Radio was made for South Sudanese
By Victor Lugala
Ours is an oral society. We read and write less, or we don’t read at all, and therefore we don’t know how to write. We talk and listen more. We love mobile phones, especially, because they help us talk with relatives in America, Canada, Europe, Australia, and to call radio studios to air our views.
We gather to exchange pleasantries and news at the tea place, bars, worship centers, in and outside our homes.
Our literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world at 26.8 percent, thanks to previous and recurrent wars, ignorance, and backward cultures which do not value education.
Because we love talking or listening to people talk or complain, radio is our preferred medium of mass communication. Radio is our main source of information and entertainment. Radio talks to us directly in a language we understand. So, radio is our love.
When there is a looming threat of famine, cholera or Ebola we are informed through radio. When there is a concept or new knowledge to be learned such as family planning, democracy, or M-Gurush, radio educates us. If our babies must be immunised against some deadly diseases radio will tell us which health centre to go to.
Radio alerts us to the dangers and risks of Gender-Based Violence. Radio entertains us with music of our choice and drama to makes us laugh and be happy and forget about our immediate earthly problems.
It is said that radio is organised talking. Long ago our people in the countryside or caves used to gather round an evening fire after the evening meal to chat and tell stories for entertainment, and to teach morals to young people.
War has uprooted people from the countryside to refugee camps or camps for internally displaced persons, and most of the old people who used to tell stories or folktales by the evening fireside have died or are dying – and so is the old tradition.
So, where poverty is still overwhelming and many people cannot afford the luxury of a TV set, radio has replaced the evening fireside. Long live our oral tradition!
Radio is not like a church service where the congregation cannot give feedback or talk back to the preacher of the day. After listening to the announcer on radio, we can dial the radio studio number and call to make our opinion heard or known to other listeners, policy makers, concerned authorities, nation. This interactive process gives the listener satisfaction that they are active participants in the communication process, and that they also occupy some democratic space in society.
When there is a national issue being discussed on a radio talk show, the ordinary listener, who is not a journalist, or maybe a citizen journalist, can contribute to the national debate, which in turn informs government and parliament to act by passing legislation or rendering service to the masses.
We have been fighting each other because we allowed the gun to talk on our behalf. But the gun kills, destroys, traumatises. Radio is like the big village tree where court is held, where people gather to talk good things of life and laugh.
Radio is good for us to talk and relate with each other. To dialogue. To agree and to disagree in a civilised manner without insulting each other, without hurling hate speech at each other, because radio is organised talking.
Radio is our daily bread. When we wake up in the morning we tune to the station of our choice because we want to hear something new, something fresh to start our day, or even alert us to some looming danger such as a natural calamity, accident, or to forecast the weather.
Tuning to a radio station is no longer a laborious task of fiddling with the knob. Technology has made radio easily accessible on our mobile phones, or that old-fashioned transistor radio – these days they come cheaply from China and in different sizes, including pocket radios.
Our national journalism is majorly defined by radio. Our journalists are part and parcel of our oral tradition. They prefer talking on air because when they write in newspapers nobody will read, or few people will read. Take for instance this article, few people will read it because radio has stolen their attention, or because they are lazy to read.
When a listener calls a radio station to express their views or opinions, they take pride because their voice is heard live on radio. Some influential listeners who regularly contribute to radio are able to shape public opinion in their own small way.
Radio gives power to public opinion. It shapes the opinion of the ordinary citizen. Their choice of buying a product in a supermarket can also be influenced by a radio advertisement.
For the younger generation, radio influences their social life, their language. Some radio personalities become their role models. As a result, some radio announcers and DJs sound fake on air – when on air they acquire an accent which make them sound like some ghetto rapper.
Therefore, without exaggerating, radio is gospel truth in our oral society. When Emmanuel Kembe or Isaka Number One sings on radio, they entertain but also shape our thinking because we remember their lyrics, that is why Gbondo sakit is still a popular track among the old and the young alike in Juba.
Radio is no longer the preserve of men. Long time ago, before the invention of mobile phones or portable radios, and before radio sets became affordable, the box used to be owned by men, locking out the women, as if radio was a masculine accessory.
Before the advent or proliferation of FM radio stations in our urban areas, and community radio stations in the countryside, there was overreliance on a single national broadcaster, which was on Shortwave frequency – meaning that in bad weather it was not clear.
Now we have several FM stations in Juba which mainly broadcast in English and simple Arabic which is the lingua franca. So when housewives are not watching Nigerian movies or Arab soap operas during the day, they tune to their favourite FM radio stations.
Interestingly, our women are increasingly contributing to debates on domestic FM radio stations. There is a particular woman who calls a local FM station every morning to contribute to that day’s topic on the station’s breakfast show.
If this active woman, only known as Mama Esther uses her airtime to call the FM station to air her opinion, then the station should one day consider giving her a bonus by buying her airtime worth calling for three months.
Because of its large following, radio is an effective tool for mobilizing community to action. When there is a tree-planting campaign, general cleanliness of the city, and environmental awareness, radio should take the lead in such public service campaigns for the general good of the public.
As a result of the crisis in the country people have been scattered and separated. Some still don’t know if a loved one was killed or is hiding somewhere. In a situation like this radio should lead in reconnecting and reuniting families or relatives.
Radio should be inclusive. It should give voice to the so-called voiceless. Radio journalists and broadcasters should not only be chasing after politicians as if politicians are the only newsmakers in this part of the world. They should go to the street and talk to the market women, the sick in hospital, the homeless on our streets, in addition to producing good informative programs such as civic education, health and environment, science and technology, drama.
Radio drama can be a vehicle for educating the masses about HIV and AIDS, the effects of corruption on the economy, Gender-Based Violence, etc.
Radio can also be used regularly to promote school debates so that school children can learn how to speak in public, or how to use the English language as some of them will end up future teachers, preachers, politicians.
Radio programmes geared towards youth development should feature a lot on our independent radio stations. Today’s youth are not themselves anymore, as a friend put it on social media, they are the “young perverted generation”.
At public gatherings or funeral prayers in Juba parents are constantly lamenting the loss of the younger generation to a cancer which is tearing apart the social fabric. Parents say organised street gangs are the bane of our society.
The establishment of community radio stations should be encouraged in the suburbs including far-flung neighbourhoods such as Gu’dele, Sherikat, Gurei, Nyaing, Gondokoro island. There are charity organisations out there interested in donating such low capacity radio stations run on solar panels, which are relevant for community outreach.
The advantage of community radio stations proper, are run on voluntary basis by the people in that particular community to address their local issues. The community members understand their community better, and therefore they are more qualified to address their local issues, especially if community leaders such as the sheik al hila are involved. And indeed the youth who are part of the problem, should be involved so they become part of the solution.
If street gangs are stealing the innocence of youth, if shisha smoking is a serious problem among lactating mothers, if teen pregnancy is causing girls to drop out of school, or if domestic violence is a big issue among families in the neighbourhood, community radio stations have enough fodder for their topical issues for discussion on air.
In so doing, radio will become an important agent of change, and people will embrace it so much that it becomes the people’s parliament to engender a positive agenda for the healthy growth of a responsible citizenry.