Thursday, January 21, 2016
In the war-torn Central African Republic, radio can mean the difference between life and death. How is Jean Ignace Manengou working to help independent radio stations?

“Help us set up a radio station!” Journalist Jean Ignace Manengou regularly gets pleas of this kind from members of his community. In the Central African Republic, a country torn by a lengthy civil war, radio broadcasts can mean the difference between life and death. How is Jean Ignace working to help independent radio stations?

Since March 2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been torn by ongoing strife between Muslim and Christian forces. Today, pillaging and murder have left thousands of dead, and over a quarter of the country’s population have presently fled their homes. Jean Ignace works as a journalist in this poverty-stricken crisis area, where an independent press is next to non-existent.

What does your organisation do?

“In addition to working as a journalist myself, I represent the Association of Central African Community Radio Stations (ACR), in which role I have helped build up between 25 and 30 local radio stations. Communities often ask us: “Help us set up a radio station!” People are becoming more and more aware that to stay safe and keep developing yourself, you need information. And community radio is continuing to develop too. Through these radio stations, we are able to tell citizens which areas are safe to head to. Which direction should people go, and which shouldn’t they when they’re fleeing the approaching rebels?”

In Jean Ignace’s view, community radio’s key role is to provide people with practical information. But he believes the broadcasts should also offer people some distraction from the misery around them: “There are still a lot of wonderful things that we want to draw to people’s attention to: music, sports, culture and social projects.”

Why is this project important?

“Information is food for the mind. And for a lot of people, these stations are their only source of objective information. My mother, for example, is illiterate. So she has little use for a newspaper. And she definitely isn’t the only one. A lot of people here can’t read or write.” Thanks to Free Press Unlimited’s support of ARC, Jean Ignace has been able to help build up some 30 community radio stations. “In many cases, these stations lack the resources, technical expertise and journalism know-how to get started on their own.”

What sets this project apart?

“ARC has been active since 2009. Journalists come and go, but radio will always be around. People here will always need radio since it’s their only source of reliable information. ARC is becoming stronger and stronger, and increasingly self-sufficient. Eventually, I plan to retire from the organisation and start my own educational radio station for farmers in rural areas.”

Which obstacles did you encounter?

“Radio Beoko (Sango for ‘one heart’) used to report on pillaging and murder by the rebel troops. We then fell prey to these crimes ourselves, when Radio Beoko was looted and destroyed by the rebels. ARC helped the radio station to get back ‘on air’. After this, the rebels actually returned and burned the station to the ground.”

Which results are you most proud of?

“I feel proud of the community and how the people themselves helped rebuild the radio stations. The old folks in the village said: ‘We don’t have anything to offer except our hands.’ And so they helped clean up the mess. After the radio station had been looted by the rebels, its equipment could be found all over the surrounding area. People called each other to account if they saw equipment in the other’s home – ‘bring it back to the station,’ is what they told each other.”

“I’m also proud of the fact that I’m contributing to the only source of information in the region. And that we keep persevering – time and time again!”