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Spotlight: Niger’s Radio Fara’a gets people talking about local governance

Gari Ya Wayé is a Hausa expression meaning “the village has awoken.” It’s also the name of the flagship morning talk show on Radio Fara’a in Gaya, a city of about 30,000 people in southwestern Niger.

Traditionally, villagers walked from house to house first thing in the morning to ask how their neighbours were doing and update them on the latest news. Now, instead of knocking on doors, thousands of listeners turn on their radios. Many call or text the studio, and the station broadcasts their views live.

The radio show aims to get people talking about solutions to local problems. Recent topics include power outages, farming practices, unruly traffic, deforestation, and women’s land rights.

Bawa Bonkano is a journalist and community radio management coach working at Radio Fara’a. He says: “In terms of local governance, this program has had a definite impact on the behaviour of elected officials, and on citizens…. The program promotes accountability among leaders, and a spirit of citizenship among residents.”

Mr. Bawa adds that it’s hard to say if the radio programs are directly responsible for recent changes. But after a phone-in program about how the city awards contracts, the mayor set up a financial management committee which Mr. Bawa says has improved how the city runs its affairs.

He adds: “The main impact is that [the program] has allowed for free speech, and developed free expression to question decision-makers on the role they should play in the area’s socio-economic development.”

Radio Fara’a began broadcasting in March 2000 with funding from Switzerland. It now offers 18 hours of programming per day in Hausa, Zarma-Dendi, Fulfulde, and French. From its location near Niger’s international borders, the station reaches up to a million people in rural parts of Niger, Nigeria, and Benin.

Mr. Bawa says radio is the ideal medium to reach rural listeners. It provides a forum for them to share their views and ideas. He explains, “The radio opens up a space for public debate, where all opinions can be expressed.”

Radio Fara’a also offers programs that focus on farming. Programs called Fréquence paysanne, or “Farmer frequency,” and Radio et développement, or “Radio and development” include stories about farmers trying different farming practices, their successes, and their challenges.

But producing these programs hasn’t been easy. Economic instability in recent years has made it hard for the station to sell advertising. Without that revenue, the station struggles to replace broken equipment and train staff.

But for Mr. Bawa, overcoming these obstacles gives him a sense of purpose.

He says, “My motivation is to feel I am useful to this community that really needs information, awareness, and education in order to face the challenges of development.”

Radio Fara’a is a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.