Nafooré FM dares to talk about taboos to change the way people think

September 29, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

On the main road of Kolda, a central city in the Haute-Casamance region of southern Senegal, there is no sign or gate to mark the entrance to Nafooré radio station. This modest station, created in 2013, has a large reach, broadcasting to 70% of the region. Found at 89.7 FM, its signal reaches as far as the border with Guinea-Bissau in the south, and The Gambia in the north.

At the end of an unlit corridor inside the station, a rudimentary first room serves as the office of the director of the station, Hamadou Hassy Gano. Calm and poised, Mr. Gano has worked as a journalist for well-known press organizations such as the Senegalese Press Agency (APS) and Agence France Presse (AFP), which employs him as correspondent for the Casamance area, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia. Since 1993, he has written for local newspapers Le Sud and Le Soleil.

Thanks to a partnership between two NGOs—the Youth Movement for Peace and Integration (MJPI) and World Education—the committed journalist has created a station that serves the region by airing programs on peace and development. Mr. Gano details the station’s approach, which is anchored in traditional values: “Nafooré is a radio concerned with the communities’ own concerns. Its public debates favour their well-being, be they programs on climate change, deforestation, environmental protection, violence against girls and women, or child malnutrition. “

To capture and increase their audience, the director and his team modify the programming schedule every three months. This allows them to cover the wide variety of social and agricultural issues that affect people in Haute-Casamance.

The station is highly engaged with its audience and uses its large reach to explore important topics, including taboos. Seyni Barry uses her job as a reporter to promote changes in her listeners’ behaviour and traditional attitudes. She is affectionately called “Badiene,” an expression that means “sister of your father” or “protective aunt“ locally. Mrs. Barry approaches the task of raising her listeners’ awareness from the perspective of her own history. Married at the age of 14, she now frequently shares her story and advocates against early marriage.

Mrs. Barry’s courage and hard work served her as a housekeeper at Kolda Hospital, where she quickly became an assistant to the ophthalmologist for seven years. Since the opening of Nafooré, she has been running programs on women’s issues.

Badiene” uses her personal experience to start conversations about problems affecting women in the community. She wants them to avoid child marriage and the domestic violence that can follow. She also touches on other important topics. She explains: “I work to counter maternal mortality (a plague in the region), malnutrition, violence against women, and of course, early marriage. I am always looking for a resource person to fit the theme of my show, and I receive calls on the airwaves to fuel the debate.”

Audacious and without fear of speaking about taboo subjects, she invites women to express themselves during call-in programs on issues such as child malnutrition, violence, and even female genital mutilation, which is still practiced in this area.

These two brave “spokespersons of the voiceless”—as Mrs. Barry and Mr. Gano like to refer to themselves—also talk about agriculture on air because the land in this area is rich and full of potential. Mrs. Barry has no doubt that returning to agriculture will solve social difficulties. She says: “We cannot all work in air-conditioned offices! Here, fishing—there, livestock rearing. We must start on a new foundation thanks to a return to the earth for a change in collective behaviour. Everyone has their role to play here—only, people ignore it.”

As spokespersons for their listeners, these hardworking broadcasters often go to the field to hear from their audience. Mrs. Barry visits women in their unfenced gardens, exchanging words as cows wander by. These conversations help farmers find solutions, and give the broadcasters new voices to share on air.

Nafooré FM is a radio partner in Farm Radio International’s Scaling Her Voice on Air project. With funding from Global Affairs Canada, FRI will bring improved interactive radio services to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal, reaching more than 7 million small-scale farmers to improve food security and gender equality. Thanks to this project, Nafooré FM will be able to continue its work promoting the free expression of women, part of its brand since the beginning.