By Bridget Burrows, CAFOD’s Communications Officer in Nairobi (CAFOD is a Caritas member in England and Wales)
When polling booths open on January 9, citizens from Sudan’s south will be voting in an exercise in self-determination, yet more than 75 per cent of the population in southern Sudan cannot read or write. Getting information has never been more important. But as the largest country in Africa, it is difficult to reach the most remote communities.
Responding to this challenge are the community radio stations of the Sudan Catholic Radio Network who transmit crucial election information across seven dioceses in southern Sudan.
Regular programmes like ‘Know Your Country’ and ‘Peace Forum’ broadcast voter education, impartial news and promote peaceful polls, while lively phone-in debates get listeners involved in hot topics of the day.
The radio network is on air up to nine hours a day, broadcasting around the capital Juba, and the towns of Malakal, Rumbek, Torit, Tonj, Yei, and Gidel in the Nuba mountains.
Father Lounoi Santino runs one of the stations, Radio Emmanuel, in the Diocese of Torit, home to eight million people and still awash with arms after decades of civil war. He said: “Radio reaches further, faster. Our station broadcasts in five local languages. Without this vital service of awareness-raising we cannot have a peaceful and fair referendum.”
On the Sudan Catholic Radio Network stations, guests such as priests, community elders and civil society talking about what it means to forgive, reconcile and resolve conflict peacefully and listeners from all faiths call into the show.
The brainchild of the Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference and the Comboni congregation, the radio network has been operating for just over three years.
On the site of buildings neglected and bombed in the war, brand new offices to house the radio stations have been built. There is no electricity in the Nuba mountains to run the radio transmitter, it relies on solar and wind power.
The popular women’s empowerment show called ‘Nuba Women Stand Up’, is run by two women, both illiterate, both learning amazing new skills.
Twenty-two local young people have been trained as journalists. Before starting, some had never held a computer mouse before. Now they are able to operate sound mixing desks.
Duku Martin John, one young person that has benefited from training, is now a newscaster and host of the peace and reconciliation show ‘One People’ on Radio Emmanuel.
“I remember the first time I went on air, I couldn’t handle the papers because my hands were shaking,” he says. “I’m very proud of myself, though I was exiled and from a poor school. My parents are proud of me too. If I’m off-air my father always asks where I’ve been.”
The remote rural town of Ikotos is a three hour drive from where Duku presents the news, but it is not difficult to find a Radio Emmanuel listener here. Working in the busy market, three carpenters are tuned in to the midday news.
“I listen to Radio Emmanuel because it gives programmes like health and education. Without education things cannot stand right,” says Thomas Wiri, one of the local carpenters.