For years, people in Bandafassi, a village in Senegal's Bassari Country, have had little access to information about elections, education and nutrition. But a new community radio has started to broadcast in six local languages (Bassari, Bédick, Coniagui. Dialongou, Fulfulbé and Mandinka) to reach out to villagers in this and other villages located close to the borders of Guinea. The Bassari Country is a World Heritage Site since 2012.
The new radio is run by and for the communities. It was recently inaugurated by the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, as part of a new Cultural Centre for the Bassari region. It is one of the results of the MDG-F project on Culture and Development in Senegal, which was coordinated by the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar from 2009-2013.
UNESCO is supporting and promoting community radios as a tool to facilitate social communication and support democratic processes within societies.
What makes a community radio so powerful is its potential to reach out to people with little or no access to information. It is an efficient tool for educating and informing villagers about such critical issues such as health, education, and sustainable development.
Community radios are also being used to promote oral traditions. In Bandafassi, for example, the community radio broadcasts stories and proverbs, traditional music and the history of the various villages. It will reach out to traditional singers and griots, and local villagers with knowledge of medicinal plants.
Radio saves lives
"The radio contributes to the promotion and development of local cultures and languages,” said the Senegalese President during an interview when the new radio station was inaugurated last April. The President promised a financial support of $5,000 to ensure the effective launch of the radio, which includes the installation of solar energy.
In the Delta de Saloum, on the other side of Senegal close to the Atlantic ocean, the community radio in the remote island of Bétenty is proving effective.
Inaugurated in May 2013, the daily weather forecasts are particularly popular among the local fishermen. Betenty FM 91.6 is important to the villagers because it is the only radio using the local language, Mandinka. It's also reaching out to neighbouring islands and even the Gambia.
Reaching out across Africa
UNESCO has promoted communication through radio for more than 50 years. Indeed, the Organization implemented ‘radio listening clubs’ (known as “talk radios”) which were community radio embryos. This experience culminated in 1951 in India and in Ghana in the 1960s.
In 1966, another important development took place in the newly independent African nations. UNESCO organized two meetings to launch rural educational radio using local languages (in Rwanda for French-speaking Africa and in what is today Tanzania for English-speaking African countries). These rural educational radio stations later evolved into regional and rural radios and finally community radio in the 1990s for most African countries.
And the commitment continues
In East Africa, the UNESCO project "Empowering Local Radio with ICTs" builds the capacity of 32 local radios in seven African countries, from 2012 until the end of 2014. Its overall goal is to improve the lives of the poor, especially women and girls, by raising the quality programming of local radio stations.
In Cameroon, the Government has received US$5.8 million from the African Development Bank for the creation of 26 community radio stations. The project will be managed by the Regional UNESCO Office in Yaoundé.
Sometimes community radios are part of Community Multimedia Centres (CMCs), which include "a business centre" with paid access to computers, printers, and scanners. This is a means to raise funds for the running of the radio. In Senegal, for example, UNESCO Dakar has been instrumental in setting up 30 CMCs across the country, and is continuously training community journalists on topics such as gender violence, environmental awareness, and other key development issues.
According to Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, Responsible for Communication and Information at UNESCO Dakar, it is however important to underline the financial and organizational challenges faced by most CMCs and community radios. The Senegalese Ministry of Communication and UNESCO Dakar are in fact considering making an assessment of the operation to see how to ensure the sustainability of these key development structures.