DISSO; 20 years of radio dialogue
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Baba Counta, Ahmed. 1987. DISSO; 20 years of radio dialogue. Spore 10. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Ahmed Baba Counta is the Director of Rural Education Programmes for the radio service of Senegal's national broadcasting system and one of the most adventurous radio personalities encountered by SPORE in Africa. His programme, DISSO, has been on the...
Ahmed Baba Counta is the Director of Rural Education Programmes for the radio service of Senegal's national broadcasting system and one of the most adventurous radio personalities encountered by SPORE in Africa. His programme, DISSO, has been on the air for 20 years and is without a doubt one of the most original and successful on the continent. DISSO means 'dialogue' or 'discussion' in Woloff. With such a title, our listeners know right away that our programme is not like the others. First of all, we wanted to make it clear that we speak - literally - the same language as farmers. Actually, I should say the same languages because we also broadcast in Sominke, Cerer, Mandingue and Dioulla. With these five dialects, we cover practically the entire countryside from the humid Casamance to the Ferlo desert, including market gardeners on Cape Vert and small farmers along the riverbanks. Speaking the local tongue, however, is not always easy. To get across technical points that involve new ideas, it often means using words that haven't been developed locally. Some approaches, such as seeding in lines, fallows, or crop associations, may be totally unknown in certain communities. Local languages have absorbed many foreign words and it is now common to hear 'pump) or 'moped' in conversations between small farmers. In discussions dealing with agricultural techniques, however, it is important to ensure that there is no mis-understanding. Because we cannot always coin new words, we must be able to refer to something that local people know well. We thus get our message across by using existing words or concepts, with or without modification. As an example, we refer to feeding plants rather than applying fertilizers The DISSO title is also meant to say that our programme doesn't settle for just transmitting information to a passive audience. It is true that our journalistic training has prepared us for simply collecting information (often from sources far removed from reality), packaging it according to their criteria, and diffusing it in a 'top-down' manner towards the pub lic. But we try to go beyond such classical methods. DISSO is designed to be a dialogue between agricultural services and small farmers in which we journalists are not just intermediaries but animators. To understand how our programme came to be what it is, we have to remember how it began. In 1968, our government and UNESCO jointly agreed to establish the Rural Education Radio or RER. This was the result of the realization then of the enormous potential that radio has for rural areas. It appears obvious with hindsight, but 20 years ago it was innovative thinking. In Senegal and many other African countries, radio programmes were designed for collective audiences. Many villagers would group around what was often the only radio available (sometimes financed by a local project). During agricultural programmes, extension workers would act as resource persons during and after the emissions to prolong the discussion and provide further information. Many things have changed since then, including the proliferation of individual radios which has done away with collective audiences. In 1979, during the drought, a political decision was made to promote DISSO from a weekly, one hour programme to a 45 minute show six days a week. The demise of collective audiences coincided well with this change because it would have been impossible to have extension workers available six days a week. On the other hand, individual radios mean that listeners are no longer able to benefit from a group discussion during the programme with extension workers. In an effort to maintain this kind of dialogue, we distribute hundreds of self-addressed RER envelopes through the cooperatives. This gives small farmers the possibility of providing feedback after our programmes. These letters often turn out to be tales of sorrow which help to keep extension officials in direct contact with the problems and aspirations of their rural constituency. We also get many questions, some of which we answer directly, but in order to provide more exact and comprehensive information we often seek the help of agricultural experts who work closely with the RER. We meet twice a month with officials of the Rural Development Ministry to review our past and future programmes. The content of DISSO is thus planned by government agencies that work in direct contact with small farmers. Agricultural technicians provide us with the raw material and we adapt it for use on the radio. I must say that if we work closely with agricultural extension services, that is not the case with researchers. We are asked, from time to time, to promote the results of certain research projects, but we do not really have a good working relationship with researchers. Whether it is because of a lack of habit, time or resources, they seem to isolate themselves from communicators like us. On the other hand, even if we spend most of our time acting as mediators between extension officials and small farmers, we try whenever possible to use our modest means to get out into the field. This not only gives us the opportunity to be in direct contact with our listeners but to play our role of rural animator. This often includes village parties during which the radio team works on information transfer in a more informal manner. We also seek to improve our contacts with other countries. Thanks to visits that I was able to make in France and Canada, we have made contact with Radio France International and the Canadian network of rural radios. This enables us to keep up to date with scientific and technical research in Northern countries and also to bolster our contacts with other rural radio systems which often deal with the same problems as us. Such North/South and South/South exchanges are always beneficial. As an ideal medium for rural areas, radio is going to develop considerably in the years to come. To exploit this opportunity fully, we must work closely not only with our listeners but also with our neighbours. Our story began 20 years ago but it is still a day-to-day adventure for us. Based on a series of interviews done by Radio France International and CTA with Ahmed Baba Counta, Director of the RER in Senegal.
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