On Sunday, the 07th August 2016 at 10:00AM, most residents of Acholi and parts of Lango sub-region shall tune to 102 Mega FM listen to KABAKE. To many of them, this will not be their first time to listen to the programme but rather their 670th. Kabake, an Acholi word which literally means to “to gather and dialogue” is a community radio programme supported by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation.
The show started airing in 2003 at the height of the conflict mounted by the LRA rebels which left an estimated 150,000 people dead, abducted more than 20,000 children, displaced more than 2 Million people and destroyed properties worth thousands of dollars. At the commencement of this show, millions of Northern Ugandans were residents of Internally Displaced People’s Camps (IDPs). Innocent Aloyo, the show-host, and her recording crew trekked from one camp to another gathering views and facilitating a dialogue with people on the issues that affect their lives.
“During the war days when the majority of the population in Northern Uganda were camp dwellers, each Kabake community recording would bring not less than 500 participants, most of whom clamoring to make their voices heard” Aloyo re-echoes. “It was the only way community members could vent out their anger and frustration about their predicament” she reiterated.
Above all, “Kabake gave them the opportunity to laugh and be hopeful that maybe, one day the guns will be silenced and camp life would be history” she said.
Shortly after the war, Kabake was a quintessential part of the recovery, rebuilding and rehabilitation of Northern Uganda. Again and again, communities gathered around the pockets of small battery powered radios each Sunday morning to listen to Kabake community radio show. Unlike the previous camp treks, Aloyo would now travel from one village to another to hold community dialogues which would be recorded and aired on Sunday morning. The requests from communities that the show be recorded in their villages were immense. One letter written by the Chairperson of Mede Village, Palaro Sub-County to the Manager of Mega FM on the 27th July 2008 read; “…kindly bring to us Kabake programme because you have never come to our village. The most important point of our discussion will be incest which is skyrocketing among the youth whose cultural values were eroded while we were IDP camp dwellers”.
Kabake provides a platform to talk about both social issues like incest or polygamy to intricate development paradoxes like illiteracy, bad roads, creation of new districts, and lack of access to healthcare to mention but just a few. Many times, it has provided a platform to hold leaders accountable. “If my village chairperson doesn’t monitor the performance of the school and management of the school management committee, I will not vote for him in the next round of elections”, One resident of Amuru commented during a recent recording session where the village chairperson was also in attendance.
On the one hand, the show has given the local leaders the opportunity to hear direct voices from the people they serve whilst on the other hand, it has provided a platform for the leaders to respond and give feedback to the citizens. Subsequently this gap bridging process between the citizens and their leaders is inherently nurturing the spirit of dialogue and engagement which will help to lay a firm foundation and build the cornerstone for a strong democratic society in the long run.
Another significance of the radio program is its organic self-empowering approaches. The topics to be discussed are 100% at the discretion of the community members. Be it witchcraft or a broken health facility, community members brainstorm and agree on what should be discussed. The community also decides whether they want to debate or just talk about issues that affect them in order to find a common ground and generate ideas for finding feasible solutions. A classic example is when the community members of Kalamaji village, Paicho Sub-County agreed to work clean the community spring well which causing water was borne diseases like dysentery and typhoid.
During the community dialogue, they also requested the district water and sanitation department to treat spring well. The self-empowerment approach of the programme has indeed helped to open up spaces and give the rural women of Northern Uganda who have been traditional recipients of patriarchal injustices the opportunity to speak out loud on issues that directly affect them. Inasmuch as most women still sit down on mats or polythene canvases while men sit on wooden chairs during the Kabake community conversations, this is no limit to what and how they can express themselves in public.
In fact, women are the ones who are at the center-stage of shaping conversations during the programme. This stems from the fact that in most cases, there are more women attending the community dialogues so they are better placed to decide on what should and/or shouldn’t be discussed and how it should be done. In the end, these women have gained more confidence and are able to favorably express themselves.
In one Kabake community show in Paomu village, Pabbo Sub-County where the topic of discussion was how to keep children in school, one women stood up and accused her husband (who was also in attendance) of being an alcoholic and deliberately refusing to pay the children’s school fees. However, as Kabake keeps standing out as a truly impactful radio programme, some questions should still be asked: is radio still an effective communication tool in the age of digital and social media proliferation? Is a community dialogue platform enough?
In Uganda, where the majority of the people are rural dwellers, 6 in 10 people still rely on radio as the source of information. Internet penetration is still low, with an estimated 90% of the population still trapped in the offline age.
This means the use of radio, especially for rural community development is inevitable. Perchance, providing a platform for dialogue isn’t enough change to livelihood overnight but it is worth noting that it is the commencement of a journey to progress.
The Chinese adage sums it better: the journey of a thousand miles start with a single step. Kabake is indeed just one step to solving the complicated development challenges in Northern Uganda.
Donnas Ojok is a think-tank member and Programme Officer at KAS.