Local radio is a powerful phenomenon across Africa. In this blog, our coordinator for Zambia, Pryd Chitah, explains how despite a poorly regulated national context, local radio is thriving and championing the voices of the vulnerable.
The involvement of media in promoting good governance in Zambia is a contentious issue, fraught with various restrictions around freedom of expression laws. Despite improvements in the diversity of the media landscape over the past several years, independent media in Zambia continues to be subjected to legal persecution, physical intimidation, and the threat of statutory regulation: Freedom House scores Zambia as ‘partly free’. While freedom of speech is guaranteed in the constitution in general the avenues of public expression are relatively narrow. Public broadcasters have not lived up to the expectation that they would be truly public by accommodating ordinary citizens’ voices in their reportage. As a result, community radio has become the alternative through which citizens are raising their voice and telling their own stories about political and social change.
Demand is high for alternative voice and dialogue platforms, particularly in rural areas that are cut off from coverage by the national broadcaster: despite an ineffective licensing process, in the last five years the number of community radio stations in Zambia has proliferated from less than 20 to over 56. The involvement of media, particularly community media, in championing governance issues has opened up a relatively new paradigm in the social accountability terrain in Zambia.
Mwananchi partner Petauke FM Explorer Community Radio Station has demonstrated that community media can go beyond informing, educating and entertaining, to stand out as a torch bearer for social accountability. Petauke focuses on women’s empowerment and engagement and through community media meetings and interactive radio programmes, more men and women now rally behind the idea of women being empowered to participate in governance processes. The radio station has, amongst other activities, aired discussions on governance themes related to land ownership rights, property inheritance rights, gender policy, culture and political participation.
Changes in the voice and accountability chain are observable at the village and district level. For example, following discussion programmes on the Community Radio Station, the traditional leadership has reformed the land administration and inheritance practices at the local village-level which heavily disadvantaged women. The chiefs have resolved to eliminate the practice of an age-old Nsenga tradition of chasing a widow from her deceased husband’s land. Senior Chief Kalindawalo has passed a decree to the effect that no widow should ever be forcibly moved from her deceased husband’s land. Headmen have been instructed to report to the Chief any person who defies the decree.
In an initiative dubbed the model village concept and spearheaded by a local partner, the Petauke Land Alliance, the chiefs have teamed up with the District Council to issue traditional land holding certificates which will provide security of tenure to community members. The model involves establishing committees of ordinary members of the community, including women, which assist traditional leaders in land allocation. Moses Phiri, Coordinator of the Petauke Land Alliance said: ‘the traditional authorities, especially Chief Kalindawalo, have taken this idea with a lot of enthusiasm because they look at it as a way of empowering women with land.’
As well as the local land alliance, the Radio Station has mobilized different civil society organsations, community-based groups, elected representatives and traditional leadership such as the Rural Development Association; Women’s Lobby Group; Community Youth Concern; Community Radio Listening Clubs and traditional leaders and facilitated increased interactions and networking through community media meetings. Reaching out beyond local civil society, Petauke has recently engaged the local Member of Parliament to take part in a discussion programme on strengthening women’s participation in decision-making structures. The MP has been difficult to access so achieving this engagement signifies an important milestone for the radio station.
The radio programme has also significantly improved both men and women’s awareness of current events, social issues, and women’s rights. Emelia Phiri Zuze, a widow in Chief Kalindawalo’s chiefdoms said ‘I managed to get my piece of land back after listening to the radio programmes on women and governance on Petauke community radio.’
The case of Petauke Explorer radio station and its role in rallying, championing and amplifying citizen voice and action on women’s issues is a strong model for replication in other contexts. By achieving strong relationships with a range of stakeholders and getting ordinary men and women involved in every stage of action, Petauke demonstrates how responsiveness to local context pays off.
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