficult, if not impossible. How can, say, national language services be developed in Cameroon when there are more than 200 languages and dialects in addition to French and English?
Awareness, involvement and information
The idea of using the appropriate radio broadcasts to sustain economic and social development in newly independent countries goes back to the early 1960s. It was called educational radio to begin with and then rural educational radio or rural radio, because of course it taught listeners about every aspect of rural life (health, hygiene, agricultural techniques, music and so on). Priority in broadcasting was on the national languages and listeners got together in groups and clubs to tune in to the programmes. These were the of the Radio Clubs Niger and the rural motivation units of Chad, Mali and Upper Volta.
Governments realised what was at stake and how useful the medium was as a means of economic and social development. But, as Jean Pierre Ilboudo said, 'Rural radio concentrated too much on a reductionist approach to development, bringing it down to nothing more than an increase in agricultural output. Socioeconomic change was not dealt with globally and political action was rejected in favour of social mobilisation. Disoo, Senegal's educational rural radio, dropped the school-teacher approach so far removed from the prime concerns of the rural populations in 1968. It questioned the idea of vertical communication and went for dialogue and was designed as a general programme on integrated rural development.
Journalists now went out and met their audiences face-to-face, setting up events in the villages as opportunities both for recording and for making people aware of what was going on. Population involvement was the order of the day. After Disoo, rural radio in Burkina Faso and Burundi, for example, went from strength to strength (with help from bilateral and international cooperation), although it has run out of steam in recent years. A look at rural radio as a whole shows that the stumbling blocks are:
- inadequate budgets and the impossibility of going out into
- centralised production facilities, all too often sited in urban areas;
- operational difficulties in the interministerial committees responsible for the coordination vital to the programming of rural radio topics and broadcasts;
- the absence of broadcasts in many of the national languages;
- a major economic crisis in many Sahel countries in the 1970s;
- a reduction in international aid (in Congo and Burkina Faso);
- poor population involvement in programme design and production;
- lack of renewal of programmes.
This sad finding is not to deny of the qualities of rural radio, however. The programmes are, first and foremost, a means of informing people, of making them aware of different issues and of mobilising them. Decision-makers, field projects and cooperation institutions still appreciate their flexibility and their ability to get a dialogue going with the rural world. Rural radio is extremely cost-effective as a means of action too. It is right for the job. It just needs updating.
Fast-moving trends and rapid diversification
At the dawn of the 1980s, rural radio was too didactic and too far removed from its audiences. It needed to be redefined, to make a better job of involving the people, to decentralise and to develop its financial independence.
The desire to get closer to the rural audiences is all-important. There will be no economic, social or human development for the rural populations unless they are encouraged to participate and express themselves. CESAO's John Madjri said that there was a dialectic relationship between freeing expression and freeing initiative. Radio messages were useful in the eyes of the peasants, he said, but all the rural radios combined only did half the work, the freeing of expression did not go the whole way and what the peasants had to say was obscured. People were therefore afraid to commit themselves and take the initiative.
By letting the people actually concerned say what they think, radio provides information and sets the example. When personal experience is broadcast, it triggers emulation and the effect is reinforced by the closeness of the speaker. Listeners want to meet him and find out more about what he did - something which is only possible when the rural radio station is nearby.
Should rural radio be local or should it be regional ? The problem is not posed in those terms. Decentralisation is vital. Regional stations are broadcasting in more languages and getting closer to the rural populations. Governments at first worried about them doing too much to encourage distinctive regional peculiarities to the detriment of national unity; now they are resigned to promoting them. The same goes for local rural radio, which is more suitable when it comes to involving the people in their own development. AGECOOP has been developing a specific programme to help local rural radios since 1991 and there are plans for four stations per country in Congo, the CAR, Cameroon, Guinea Mali and Benin, with an overhaul of the local radio stations in Burkina Faso.
National, regional and local radio stations must now be seen as part of a network, each with its own particular job of producing broadcasts, exchanging programmes, filling time slots and using the different languages of the national community.
Typical of the new trend is Guinea's rural radio, a project supported by Swiss cooperation and the FAO (training) which emerged in 1989, after a good look at the successes and failures of African rural radio over the previous 20 years. This radio comes under a different directorate-general, independent of national radio and television; it has two regional stations, one broadcasting in Fulani from Labin Moyenne Guin and one in Malinke from Kankan (Haute Guin. The other two regions are soon to have two stations of their own. The setting up of local radios under the AGECOOP programme will also mean better services for various specific audiences. The budget comes from an annual allocation from the State and large contributions from schemes run by international organisations and NGOs with communications sections. One priority is to achieve proper financial autonomy and Guinea's rural radio has brought in clear economic rules of partnership with this in mind - a hard line which can only work with the statutes which render official its independence and administrative autonomy.
Any revival of rural radio is dependent on these new financial conditions. These stations must be able to generate some of their own resources and manage them completely independently. This is a sine qua non both of their survival and of national support.
After more than 30 years of monopoly, the media are beginning to open up a little. There are three trends on the African radio scene - privatisation, decentralisation and internationalisation. Towns are going to be the first to have private, commercial and association radio stations. This is already happening in Burkina Faso, where Horizon FM is authorised to broadcast in the capital, and in Bamako, where two private, association stations also broadcast on FM. Mali is the first country in West Africa clearly to announce the freedom of the air waves. Public radio stations, rural radio included, are going to have to face this competition - and competition may lead to emulation but, as Cheikh Sylla, head of Guinea's rural radio, said, 'there is a strong risk of losing sight of development objectives if there is too much privatisation of stations.' Another change is internationalisation, with foreign stations taking advantage of the more open attitude.
RFI Plus Afrique, for example, now has local FM transmitters in Dakar and Cotonou, putting its own programmes on the air in the capital cities of Senegal and Benin, but keeping time for national broadcasts too. Dencentralisation is the right response here.
Capitalising on human potential
It would be wrong to think that rural radio can be given a new lease of life without proper attention to the hopes and needs of its staff. All too often, people posted to rural broadcasting have felt they have been pushed into a siding or forgotten. But times are changing. Not only must rural radio have better status and better material means. The producers and journalists must be motivated too, and developing their activity and giving them the means with which to work is a priority. Training, basic and continuing, is a fundamental need and CIERRO (see box) is coming up to expectations in French-speaking countries, but the English-speaking centre, scheduled to open in Namibia, is still on the drawing board. The various international organisations are ploughing more and more resources into training. The FAO, for example, has been doing so for 20 years now, particularly for rural radio in Guinea, Chad and Mauritania, and a special approach has been developed there under the leadership of Frans Querre.
The CTA has been developing a rural radio and scientific, technical, agricultural and rural information programme for the ACPs since 1989 (see box). This is designed to meet the demand from heads of ACP rural radio stations which concentrate on training. The CTA responds with regional workshops, which improve professional skills and are an opportunity for participants to discuss the* experience.
More than ever before, listening to and providing training for rural radio producers and journalists is a way of guaranteeing that they are efficient and can communicate with the rural world.
PB & SOT
The Inter-African Rural Radio Study Centre in Ouagadougou, set up in 1978, is a permanent centre of the URTNA (Union of National Radio and Television Organisations of Africa), which promotes study and research into communication science in the rural environment. It runs a two-year training course for about 20 rural radio producers and technicians from French-speaking countries of Africa and has turned out 139 graduates from 15 countries in its 14 years of existence. German cooperation accounts for the bulk of the financing, with the balance coming from the URTNA, Burkina Faso and AGECOOP.
This is the only centre of its kind in Africa and it is now broadening its scope with regular advanced rural radio training sessions, workshops and seminars, with particular emphasis on communication in the rural environment. It has forged many links with German cooperation over the years and with the FAO, UNICEF, UNESCO, AGECOOP, Swiss cooperation, AMARC (Canada), the John-Paul II Foundation, the CTA, GRET and CILSS, all of which have co-organised meetings and continue to contribute to programmes and projects. CIERRO has been a member of the steering committee for the CTA programme on rural radio and scientific, technical, agricultural and rural information from the beginning and, in 1989, it co-organised the programme's inaugural workshop in Ouagadougou with GRET and the CTA.
The CTA at work
The CTA's rural radio and scientific and technical information programme is l being implemented in the light of the final report of the Ouagadougou inaugural seminar run at CIERRA, in conjunction with GRET, in 1989. Since 1990, the first year of operation, the CTA has developed a number of schemes to help the ACP countries by:
- distributing Spore, its half-yearly review in French and English, to radio stations throughout the ACP group;
- setting up a data base of all producers, journalists and heads of rural radio and farming news services in the ACP countries
- bringing out specific STI information packs for radio producers;
- organising and running regional workshops providing advanced training in STI utilisation and research to help rural producers and journalists in the ACP countries.
The rural radio-STI training workshops were run at Sevoza, the Voice of Zaire Studio school in Kinshasa, and at Zamcom, the Zambia Institute of Mass ´Cornmunication in Lusaka, in 1990 and at Kimc, the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication in Nairobi, and Iftic, the Information Technology and Communications Training Institute in Niamey, in 1991.
The STI topic for 1991 was agro-forestry. During stage one, critical listening, each country proposed a 15-25 minute broadcast (documentary, magazine, drama etc) on this subject. The comparing of ideas and working methods made for an exchange of information and a round-up of everyone's views which was much appreciated by the producers and journalists. An introduction to the national broadcasting services and a progress report on the documentary research undertaken for the reports completed these sessions.
In phase two of the workshop, the different groups had the opportunity to produce 20-minute broadcasts in the field and try out what they had learnt from the critical listening. Topics included trees and rice in combination, agriculture and the environment, improved stoves, brush fires and eucalyptus trees.
At the end, the participants said that they had been made aware of the need for stringency in work and documentary research and were ready to reconcile STI with the rules of the art of writing for radio so as to reach the biggest rural audience possible. Two workshops were scheduled for 1992 - in Ghana (for the English-speaking countries of western Africa) and Mauritius (French-speaking countries of the Indian Ocean).
These radio staff - 'enablers', as they like to describe themselves - make a vital contribution to CTA action. A network of broadcasters is gradually taking shape and the CTA will continue to give it support with its rural radio and STI programme, backing rural radio and farm news services in the ACP countries.