I’ve been in Senegal over the last several days to follow the work being done to expand community radio into an important rural part of the country called Tambacounda.
The rural region is known as the banana zone. Bananas and other crops are grown there, including rice, corn, millet, and fonio.
The effort to build the radio station is being led by Le Korsa, a Connecticut-based NGO, and its partners include the Foundation for West Africa.
To get a feel for how other community radio stations are operating in Senegal, we first visited AFIA 93.0 FM in Dakar. It’s a station founded by Enda, an NGO that formed to help women access all kinds of information from health to micro-financing.
I talked with several staff, including AFIA’s female director, Penda Sougou.
She said one of the radio station’s initial goals was to train new journalists and radio technicians. Today, 20 community members work as journalists at AFIA. They have another five technicians, or people who run the equipment.
I asked Sougou: before AFIA, what would people listen to? She said it was government radio. There is also commercial radio, but she stressed AFIA is the first community radio station in this region of Dakar.
Local residents -- including young people in the community -- are the ones who decide on the programming, and produce it.
Sougou said helping women access information was the main reason AFIA was created.
“AFIA did this by creating shows hosted by women,” Sougou said. “For example, shows discussing health, reproduction, relationships, women in society, the role of women in the community, gaining 50/50 power in decision making, encouraging women to go to the hospital to deliver babies, and teaching them how to access that care. Those are the sorts of problems they face. So Radio AFIA came to help discuss these issues.”
Equality in staffing is also important. Sougou said AFIA made a commitment to hire an equal number of men and women.
Heading to the Countryside
The next day, we left in the morning to begin our long journey to the Tambacounda region by car. It would take us more than seven hours, because there’s only one national highway to Tamba. You can imagine the congestion!
Before we had been in the car for too long, we stopped in an area known as Rufisque. The regions are subdivided into what the Senegalese call departments. In the Rufisque department, there is a community radio station known as Jokkoo.
Mrs. Bedy Mbow greeted us. She is another woman in a leadership role at a community radio station. She’s the chairwoman of Radio Jokkoo, which means “connection” in the native Woloof language.
The radio station opened in 2003. Since then, reporters in the field have been focusing on the issues that matter to the residents in the Rufisque region: the environment, education, politics, health, and the economy.
Jokkoo, like AFIA in Dakar, makes a point to hire the same number of women as men at the radio station.
Mbow detailed some of the problems in the region that residents want to hear discussed on the radio, like addressing youth unemployment. She stressed that young people are educated, but there are no jobs for them.
Fishing provides a small income for families, but because young men want to help their families, they end up turning to illegal immigration. Mbow said they travel by fishing boat to Europe in search of work -- and that it’s not a happy ending for them.
“We have so many young who die on the sea with illegal immigration,” she said. “It is so, so, so hard for mothers. Their sons attempted to go to Europe to help their mothers because of the hard living conditions they have here. They don’t have a hope for their future, because they don’t have opportunity for jobs and [to] succeed.”
She said the ones who make it to Europe are turned away once they reach land.
Mbow said the people of Rufisque want Senegalese leaders like President Mackey Sall to do more for the young. She said only then will they be hopeful for the future. Until that happens, many more will make the dangerous journey outside of the country looking for a better opportunity.