From an historical point of view, we see that when radio broadcasting began in West Africa, rural radio did not even exist. There were some programmes that were broadcast in the national languages, but the daily concerns of the population, such as health problems, and all the issues that are linked to agriculture, were very seldom dealt with.
Some of the first radio stations began to broadcast educational programmes touching on rural problems and concerns. This was followed by radio forums, and radio clubs, and these, we might say, were the origin of rural radio, and then local radio.
The idea of an educational radio was inspired by the Canadian experience, where this type of radio structure existed. UNESCO then looked into the question, and tried to see how this approach could be used in Africa, to promote literacy and education.
In English-speaking Africa (Uganda), a workshop was organized to discuss using this experience to the advantage of Africa. It was decided to apply what had been learned in Ghana to other African countries. As a result, during the following years (1958-1966), a number of rural radio stations were established in West Africa, namely, in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast (Radio Progress) and Senegal.
How do these different radio stations produce their programmes?
The objective, as Messrs. Lamonde and Keita have indicated, is to create stable ties with the local population. We know that a number of radio stations are located in the capital cities, but we feel there is an urgent need for these stations to reach out and communicate directly with the people in the villages, in order to understand what their actual needs are, and to include this in their daily programming.
At a certain point however, we realized that the programmes were not really hitting the target, and did not encourage listener participation. Other radio stations were then set up, to encourage the population, to get useful feedback from them, and thus be able to convey information that would really be of use in the rural areas.
The deregulation process that occurred in many African countries in the 1990's coincided with the creation of local rural radio stations. At the present time, we have more than a hundred rural radio stations in Mali; there are over thirty in Burkina Faso, about thirty in Benin, while Senegal has ten or twelve. Rural radio stations are also being created in Niger and Togo, as well.
These stations are owned by the local population, who now feel that could not do without them. In the case of one station in Benin, when a technical problem prevented it from broadcasting, it was seen as a catastrophe by the people in the villages, who felt that the station was the only way they had to communicate with their extended families. As a result, the community in question decided on its own to find the financial resources that were needed to give the station a new lease on life.
There are different types of rural radio stations in operation today, namely, professional, associative, community, and they all play a specific public service role today, particularly in encouraging the active participation of the entire community in projects that are important to it.
I have focussed mainly on West Africa in this presentation, and my colleagues here will of course deal with English-speaking Africa during our meeting.
In conclusion, I would like to say that institutional partners such as UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Agency of French-speaking Countries (AIF) have played a crucial role in the creation and development of these rural radio stations.
What has been important, I should add, are the attempts that have been made to create a network linking these radio stations, and to help them in sharing information. We have been doing this for the past three years, with the help of the AIF.