The country’s 0.398 Human Development Index places it at the 151st place out of 172. The economy of Tanzania continues to grow at an average of 6% per annum. However, despite Tanzania being one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, the country continues to face various economic and social challenges such as maternal health, where it is estimated that 400 women out of every 100,000 giving birth dies. The country is also endowed with natural resources such as gold, of which Tanzania is the third producer in Africa, diamonds, tanzanite, nickel, uranium and natural gas – to mention just a few minerals. Unfortunately all these resources have not transformed the standard of living of many citizens, with the GDP per capita standing at only 552 US Dollars (according to 2002 estimates). Approximately 80% of Tanzanians live in the rural area. It means that the majority of people living in poverty are in rural areas, places only served by the few local radios existing in Tanzania. The country’s estimated population is 40 million people.
ICTs in the country
According to the 2010 state of the media report, television was accessed by only 5% of the population, while about 15 million Tanzanians own radio sets. Some of the main challenges are the limited circulation of newspapers, the low purchasing power of most citizens, the high cost of batteries for radio sets and the dearth in electricity provision to rural dwellers, as well as the high costs of owning television sets or accessing Internet. Moreover, most media outlets, including new media accessibility, are urban-based. The 2003 National ICT Policy sets forth the need for ICT infrastructure in rural areas as a way to bridge the digital divide. However, the implementation of the policy has been slow. Even with the current 80% of the districts connected by optic fibre, the challenge remains in taking the high speed Internet connection to the “last mile” towards the end user. In average, only 11% of Tanzanians access and use Internet services. Much of the Tanzanian fibre capacity is underutilized as only 65% of its bandwidth is in use. Internet subscriptions are however on the increase with figures showing a total of 4.8 million Internet subscribers in June 2010 compared to 2.5 million subscribers in 2008. The increasing mobile phone penetration rates are also an opportunity that can be harnessed in providing Internet connectivity to all. According to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), there are about 21 million active subscribers to mobile phones whereas the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey shows that 40% of the population do not have access to any form of mass media.
Local radios in the country
Local radio operations date back to the period of the rural press. The concept of local media that involves much use of technology is fairly new in Tanzania. History goes back to 2003 when radio Sengerema was started. Numerous attempts have been made to establish community-based media in Tanzania, notably 34 district radios established through district councils. These district radios were managed by the local government but, unfortunately, most of them are no longer operational – actually, only six out of the 34 are known to be stable. Local media were also set up with support from faith-based organizations, NGOs and development partners. Other local media being piloted in Tanzania involves partnerships between the community and the government, with the support of the UN, as for the case of Micheweni Community radio in Pemba. There are, nevertheless, about 22 local media organizations in Tanzania. A few local radios in Tanzania have proved to be effective in providing access to development information, especially to the majority of the population who are not connected to the electric grid, those who do not own televisions, or those who lack access to mobile phones, though it has proved difficult to collect local news without functioning networks of local correspondents. Local radios aside, Tanzania has one of the most vibrant media landscapes in the region, with over 18 daily newspapers, 41 weeklies, 60 radio stations and 15 television stations as well as virtually unrestricted Internet accessibility.
Importance of support to local radios
This project is important for Tanzania to develop local radios’ capacities in using new technologies to support reporting on development issues and exchange of views among the audience. It will also help prepare local communities for the opening up of the country through the soon to be operational National Fibre Optic Backbone. The project is also important for Tanzania so as to bridge the differences in access to knowledge and information between people living in the urban areas and those living in the rural areas. As infrastructure to transport newspapers to rural areas is prohibitive, local radios are usually the only existing information source for the populations.
The participation of local radios in the voters’ education programmes related to the 2010 general elections in Tanzania demonstrates the impact that can be achieved by equipping Tanzanians in the rural areas with skills and communication tools to stimulate democratic dialogue. Quantitative and qualitative data related to the participation of community radios during the general election is very positive on the stimulation of the communities to vote. It is therefore expected that this project will also contribute to the stimulation of democratic discourse to the majority of the population (80%), living in rural Tanzania, most of who do not have adequate access to communication and information.