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People's Radio:
Communicating change
across Africa


Gerry Power
Managing Director and Head of Innovation


Radio and Development in Africa

Navigating the often rough waters of theory and practice is courageous, even when one has a solid grounding in both worlds. It is particularly courageous when the subject matter embraces a breadth of socio-political and methodological questions about the role of radio in development in Africa. There is a myriad of reasons why the subject matter is complex and important to untangle.

First, the field is fragmented, largely because it represents a confluence of stakeholders with varied and sometimes conflicting priorities – bi-lateral and multi-lateral donor agencies, media development agencies, civil society organisations, journalists and media practitioners, activists and academicians. The fragmentation of the field is reflected in the plethora of terms documented in this volume, including development radio, radio for development, educational broadcasting, development communication through radio, indigenous radio, development radio broadcasting, debate radio, rural radio, the other radio, community radio and participatory radio.

Second, much of what is known about the history and experience of radio stations and development initiatives in Africa exists in the grey literature – unpublished theses and dissertations, donor agency policy papers, NGO reports and websites. The literature that informs this book combines this grey literature generated in Africa and outside with the thinking in published works from a range of disciplines.

Third, in the North and the South, the abuse of power is a theme that has historically dominated both the media and development sectors. When these two areas merge, the interaction produces a set of conditions fraught with forces competing for influence and control over limited resources. Unravelling the force field and constellation of interests that define the role of radio in advancing development in Africa is not a straightforward intellectual task. It requires an intuitive understanding of local knowledge production practices and meaning-making as well as a command of the prism of academic literature that addresses questions of political economy, pedagogy, international development and cultural production.

Fourth, it is true that there is no singular normative definition of participation and that the gradations of participation as applied to development are valuable. Recognizing meaningful distinctions, parameters and manifestations of participation from real life scenarios, however, is even more valuable. Classifying case studies and examples of how radio has been employed for development in Africa according to a set of criteria is a significant step forward in understanding how and why participation is important socially, politically, economically and culturally.

Fifth, the notion of community, particularly situated community, where “members have a communicative and dialogic relationship,” is an important benchmark to establish in any examination of radio in Africa in the context of development. However, there is a twofold challenge in embracing the term community in relation to how radio operates in development: the nature of how groups define and label themselves according to the socio-historical conditions at a particular historical moment is fluid; also, while the majority of the population in most African countries lives in rural settings and not cities, the scale and reach of a community in urban and semi-urban places is less clear.

Sixth, part of the reason that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of radio for development is that the expected “effects” are rarely expressed in specific and precise terms. Rather, they appear as broad sweeping and general statements in project documentation that are not always operationally defined in terms that are easily captured either quantitatively or qualitatively. Further, the standard of technical research skills in the field is often extremely low and the inability to gather empirical evidence of impact or radio initiatives is often not a failure of the initiatives but a shortcoming of the research endeavour.

Finally, one of the concluding remarks in this volume is that the sustainability of radio for development in Africa can only be achieved when initiatives are established in partnership with public, community and public broadcasters. This is not the first time this bold call has been made, but now Linje Manyozo is laying down the gauntlet in the context of a theoretical framework and a body of empirical evidence from across the African continent. He has made navigating the waters of theory and practice around radio development in Africa somewhat easier for all of us.

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