Finally today, a story on how a community radio station is helping to heal a nation. The east African nation of Kenya was rocked by political and ethnic violence last year, after a disputed presidential election in December of 2007.
At least 1300 people were killed — and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The violence ended only after the two main presidential rivals agreed to form a joint government. But the tensions are still simmering. Kenya’s coalition government is divided over a proposal to put those responsible for last year’s violence on trial.
Today, cabinet ministers met for their THIRD attempt at trying to work out a compromise. If they fail to make progress, the International Criminal Court in the Hague may take over the case. A slum in the capital Nairobi was at the center of last year’s upheaval.
That slum is called Kibera — and it’s where that radio station is based. The World’s Andrea Crossan is going to turn the dial all the way to Kibera’s Pamoja FM.
Pamoja FM airs typical community radio programming — talk shows, phone-ins, and wedding and funeral announcements. Pamoja also broadcasts hours of African music, reggae — and blazin’ hot hip hop….
Artists like Jamaican dance hall musicians Sean Paul and Munga are on regular rotation at Pamoja FM. The music is geared to appeal to Kibera’s youth. They make up a big portion of the slum’s one million residents. And many of those young people took to the streets after Kenya’s disputed election.
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga believed that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had stolen the vote. Tensions on both sides led to rival gangs of young people roaming Kibera with machetes. Antony Nyandiek is the head of production at Pamoja FM.
“After the elections, you know we had two parties that wanted to slice it up so one community would concentrate on evicting the other ones. what we had to do it try to bring the community together. ”
At the time, other local radio stations were taking sides. The Kenyan government and international observers accused some of them of inciting the violence. Nyandiek says Pamoja FM chose a different path.
“We have a volatile community so we concentrate on educative programs and we try and reach them through messages so we concentrate on making promos and trailers preach peace. Peace messages.”
Pamoja is the Swahili word for Together. The station has been broadcasting out a 5-story apartment building in Kibera for over two years. The station is funded by the US Agency for International Development. Reporters, engineers and technicians are volunteers. So are the on-air personalities.
Rashid Mwango is a DJ at Pamoja. He plays East African Taarab music. He says it’s a hit with a CERTAIN demographic.
“Especially for ladies, for women at home . when they sit at home they listen to this music and they feel so good they feel like they are together with me here.”
Most of Kibera’s residents don’t have televisions. Most don’t have electricity. They listen to Pamoja FM on transistor radios. And they can’t afford to buy newspapers. So community radio has become THE source of information for many residents.
Now that relative peace has returned to Kibera, the station is back to regular programming. Like airing music shows. And listing sports scores. And offering residents some news they can use — like where to get the cheapest flour or charcoal.
For The World, I’m Andrea Crossan, Kibera, Kenya.
Also, read Andrea Crossan Reporter’s Journal from Kenya: “Snapshots of Kenya.”