Thousands Attend Opening Celebration of Southern Sudan Community Radio Station

Posted on February 23, 2009


“It’s Your Radio, Your Voice”

2 men listen to a radio around a fire

Deborah Ensor/Internews
School children dance at the opening of Naath FM, the only community radio station in Leer County, Southern Sudan.

(February 23, 2009) When Naath FM, the only community radio station in Leer County, Southern Sudan, was officially launched this week, thousands of people came to honor and claim the station that has been a part of their lives for the past year.

“I have never seen anything like this,” said Deborah Ensor, Internews Sudan Program Director. “There were literally thousands of people here, and they were all trying to get into the studio.  If you want to know what community radio is all about, you simply must come to Leer.”

Naath FM is one of four radio stations that Internews has built in the most remote regions of Southern Sudan. Though the station has been on the air for more than a year, officials and the community were eager to have it formally opened and dedicated as a community radio station.

Appropriately enough, the station is called Naath FM – it means “Citizen” in the local language of Nuer and was chosen after listeners called in and suggested it.

“Internews has given the community a tool,” said Lonya Bany Banak, the radio station coordinator who has been with the station since the first day it went on air. “To help people fully participate without discrimination, to take part in decision making. This is the power of community media. It shows we are doing something, that the community really owns this radio. Having accepted to come here like this, in such numbers, it really means something very big.”

Drumming, Dancing, and Celebrating

“Seeing thousands of people in one place in Leer is a stunning sight – the area is flat, dry and dusty and the horizon far reaching, Ensor related. “The barren dust fields were awash in the color and chaos of thousands of stomping feet and the cacophony of clapping hands, as people poured onto the airstrip around the station – hour after hour after hour – drumming, dancing, singing, celebrating.” In traditional fashion, a bull was slaughtered and roasted as part of the event.

The station’s signal was just boosted with a 250-watt transmitter, up from 100 watts. That means news, information and entertainment can be heard across four counties, in four different languages.

“It has never happened before like this,” said Bany, who has been through both war, and now peace, in his home village. “Naath FM is a place for people to share ideas, to bring peace and reconciliation to our communities. The leadership of all four counties came together for this launch. That is very big. They participated together, cut the ribbon together. Different communities became one community.”

There are no official population figures in Southern Sudan, but it is estimated about 200,000 people live in Leer County, a sprawling, flat, marshland littered with oil fields. With the signal now reaching four counties, the potential coverage could be double that.

“So Old I’ve Lost All My Teeth”

One very old woman, who could not remember when she was born, only that “I am old enough to have lost all my teeth,” traveled 45 kilometers to come to the opening.  She sat in front of Naath FM for hours, waiting for other people to arrive.  “I have been seeing that red light at night, and they say that the light is where the people talk from,” the woman said in Nuer, pointing to the 60-meter transmission tower. “But I am not sure this is where the people talk. I wanted to see it myself.”

Naath FM invited the woman to talk live on the air during the opening, and she sang her people’s traditional songs – music so old that the younger generation didn’t even know it.

Such stories are common for Naath FM programming. “Whatever comes on our radio comes from the common people,” Bany said. “Elders come and sing, the youth come and do drama – regardless of political ideas or sides, anyone is welcome. It’s your radio, your voice – that’s our motto, and it gives people more power to participate.”

Lost Cows and Wedding Celebrations

One of the most popular services Naath FM provides is the community announcement forum. Dozens of people come to the station every day to place announcements for lost cows, missing chairs or wedding celebrations.

A group of young boys made up a song and dance about Naath FM and these community announcements, and performed it to a standing ovation at the launch. “This is your community voice,” the song says in Nuer.” If your son is lost, go to Naath FM, they will help you find your cows and your property, too!”

Hundreds of traditional dancers and singers blessed the event, as did a downpour of rain. “Never before has it rained in January!” said Leer County Commissioner Stephan Taker Riak Dong, who officially dedicated the station. “This means that this radio station is blessed, that it stands for peace. Its significance in the historical record of this community is cemented.”

Internews-Built Radio Stations in Southern Sudan

Internews recruits and trains nascent journalists to run the community radio stations in Southern Sudan. In addition to Naath FM, Internews supports The Voice of Community Radio in Kauda, Radio Mujtama Fi Kurmuk, and Nhomlaau FM in Malualkon. The stations broadcast in more than ten local languages.

Internews’ project, “Radio for Peace, Democracy and Development in South Sudan,” began in 2006 and is made possible by a grant from the US Agency for International Development.

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