radio africa


In some countries, criticism is utopia. The government has control of the radio and journalists are punished for voicing alternative opinions. But a new wind has started blowing through the African radio world in recent years.

Zimbabwe's presidential candidate Jonathan Moyo tasted a bit of his own medicine during the election campaign in March 2005. As Minister of Information and President Mugabe's right hand he had banned opposition from national radio. Ironically, not even a year later Moyo decided to leave the governing party and run for the presidency. It was his own censure measures that kept the music from his election campaign from the national radio. Phambili Le Tsholotsho (meaning something like Go Tsholotsho!) was a smashing hit in his own electoral district Tsholotsho, where it could be heard from mobile sound trucks and in bars, but nowhere else.

Criticism - even if it is wrapped in music or journalistic reports - is forbidden in Zimbabwe. A few independent radio stations are active there, like Short Wave Radio Africa, but their broadcasts can only reach Zimbabwe from outside of the country. The journalists working for the independent stations are plagued worse than almost anyone in the world, often with bombings and police raids.

But Zimbabwe is the exception to the rule on the African continent. Except there and in Eritrea, where independent media simply does not exist, freedom of the press has grown significantly in Africa in recent years. Nowadays East Asian and Middle Eastern countries are found at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index. Although African governments still regularly accuse independent radio makers of disinformation when their broadcasts dare to voice criticism, the democratization process sweeping the continent has also reached the airwaves.

"It is no longer dangerous to report on sensitive issues," Angolan journalist Antonio de Sousa confirms. He works for Radio Eccelsia. This independent radio station was often the target of state terrorism in the heat of the war, even though it is a Catholic station. An interview with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi late in the 1990s, for example, resulted in a police raid. After one critical broadcast the station's director, Jose Paulo, was abducted, but lots of luck made it possible for him to escape. Since the end of the war in 2002, however, even critical MCK can be heard on Radio Ecclesia without problems.

Elsewhere in Africa the immensely popular rappers can be heard continuously, if only because of their commercial worth. And therein lies the criticism being heard against today's radio in Africa. The independent stations are accused of being guided by income from commercials and the need to appeal to the young urban audience. Few programs target the poor in the countryside: the very ones who are the most dependent on radio because most of them never read a newspaper. According to the report Making Waves by censure guardian Index on Censorship, the information now heard on the radio in many African countries is even more shallow than it was under strict government censure.