While the technological advancement in this country is pointing to a new world order, where globalisation and simplification of life is happening fast, there remains a gap in our country which if harnessed and supported has the capacity to be the game changer.
Sunday Opinion with Kudzai Kwangwari
The cellphone came and with it text messages, WhatsApp facilities, as well as money-transfer mechanisms while the internet also brought with it major communication developments in Africa but more specifically in Zimbabwe. One area which remains unexploited and untapped is community broadcasting and we believe this is a critical sector.
For many it may be just a communication issue, but it must be viewed from a development perspective because more than anything else that’s what it is.
It is a development tool. Community radio has the capacity to positively affect the politics, social set up of a country, economy and even the culture of a people.
In terms of politics of a country, community radio in this day and age where democracy has become the new political philosophy considered as ideal plays a very critical role in promoting debate and dialogue, which are critical components of a functioning democracy.
Community radio promotes the enhancement of interaction between citizens and the state, which is a prerequisite for any functioning democracy again. This is particularly so, because it promotes good governance where citizens have a say not only in the general running of the country but are able to participate actively in both policy formulation and implementation.
Accountability and transparency are a normal demand by the citizens from their governors, and it is only possible and easier where the media including community broadcasting media is able to operate and function freely and normally without interference from the state.
Cases of abuse of public funds under the Constitutional Development Funds (CDF), by MPs as alleged two years ago would not have escaped public eye and ridicule with a vibrant community media. But most of the MPs were able to point to any small project in their constituency and claim that they used the CDF for that.
Where as if citizens had participated in choosing and prioritising projects, perhaps using a pair wise ranking approach, this could have been avoided. We believe that this media sector if supported has the capacity to about face the fortunes of this country in terms of promotion of good quality of life.
Economically, community radio creates a market and a bank of ideas on opportunities and possibilities which a people can pursue to develop themselves. In many communities where community radio is vibrant, citizens especially in rural communities are able to share in a way that promotes cross-fertilization of ideas for community and personal development. They are able to market their produce at local markets using the community radio platform.
They are able to talk about the prices of Kapenta fish in the community of Kariba, price of timber in the community of Tsholotsho, the price of bream in Binga, the price of Mopani worm in Ntepe, Gwanda. In communities where the flow of information is free and promoted, those communities stand a better chance to develop as Amartya Kumar Sen asserted.
Community radio promotes social richness of communities through the enhancement of people’s culture by giving preference to its music, theatre, drama, values, norms and practices. It also promotes local languages and customs which elevates a people.
The argument which normally arises on how certain groups of people in our nation feel marginalized is usually because they lack platforms where they can celebrate their uniqueness and culture. Let us promote these platforms without exploiting the public broadcaster for personal and selfish gain. Let us afford communities platforms where they share, communicate in their own language, and make sense of the world in their own unique way.
This is only possible if the powers that be begin to trust Zimbabweans and allow community radios to operate fully by liberalising the airwaves. Airwaves must not be a commodity for a few elite Zimbabweans; they must benefit all of us, especially the marginalised communities where the so-called minority groups are found.
Development is about increasing people’s options, democracy emphasises rule by the majority but also respect of minority rights. If we are really concerned with the promotion and protection of democratic practice, then it must be promoted and protected at a very local level through enabling local communities to express themselves freely, as well as accessing information easily.
So, community radio must be allowed to come in as a modern dare or enkudleni, where communities meet though not physically to deliberate on topical issues that affect them. We are aware that there could be a feeling that this topic is either tired, but as long as the changes we anticipate happening are still not there, we continue to sing the same song from the same page.