The African Radio Drama Association (ARDA) is a development communication organisation inaugurated after assessing the development communication needs of the continent at a symposium of African radio experts in Harare, Zimbabwe in November 1994.
At the forum, it was agreed that for the largely illiterate and low-income population, dependent on oral narrative communication, radio was a highly accessible and very effective medium through which information and education could be passed.
Secondly, research findings shared revealed that drama programs were particularly effective in motivating behaviour change. After all, in African tradition, entertainment is a key element of educational activities. Folk tales, music, dance and drama always serve didactic purposes, but have the added advantage of capturing, engaging and motivating audiences. Drama imitates real life in characterisation, situations, conflicts and resolutions. It is this characteristic of drama which allows it to captivate individuals, provide the confidence needed to use new ideas and skills.
Hence, delegates at the Harare symposium saw a need for regional organisations to draw attention to radio and create opportunities for networking among practitioners, whilst also setting higher professional standards for the development radio genre.
The Nigerian chapter has since inception spearheaded as well as collaborated with other agencies like the Ford Foundation, UNICEF, United States Information Service (USIS), MacArthur Foundation, John Hopskin University, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)'s African Communication Network (ACN) to communicate various development messages, ranging from population and reproductive health to environmental and civic rights issues through its radio drama serials and other related programs.
The association has since become a leader in the revival of radio stations, advocacy for full democratization of the media, as well as setting standards of professionalism for broadcasters and practitioners in the medium. We have so far partnered with over 20 radio stations nationwide, community radio stations supported by the Panos Institute West Africa and Hausa Service, Dutch Welle. Presently, ARDA is broadcasting three radio soaps in Pidgin, Hausa and Igbo languages. The dramas, which take into account the peculiarity of the socio-cultural milieu of listeners, address in the main issues of Democracy, HIV/AIDS, Transparency & Accountability, and Good governance as well as Human Rights issues.
In February 2000, ARDA teamed up with the Ford Foundation, entered and won a World Bank Development Marketplace Innovations competition. The prize money is presently being utilized to pilot a development through radio (DTR) project with community women in Eastern Nigeria. The project titled "Village Meeting" has a DTR portion that provides access to rural women in 2 Eastern Nigerian States to articulate their needs and aspirations to government through radio programs they themselves present as well as record. The project also includes the development, production and broadcast of 52 episodes of a radio drama serial in their local language (Igbo) to address issues affecting the rights of women in the project communities.
Apart from spontaneous letters received from listeners, the activities of our listeners' clubs in forging a sense of community by sharing together issues raised on the different episodes of our dramas, there have been recorded incidences of informed actions taken by some listeners to improve their communities. Just a month ago some women marched to the Lagos state governor's office to protest 11 years of non-supply of electricity in their area. Members of one of our listeners' clubs (CULAN Women's group Ikota, a suburb in Lagos) led this action.
Further, the activities of community women in one of the DTR project areas -Ebonyi State, has exposed the fraudulent activities of some contractors in the state who collect money from the government and fail to carry out their tasks as in the case where the state governor was shocked when he went to a site and discovered that a road he released money for has not been touched.
Following the observed need for good script writers in all regions of Nigeria, ARDA with grants from the Ford Foundation, undertook a two-week National Workshop for Radio Scriptwriters on the "enter-educate" approach of balancing enough entertainment and education for scripting behaviour change radio drama serials. Within the same period, ARDA was able to train some actors and actresses in the Northern part of the country to act from drama scripts, leading to a general improvement in the dramas. ARDA has also had to use good will and in-kind contributions of equipment and training opportunities to reduce broadcast cost and gain slots on the best radio stations. These have no doubt improved the quality of programming on these stations.
Our listeners' clubs in the various project sites monitor our programs and provide feedback for a continnous improvement and integration of crucial issues in subsequent episodes of our drama serials. A spin-off from this is that after coming together, members begin to think of ways of improving their economic status. In Enugu and Ebonyi states (the DTR project states), seed grants for income generation activities and gari processing machines have been made available by ARDA to the community women at their request. The introduction of shari'ah in some of the northern states has had some implications for listening club activities. Mixed gender groups and unmarried female groups can no longer meet without.