Community radio will drive success of devolution

Thursday, December 5th, 2019 00:00 |
Radio Station. Photo/Courtesy

Devolution in Kenya was introduced with the objective of vesting decision-making, implementation powers, functions, responsibilities and resources to elected local governance structures. 

So far, a lot has been achieved within the last six years of decentralisation. While there have been widespread cases of misuse of resources in counties, the devolved units have generally had a positive impact. 

The success story of devolution can be amplified by utilisation of community radio which is a powerful medium for dissemination of  information and dialogue between the people and leaders. 

Research has shown that approximately 95 per cent of Kenyans listen to radio which is an effective tool of communication due to its convenience, affordability and ability to reach a large audience. 

Radio is known to reach even the poorest populations in the remotest parts of the world. Homa Bay Community Radio Station established in the western part of Kenya in May 1982 was among the first in Africa. 

According to Unesco 2011, the phrase “a radio service by the people, close to the people and for the people” concludes the vital features of this service. 

This implies that community radio must not only be run by but also serve the interests of the community in which it operates. The principles of access, participation and ownership differentiate community radio from the commercial ones.

In 2011, a study was conducted in Ghana over the role of  Simli Radio, community radio station, in the improvement of livelihoods of residents.

  The study established that the radio had improved awareness and knowledge of solutions to community development problems ranging from culture, rural development, education, hygiene and sanitation, agriculture to local governance. 

This is an example of how community radio can be utilised in Kenya to spur growth in counties.

It is not uncommon to come across counties spending millions in advertising land rates waivers on national television to audiences who may not necessarily benefit from the information.

It  would be more prudent to utilise such funds to incentivise growth of community radio whose reach and influence in counties is larger compared to mainstream media. 

Local radio stations can also be a great place to develop skills, make connections and champion community needs and culture in a way that mainstream media rarely does.

The dynamism and cohesion of communities are impossible to realise and uphold without the use of effective communication.

Cooperation, dialogue and collaboration are fundamental pieces of building and sustaining lively communities and this is a role that can be performed by community radio.

They provide opportunities for citizen participation where all views can find countenance and diversity of languages and cultures can be defended.

Participation is what separates community media from traditional media models, where audiences are passive receivers of information.

Devolution can be looked at in the context of the historical clamour for equitable distribution of national resources.

This provides an opportunity for communities to have greater say on development within their respective jurisdictions. 

The over-reliance on conventional commercial media negates the spirit of devolution and this means that in the quest to maintain business flow, messaging is skewed and not participatory. — The writer is a student at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, London, UK

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