In 1962, experts gathered to consider the obstacles to effective communication, especially by radio, in Africa. Issues such as unreliable or non-existent electricity supplies, the shortage of trained technicians to operate radio broadcasting stations and the availability and affordability of radio receivers that did not rely on mains power were clearly recognised.
Later in the year, UNESCO published its report on the meeting, titled ‘Meeting of experts on development of information media in Africa: Radio broadcasting in Africa’. The report suggested a number of ways in which radio communications across the continent could be improved and it is striking that the proposed solutions are as relevant today as they were over 50 years ago.
They focus largely on the potential that radio holds for offering access to education and recommend close co-operation between broadcasters and educators as well as the expansion of group listening initiatives. As Freeplay Energy’s experience of working with schools in Kenya and Community Listeners Clubs supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Dimitra Project in Niger and the DRC show, some progress has been made in these areas, but there is still much more that could be achieved.
However, another major recommendation was for research into the production of cheap ‘receiving sets’ suitable for use by families and school groups. Here, significant progress has been achieved and Freeplay Energy’s solar-powered and wind-up Lifeline and Encore radios have been specifically designed to meet the needs of such users in ‘off-grid’ and often remote environments.
We are working closely with a range of UN agencies, aid and development organisations, broadcasters and local groups to get radios to those across Africa who need them most. But much more needs to be done.
Over more than half a century, technology has moved on, but – tragically – many of the underlying issues remain the same.
If you have not seen the original report, you can find it here. It makes for sobering reading.