Radio as an engine for development
The town of Lukulu lies far away from many things that we take for granted. The entire town’s electricity comes from a single diesel generator which often is at a standstill. It is difficult to reach out with information and people’s communication with the outside world is limited because they cannot charge their cellphones regularly. But the local radio has been able to bring about a change.
It is late in the afternoon when we arrive to Lukulu after a nine hours’ drive from Zambia’s capital Lusaka. Our car has a yellow-brown coating of sand and dirt all the way up to the door handles after the long drive, partly on bumpy sand roads.
Due to its isolated location, Lukulu is not yet connected to the national electricity grid and the entire town’s electricity comes from a single diesel generator. There are often power outages due to the lack of diesel. Without electricity there is no lighting, electric water pumps stop working and people cannot charge their cellphones. Communication with the outside world becomes limited.
We are here to visit Radio Lukulu FM, a local radio station which has helped people to stay informed and to make their voices heard. The radio has given people a tool to hold local politicians accountable for promises made and contributed to increase knowledge about domestic violence and teenage pregnancies. How did Radio Lukulu FM become a functioning and meaningful local radio station?
One of the reasons for the radio’s popularity is that it produces its programs in the local language Lozi, which people are comfortable to use.
When we enter the studio, the program ”Help Me” is aired. The program is based on letters from listeners describing problems and conflicts in their everyday life. The hosts discuss the issues from different perspectives and deliver practical advice and solutions.
One of the hosts, Alphonsina Sifuwe Saasa, explains that listeners’ issues often relate to domestic violence and alcohol abuse. She believes that the show is meaningful because there are limited possibilities to receive other help or family counselling in Lukulu. The program is one of the most popular on Radio Lukulu FM.
Information about safe pregnacies and vaccination
In addition to the locally produced programs, the station also broadcasts information on behalf of government ministries and NGOs, for example health information about vaccination campaigns and safer pregnancies.
”We are making strides together with our team and the radio broadcasters. So I believe this has really helped us in reducing maternal deaths. People have appreciated the importance of having their deliveries in institutions [rather than at home], Mayoche Justin explains.
Radio Lukulu works together with a network of volunteers, or so called “Radio Champions”. By informing about radio shows and collecting feedback from listeners, these volunteers act as a link between the radio station and its listeners. To give attention to specific issues such as alcohol abuse and violence against women the volunteers also do theater and musical performances.
“I listen to radio every day, especially to programs on farming techniques. I used to be a farmer, but I moved to Lukulu to give my children the possibility of going to a good school.” says Kenneth Kaiko, who works at the town’s fish market by the river bank where he rents canoes for fishing and transports. He carries a radio that he bought for the equivalent of 17 dollars
When we meet the District Council Chairperson and politician Kashina Muyambango, it becomes clearer how the local radio has contributed to change. Politicians that make promises that they are unable to keep can be held accountable in a way that was not possible before arrival of Lukulu FM.
“Radio can build you, or destroy you. You can go on radio and make promises, but at the end of the day people will ask you questions on the promises that you made. It becomes a challenge if those promises were not fulfilled.” Kashina Muyambango says.
Self-sustainable local radio
The radio was started in 2011 with support from Diakonia and other donors. For three years Diakonia supported the project financially, but since late 2013 the radio has been running without any external financial aid. It is run by volunteers and on a small income.
One explanation as to why the radio station is still broadcasting could be the active engagement of many people in Lukulu that feel that the radio offers them real benefit. The Lukulu district is large and other media such as television and Internet are unavailable to many in the district. The local radio allows residents to stay informed and to participate in community dialogue. If it is up to the listeners of Radio Lukulu FM, the station will broadcast for many years to come.