In spite of the many challenges community radio faces on the continent, the medium remains the media that many communities rely on for information, a mapping study conducted by Wits Journalism and the Fojo Media Institute covering the sector in sub-Saharan Africa has found.

The report of the mapping study was launched at the 12th annual Radio Days Africa conference, which was hosted last month by Wits Journalism.

Th report said the advent of community radio in sub-Saharan Africa had “heralded an era of far more participatory development communications in the region”. Democratisation, market liberalisation and the availability of affordable broadcasting technologies had facilitated the “explosion” of community radio, said the report.

“Much as (affordable) technologies are hailed as one of the factors contributing to the growth of community radio in the region, there are still technical challenges in that alternative energy sources are not that widespread (especially in predominantly rural communities). The unaffordability of the internet also adds to the challenges” the report argues.

Cell phones had revolutionised community radio broadcasting in terms of reporting, audience participation and the reception as many people listen on phones that have built-in FM receivers, the study found. The reported added: “The use of cell phones, together with web and online networking, as well as presence on the web and blogging, are positive trends in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The report analyses the landscape of community radio in eSwatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are about 2 000 community radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa, although the medium is inexistent in Zimbabwe, eSwatini and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. The absence is caused by governments in those countries, who have frustrated the development of the medium through the lack of enabling legislation and other measures. In Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Botswana and Somalia, community radio has operated under legal and regulatory frustration, said the report..

The report lamented the demise of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcaster (Amarc) Africa, which it said was an important networking platform. It recommended that the organisation should be revived “for the overall coordination and advocacy as well as to lobby support for the community radio sector in the region”.