Radio for a New Nation
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012
For decades, radio waves have been the primary vehicle to disseminate information in Sudan, as in many places where literacy is low, electricity is inconsistent or uneven, and media options are few. But until eight years ago, most people in South Sudan did not have access to radio or any type of independent media.
n 2003, when Sudan was still embroiled in civil war, Sudan Radio Service, the country's first independent broadcaster of news and information, was launched with USAID assistance. In the early days, broadcasts took place on shortwave from Nairobi for just one hour per day.
Since then, the Agency's support for the platform has helped educate and inform millions of people. In addition to Sudan Radio Service, USAID also supported the establishment of six community radio stations between 2005 and 2011 in southern Sudan and in northern Sudan's Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. The Agency also supplied over 200,000 solar and crank-powered radios throughout the south and the Three Areas (Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan, and Abyei), increasing access to the broadcasts.
When the 22-year civil war ended with the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, radio was the most efficient and effective way to inform citizens about the agreement and their rights and responsibilities under it. These rights and responsibilities included participating in a nationwide census, voting in nationwide elections in 2010—the first voting opportunity for many Sudanese—and the referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan, which led to the creation of the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan in July 2011.
"USAID recognized that it was important to support radio that provided an independent source of reliable information in Sudan, to support the peace process and help mitigate conflicts that could undermine the CPA," said Donna Kerner, a USAID democracy specialist who helped establish the community radio network in South Sudan in the years before the country's independence. "Community radio is particularly important in ethnically diverse, multilingual areas that are vulnerable to conflict to provide an accessible community forum for diverse views," she added.
Particularly in remote areas of South Sudan outside the capital of Juba, radio is often the only source of information available. Due to the legacy of war, there is a lack of electricity except in a few major towns, a dearth of print media, exceedingly low rates of Internet access, and high levels of illiteracy. Approximately 73 percent of South Sudanese adults cannot read.