(Internews' community radio project in South Sudan is covered in this article from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.)
As technology continues to transform the way we communicate, it’s easy to overlook radio as a viable means of communication. Instead, we look to the latest smartphone or social media platform. Despite the common misperception that radio is no longer relevant in today’s digital world, it remains one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways of communicating in developing countries.
When disaster strikes — whether it’s a hurricane making landfall on a poor island nation, or an outbreak of violence in a remote region of Africa — radio is often the only way to disseminate real-time information that can save lives. But radio’s utility in developing countries extends far beyond times of crisis. Regular access to information helps build an informed citizenry, it fosters inclusive societies, and encourages debate – promoting good governance and empowering young people, women, and other marginalized groups.
Through a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), nonprofit Internews launched the “Strengthening Free and Independent Media in South Sudan” (i-STREAM) project — bringing radio access to communities across South Sudan.
I-STREAM aims to create self-sustaining local radio stations across the country — providing training, technical assistance, and on-site support to a network of local radio stations produced by, and for, the South Sudanese people. Thanks to the community radio stations made possible by the project, the people of South Sudan now have access to the independent information they need, in a language and dialect they can understand.
And it is working. Community radio has empowered the people of South Sudan. When a South Sudanese village was faced with severe food and water shortages, a group of 64 women walked 24 miles to reach their local station, Nhomlaau FM, where they told reporters about their village’s plight and appealed directly to their government for help. Nhomlaau FM reporters broadcasted their story, which was soon echoed by people in other villages who were experiencing similar shortages. The Governor heard their message, and installed two water pumps in the women’s village.
Community radio has also proven remarkably adaptable when it comes to meeting the unique needs of the nearly 2 million people displaced by violence in South Sudan. By fastening a microphone to a motorbike, pre-recorded programs are broadcasted inside the humanitarian camps. Boda Boda Talk Talk, as it is known locally, brings crucial news to camp residents and helps relay information back to camp organizers about how they can better meet the needs of the residents.
The i-STREAM project is also supporting the next generation of journalists and broadcasters in South Sudan. Through the Media Development Institute (MDI), South Sudanese professionals have the opportunity to earn a certificate in journalism. This past November, MDI graduated its first class, certifying 19 students, including four women. Ensuring the presence of a skilled and independent media sector will be critical as South Sudan works to maintain peace and good governance in the years ahead.
The value and importance of local radio in places like South Sudan is irrefutable. And while it may not be as flashy as the latest cutting-edge technology, few means of communication can match the radio when it comes to transforming communities and saving lives in developing countries across the world.