Community radio: a lifeline for a country in crisis

8 April, 2015
March 2015, Bambari, CAR - Marie-Hélène Nzapanede listening to Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka at the Sangaria site for internally displaced people. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
March 2015, Bambari, CAR - Marie-Hélène Nzapanede listening to Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka at the Sangaria site for internally displaced people. Credit: OCHA/Gemma Cortes
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In war-torn Central African Republic (CAR), a community radio in Bambari is bringing together Muslims and Christians to build tolerance and ease tensions.

After nine months of radio silence, Bambari’s residents are on the air again with a new radio station that is reaching the town’s fractured community. In June 2014, armed groups clashed in and around Bambari — the second biggest town in CAR — displacing over 40,000 people. Many people sought refuge in neighbouring towns, but settlements for displaced people were also established in Bambari.

“We are very happy to have this new radio that allows us to promote social cohesion among the fractured communities. We all lived together at first, but the crisis has made everyone forget that, violence does not make sense, we want peace. Not only in Bambari but throughout the country we need everyone to feel at home,” said Adja Kalthouma, President of the managing committee of the new radio station.

Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka, or The Voice of Ouaka in Sango, the local language, was launched in February. It broadcasts social-cohesion messages, humanitarian public service announcements, community messaging and music for two hours a day, but the plan is to expand on-air time gradually.

Though the project was implemented by Internews, getting the station up and running was a community effort. Community leaders, civil society, and women and youth groups were involved in the earliest discussions. The community management committee reflects this diverse support: it is headed by a Muslim woman, and the remaining members are Christian or Muslim women and men. It is a powerful example of cooperation in a country still grappling with intercommunal violence. “What we have already experienced is really significant; the radio is a tool of reconciliation, if you see us Muslims and Christians together here, it is because of the radio,” said Marie-Hélène Nzapanede, Vice President of the managing committee.

Unbiased information empowers communities

Pass any of the kiosks and shops strewn along the roadsides in Bambari and you will notice that they have one thing in common: radios. It is how people stay informed.

For a successful implementation of the project, Internews distributed 200 solar-powered radios to residents. “Most of us have no televisions,” said one listener, Ibrahim Mamasalet. “We have little access to newspapers or the Internet, so it is easier to get information from radios. They are basically our lifeline.” 

Beset by the ongoing crisis, Bambari’s residents have an acute need for a reliable, balanced and timely source of information, and there is hope that Radio Lego Ti la Ouaka can fill this void.

“You’re turning on a light. Information is like a light. It’s taking people out of the dark,” said one listener, referring to the information that the radio provides. Listeners and numerous expert studies confirm that community radios are powerful tools for social cohesion.  The station offers a voice to minorities and contributing to a sense of national belonging. 

But in addition to helping ease tensions and counteract malicious propaganda, such radio stations are important for transmitting humanitarian messages and communicating with communities.

“The communication process envisioned is a two-way process. We want to get questions from the community: what do they want to know and what are their concerns?” said Theophane Patinvoh, Internews Trainer and Radio Station Supervisor.

The dilemma of sustainability

Funded by the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund, the new radio is one of the few stations that have been set up in CAR to help communities overcome the challenges of restoring peace. However, once the project is complete, it will become harder to secure funding to continue operations.

“It is crucial the radio continues functioning to fully impact the community, thus we are looking at developing activities generating revenue to ensure a long life of the radio after the funds end,” said Mathias Manirakiza, Director of Internews in CAR.

Since December 2013, more than 3,000 people have been killed in violence in CAR, and more than 438,000 are displaced across the country. They includes 58,000 people in the capital, Bangui, and more than 423,000 refugees in neighbouring countries. CAR faces a humanitarian crisis of major proportions with some 2.7 million people —over half of the population—in dire need of immediate assistance.

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