Community Radio in Conflict

Radio remains one of the most effective, pervasive way to communicate in Africa. Community radio has been growing there for years. Commmunity radio usually means non-profit low-power FM stations run by volunteers serving a specific community.

At its best it doesn’t attempt to mimic larger commercial operations. It is a community service, offering information pertinent to local people, information they wouldn’t get from other media because other media don’t see them as a target audience. The audience for community radio is most likely people who live in urban slum neighborhoods or in remote rural villages.

This kind of radio can be a valuable tool for good or it can serve malicious, even deadly purposes. Hate radio fueled genocide in Rwanda, for example.

But Scott Baldauf writing in the Christian Science Monitor profiles Pajoma FM which serves the Kibera neighborhood in Nairobi. Pajoma provides a calming voice in the midst of the conflict that has brought death and destruction to some parts of Kenya in the aftermath of a disputed national election. The election laid bare tribal divisions that have been exploited by leaders on both sides.

Pajoma FM is community radio at its best. It’s the counter-point to Rwandan radio at the height of the genocide. But Pajoma is also under threat because it does not serve those who are perpetuating the conflict, according to Baldauf. Therefore, its existence is uncertain.

It’s one more indication of the leadership crisis in Kenya when a community voice in the worst slum in the country is put at risk for providing information that keeps the community calm and functioning. The persistent failure of leadership in Africa is a tiresome condition and it will erode the goodwill the continent needs to put an end to poverty and the social conditions it fosters, making survival a hardship for vast numbers of people.

That Kenya has fallen to these depths is shocking. The social strife being fostered today by its leaders is an indictment that puts Kenya at risk of being discounted in the global community as yet another unstable, violent African nation run by corrupt leaders more concerned with self-gain than with the good of the people.

At the very least, I hope Pajoma FM, small and powerless as it is, can continue to be a voice of peace and reassurance in this conflict over electoral politics.

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