Fashionable today, infrastructural tomorrow
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CTA. 1999. Fashionable today, infrastructural tomorrow. Spore 84. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/46613
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore84.pdf
The process of state withdrawal has come to a halt in most ACP countries, and the state apparatus is now more compact, and confident. Among its strategic tasks are to create and maintain an enabling environment and to provide infrastructure. Both...
The process of state withdrawal has come to a halt in most ACP countries, and the state apparatus is now more compact, and confident. Among its strategic tasks are to create and maintain an enabling environment and to provide infrastructure. Both areas, Dudu Diallo argues, should embrace rural radio, which is without doubt an essential component in development strategies, and one that also merits long-term donor partnership. According to some estimates, there are now 2,000 rural radio stations in ACP countries, mainly in Africa. This compares with a mere handful a decade ago, when most rural radio took the form of an hour s programming on the national station. The explosion of rural radio has been in three areas. Firstly, and this is often overlooked by the more recent converts to the medium, national radio stations have greatly increased their airtime for items of rural concern, in part by expanding their programming and, more significantly, by opening regional stations. The example of Senegal is typical, where the national station has set up six regional stations with obviously high rural content, sometimes known as Radio Disso, or dialogue radio . ' There is the phenomenon of commercial stations extending their operations into rural areas' The second area of growth has been in local and community radio stations, literally by the hundreds. In Mali, there are about three hundred local stations many more per head of population than in the Netherlands, for example! Other countries with similar surges include Burkina Faso, Uganda and South Africa. Their strong point is their closeness to the local population, and for this reason they are often known as proximity radio . Finally, there is the phenomenon of commercial stations extending their operations into rural areas, having established themselves profitably in the major urban centres. In some smaller nations, such as Jamaica, commercial stations have long had a rural focus, but this is now becoming a general trend throughout ACP States. Radio is most appropriate medium We could well be on the verge of a partial implosion of rural radio. That the dramatic growth in radio stations could take place at all is thanks to the wave of democratisation that has swept most ACP States. The falling of the walls of the oligarchies has also been accompanied by a fall in the complexity and cost of broadcasting technology. Now anyone can get hold of the basic equipment for a local FM station for no more than E 3,000. The consequences have been obvious, and at times hard on our ears, and on our cultural tastes! But even here there are positive points: the further acceptance of radio, already the most appropriate communication medium in Africa today, and a more discerning selection of what is acceptable radio for serving rural audiences. Partnerships for progress All stakeholders in rural broadcasting have an active role to play in ensuring its viability. The State, no longer a monopoly, still needs to ensure that regulatory bodies can perform properly and freely, especially in allocating frequencies, and broadcasting ethics. And the State, together with external partners, can ensure that infrastructure is in place and intact: antennas, relay stations, and their maintenance. And above all, the listeners must ensure that the stations can continue to serve them. One way is through subscriptions. The economics are quite simple. Our studies have shown that the annual operating costs of a rural station in West Africa are FCFA 13,000,000 (or about E 20,000). This is well within the grasp of some community based stations. The National Council for Concertation and Cooperation among Rural Communities (CNCR) in Senegal which operates a rural radio station - is a case in point, forming a federation of about 300 associations. If each association has an average membership of fifteen people, you can see how a monthly contribution of one or two hundred francs a person could go a long way to covering operating costs. The other way is through direct advertising and sponsorship. This is already done successfully with many external partners, from oil companies, such as Shell sponsoring technical broadcasts for fishermen, to national and international bodies providing AIDS education for rural communities. The rural radio stations that will prosper are the popular ones. This does not necessarily mean that the airwaves will be full of pop music. Stations must earn and keep listeners loyalty, by providing constant quality and relevance. With a loyal audience, able to mobilise its own subscriptions, and provide an interesting market for sponsors and advertisers, most decent stations will survive. However, there are significant costs in setting up stations, in terms of equipment and staff, not to mention maintaining both these assets in good working order. Here the international community has a role to play. We need to explain to donors that investment in rural radio is not just a fashion, but a direct long-term investment in essential infrastructure. New technologies, such as the Internet, already help us here by giving local stations the means to exchange programmes regularly and punctually through computer networks. I am convinced that rural radio stations, at least the ones that deserve to survive, have some superb decades of service ahead.