Matt Wright

Despite being regarded as ‘old media’, community radio is one of the most popular media channels in Zambia and plays an important role in society, particularly in rural districts.

The British Council managed Zambia Accountability Programme (ZAP) is working to strengthen community radio as a tool for accountability.

Traditionally, most community radio stations lack the funds and capacity to develop and broadcast quality content that meets the needs of their audience.

So, in partnership with BBC Media Action Zambia, ZAP has been implementing a project that aims to improve the sustainability and capacity of six community radio stations across the country.

‘Voice of Reason’

An integral part of this work is to contribute to more participatory governance through community radio governance shows and phone-in programmes. 

When students in the Northern Province were repeatedly sent home for not paying school fees, resulting in poor performance rates, the local community wanted to open up a dialogue with the relevant education authorities to resolve it.

Radio Mano, a community radio station funded by ZAP, offered a platform for discourse through a programme titled ‘Ishiwi Lya Mano’ (Voice of Reason):

‘When we saw the community pressure mounting by way of callers contacting the station to intervene, we decided to run a show that could give the local education authorities and community members a platform to dialogue on our governance show’ remarked a presenter on the show.

The show generated a heated debate, with irate community members requesting the decision to send learners away from schools due to non-payment of fees be rescinded by the local authorities. 

Leaping into first place

The debate inspired alternative ways of paying school fees in the province.

Hearing their concerns, parents who were unable to pay school fees in monetary terms were given the opportunity to pay with farm produce and/or farm animals by the Provincial Education Officer (PEO). The directive meant school authorities will have to accept the terms.

Ultimately, the directive encouraged parents who were failing to pay school fees using hard cash to send their children back to school using their farm produce as payment.

Reportedly, since the PEO’s pronouncement on Radio Mano, this has led to a wide margin in performance at provincial level, with a leap from ninth position to first place at grade nine level countrywide in 2017. The PEO have attributed this improvement to the radio governance programme.

The ZAP programme is funded by UK Aid. Find out more here.