The Case for Establishing Community Radios in Somaliland
Today, 13 February 2021, is the 9th anniversary of World Radio Day, first recognized in 2011 by the United Nations as an International Day. Horizon Institute is marking World Radio Day by advocating for the introduction of community radios in Somaliland, in particular to serve the needs and interests of the rural population, both nomadic and semi-nomadic. Expanding Access to Information, Education and Civic Engagement: The Case for the Establishment of Community Radios in Somaliland makes a powerful and detailed argument in favour of community radios as an inexpensive vehicle for making information which is vital to lives and livelihoods easily available to people living outside the main urban centres.
Somaliland, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea are alone in Africa in having only state-run radio stations. On 4 June 2002, a Ministerial Decree banned the operation of any radio stations other than Radio Hargeisa. The decision was justified on the basis that legislation governing the press did not exist at the time, and that such a measure was necessary to pre-empt the problems that could arise from unregulated private radio stations. In 2004, the Somaliland Press Law was passed, with Press defined to include radios and “all acts to subjugate them” were prohibited.
Nevertheless, the 2002 ban remains in place. Even some seasoned media owners, whose requests for radio licenses were turned down in the last decade, say they believed the decree had legal legitimacy. But since 2004, there has been no valid legal reason for the continued refusal by successive governments to issue licenses for privately owned/run radios. By definition, the 2004 Press Law supersedes the Ministerial decree since it explicitly lifts all restraints from the press and provides the necessary legislative framework that was cited as the key reason for the 2002 ban. The 2004 Press Law needs an overhaul and amendments have been proposed over the years. But no changes have been implemented and it remains the law governing all aspects of the press.
The reception distance of Radio Hargeisa stations means it is out of reach to half the population. It focuses mainly on political news and most stories are centred on events in the capital, Hargeisa. Reports from the regions are usually reactions to an event, especially visits by politicians or because of a natural disaster. There is a local news vacuum in the regions.
Community radio, which has grown massively throughout the world, would allow the rural population to receive targeted reports on the challenges they face daily, such as grazing grounds, watering holes and safety issues. They would bring them new ideas, such as promoting education for girls, taking advantage of vaccination campaigns for people as well as livestock, helping farmers develop innovative farming techniques, such as rain harvesting, or helping someone through all the steps of starting and maintaining a small business. They can also encourage listeners to tackle sensitive or taboo subjects, for example mental health, the rise in sexual violence against women and children and the harmful consequences of qat. The global Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how critical a tool community radios have become in ensuring the free flow of life-saving information.
On 18 May 2021, Somaliland will mark thirty years since the momentous decision to go it alone. It would be a sad reflection if the lack of political confidence in the people of Somaliland, which prompted the Decree of 2002, continues to cast a shadow over the future of broadcasting and on the right of people to receive and exchange information and to make their own news.
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