I’ve been in Senegal to follow efforts to expand community radio in the country, spending three days in the busy city capital, Dakar, and then the rest of a week in the countryside.
We visited the Tambacounda region to the east, where Connecticut NGO Le Korsa is working with local partners to build a community radio station.
The most direct way to Tamba is taking the national highway. It took 7.5 hours to navigate through heavy traffic. I’m not just talking tractor-trailers, but buses and the occasional donkey or cow that wanted to cross the road to graze.
The landscape changed subtly. The ground became more rusty red. The trees transitioned from tall, majestic baobabs to eucalyptus and mangos. And it was hot -- an intense, dry heat.
The daily temperature at this time of year is around 106 F -- so hot that most of the animals you might expect to see stay smartly hidden in the shade.
The next morning, we headed to a village called Gouloumbou, one of several hundred in the Tambacounda region.
The village elders greeted our car as we turned off the highway and onto a dirt road passing the traditional hut homes grouped together alongside wide pasture areas. White long-horned cattle known as N’Dama are scattered through the fields alongside donkeys and many goats.
We were in Gouloumbou because the farming village donated land for the construction of a community radio station -- no small feat. Having a radio station was that important to them.
May 26, 2017 at 12:27pm PDT
Our visit was important, too. Many villagers streamed up behind the village elders as we walked up hill to stand at the site.
Children played quietly with the rocks at our feet as I interviewed the village chief and other adults. Thankfully, I had a translator who conveyed my questions into the native language of Woloff.
Amadou Baro, the village chief, told me radio has a major role to play in developing the region. There is a city also called Tambacounda where there’s a government radio station, but it takes time to travel there, so it’s not convenient.
He said the local people are very much looking forward to having a station close to them. “Whatever we need to announce to the community, we can do it instantly instead of going all the way to Tamba,” he said.
What kinds of things will they discuss on the radio?
Baro, who is the president of the Rice Growers Association, gave the example of commodity prices. With the radio, he said they can easily talk about their crop, and discuss fair prices to sell especially to buyers coming from far away like Dakar. Without it, he has to spend time buying phone credit and making calls to other growers in the association. That can be time consuming and ineffective.
The benefits to the local economy were echoed by villager, Aminta Kanteh.
“Women are very happy to use the radio station as a way to market their produce,” Kanteh said. But she also said radio can be a practical tool when it comes to public safety.
“When we lose our kids, we have to travel far to the city of Tambacounda to investigate what may have happened,” she said. But with a radio station much closer, “it can be announced much sooner and it will become a public effort to locate the kids. Otherwise it would take awhile.”
Before I left, I asked Village Chief Baro if I could take pictures of him and the villagers who had gathered. He smiled and told me, “Yes, you can take pictures, because when you go back to America, they will see we are people eager for radio!”
The station on top of the hill in Gouloumbou is slated to open next June. Le Korsa and the Foundation for West Africa have been raising funds from private donors.
On an upcoming episode of WNPR’s Where We Live, I’ll talk with both groups about the project, and I’ll share some interviews of Senegalese people I met along the way.