radio africa

Radio reikt ver in Afrika

Radio is the only meaningful mass medium in Africa. There are at least three reasons for this. To begin with, radio is in keeping with the continent's oral tradition. Writing is a recent colonial addition almost everywhere, and it reaches only a few due to the high level of illiteracy in most African countries. Buying a newspaper is the last thing most of the continent's inhabitants have on their mind, but nearly everyone has a receiver on which they can listen to the latest news.

The second reason is physical. There are very few newspapers outside of the capital cities. Some are distributed to medium-sized cities (with a bit of luck even on the same day), but newspapers are virtually non-existent in the countryside, where more than half of Africa's population still live. This is related to the third reason: the costs. Although the road network reaches most villages, its quality is so poor and transport is so expensive that it simply is not worth the effort to bring a pile of newspapers to remote villages.

Anyone who regularly travels through Africa knows that radio is extremely important for two things: news and sports. When either is being broadcast, earphones can be seen everywhere and groups will gather around a screaming radio positioned in the middle of a table. Of course there is also music, but like in the West it functions primarily as musical wallpaper in offices and factories and on construction sites.

African governments are well aware of the propaganda possibilities radio offers. When the colonials left, they inherited a national network that was immediately promoted to state status, to teach and enrich the people. Starved for news, people continued to tune in to the short-wave stations of the former colonial powers in time for the news.

But this strange irony has long been a thing of the past. In 2005, Guinea was the last West African country to terminate the state monopoly on radio. In its neighboring countries, commercial radio had been blooming for years. The gap opened by the state has been filled for the most part by commercial stations. These are owned by wealthy businessmen or politicians, or are part of a large media corporation like Sud in Senegal. Ready-made music, sometimes by national artists, is the primary component of the broadcasts.

Churches also have radio stations. Even though their message is puritan, they are increasingly serving as a good alternative for news, albeit not always successfully. Radio Veritas in Liberia, for example, has established an excellent reputation, but Radio Ecclesia in Angola is foundering under a lack of management and carefully planned opposition from the authorities.
International NGOs sponsor community radio and to a much-lesser extent news stations in Congo, Liberia and South Africa. And we must not forget the United Nations. Nowadays their peace operations in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast are accompanied by a radio station that promotes the message of peace and reconciliation, laced with lots of popular music, of course, and the unavoidable DJ to mesh it all together.

The battle for free radio was a smashing victory for the commercial stations and the national networks owned by the former colonials: Great Britain, France, Portugal and the United States. They no longer need to squeeze their broadcasts through a short-wave channel now that radio has been privatized: they can enjoy the comfort of a local FM frequency. Commerce and export, both concentrating on the cities. The loser, of course, is the public in the countryside, because a community station here and there is not enough by far.



Sud Quotidien, Senegal

Radio Veritas, Liberia

Radio Ecclesia, Angola