By Enoch Sithole: Wits Radio Academy’s coordinator, Jacob Ntshangase, is hard at work mentoring community radio practitioners in Ethiopia. AJENda sat down with Ntshangase to discuss the initiative.

Image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

AJENda: What is the project about?
Jacob Ntshangase (JN): There are two parts (of the project). One part is radio station management, which is a standard Wits Radio Academy course that we have been doing here in South Africa. It’s accredited, it’s a Wits accredited course at NQF (National Qualifications Framework) level six in terms of our standards in South Africa.

We offered it in Ethiopia for two weeks, as we are doing in South Africa. The first week was last year, in November, and the second week was in March, this year.

The second part of the course is a mentoring support mission, where after the (management) course, I then spent time with three community radio stations – two of them in the south, and one in the northwestern region of Ethiopia – to mentor them in areas of governance, management and programming.

AJENda: The project is funded by Fojo Media Institute, who hosts it in Ethiopia?
JN: They (Fojo) organized the funding and organize the venue. So basically, I can say its them who host us there, obviously, working with the local stations and the association of community radio stations in Ethiopia.

AJENda: Are participants receptive of the course? Are you seeing any improvements as you teach and mentor them? Are they able to improve on what they do?
JN: I am going back in June to basically look at whether the mentoring support has worked or not. But from what I could gather after the course, it has been very well received. They appreciate our intervention and they feel it’s actually going to make a
difference in the way they do radio.

Another thing that came out is that this kind of practical intervention that we came up with, is the first of its kind and they are not used to it. They are used to the theory part but we came in with a programme that combines both theory and practise. So, it was very well received. In the post course evaluations, people were very positive about it. They were looking forward to implementing some of the areas (they have learnt).

The other aspect of the course is around issues of sustainability. Most of them rely on donor funding and they don’t think of life after donors. To them, its like donors will always be there for the rest of their lives. Part of what we came up with, based on our experience in South Africa, is that donors will be there for a particular period and then they (the community radio stations) will need to come up with strategies for sustainability. So, we were helping them with practical programmes for sustainability.

When it comes to the issue of mentoring, one of the things is that they refer to programmes as ‘chapters’ instead of shows or ‘programmes’. The first chapter, the second chapter, and the third chapter.

You will find that they come in from seven in the morning, maybe from 7am to 1pm and then from 1pm to 2pm, and there is a break. The station goes off air (Later), they will come back with another ‘chapter’ mainly a pre-recorded programme. So, what we came up with was to say “you need to balance pre-recorded and live radio, and must also avoid a situation whereby you have dead air, for instance, when there is nothing happening on radio”.

We had to bring in an element of music, instead of having a dead time between, maybe 1 pm to 2pm or 12 (noon) to 2pm. They have appreciated that.

AJENda: Ethiopia is a very polarised country along its regions, politics and so forth. Are there any politics that have come into this project?
JN: Fortunately, it’s not there because they did indicate that they are from a very bad history. For instance, in the south, where I went to, they showed me some of the spots that used to be war zones. But fortunately, community radio is actually preaching peace. For instance, in one of the regions, the mayor came in and said they wanted to use radio as a tool for reconciliation.

So, I can safely say there is no politics involved. They look at community radio as a unifying tool for all of them and they also look at it as an educational platform for formal and non-formal education, which I think is positive.

AJENda: How strong is community radio in Ethiopia, compared to say, commercial and public radio?
JN: Its not strong, honestly. My observation is that there is a will. There is a very strong will on the part of those who want to run community radio in the country. The will is there but I think in terms of practice, its not very strong. For instance, you find that there is a radio station with over 30 presenters, volunteers, journalists, but that radio station only broadcasts for seven hours (in a day). In South Africa, with that kind of a (work) force you broadcast 24/7.

That, to me, is a sign of a not very strong sector, in terms of practice, but a very strong will. I also feel that, in terms of regulation, there are a lot of regulatory issues that are not making it easy. For community radio, for instance, there is a cap that they (the regulators) put on advertising. They put a 15% (cap on) advertising and I am saying “if they put a 15% cap on advertising, how do they expect community radio to make money?”

Its not like in South Africa, for instance, where there is an MDDA (Media Development and Diversity Agency) which supports community radio stations and there is also a vibrant economy, in comparison (with Eithopia). So, (community radio) is not very
strong. Commercial and public (radio) are very strong, but I think after this intervention, we are going to see a very strong community radio in Ethiopia, going forward.

AJENda: Is what you are doing enough or you think there should be other interventions to help improve community radio in the country?
JN: I raised with them the fact that the course the academy is offering them was around radio station management, and I said to them its pity money is not available, otherwise, we would run an advanced radio certificate programme, like we do here in
South Africa, where we have radio management, radio programming and production, local journalism, news and social media, radio sales and marketing, radio presentation, so that they could get all these different areas of radio.

Unfortunately, Fojo, could only support radio station management, but I do hope that maybe, with time, they (Fojo) will look at expanding it and provide them with the entire radio qualification with all the different elements that I have mentioned.