Rural Communication: A Strategic Link for Poverty Alleviation in Niger
Djilali Benamrane, Economist, Niamey/Niger, September 18, 2000
Information and communication are vital in many social and economic human activities. In the recent years, scientific and technological advances provide populations living in urban and rural areas with innovative tools, increasing their productivity, ameliorating their access to basic social needs and reinforcing their involvement especially in Poverty alleviation and local good governance matters.
In Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world regarding its ranking in the UNDP Human Development Annual Report (173 of 174 selected countries in the World Report 2000), all partners in development, civil society, government, public and private operators, donors, NGOs are involved in a partnership process, aiming at providing rural populations with access to New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The ongoing experience is undertaken in the framework of "RURANET/ICD" : Rural Radio Network and Information Centers for Development.
1. A Global and Participatory Approach
RURANET/ICD is a cooperative effort made in a participatory approach, involving Nigerien at the national and local levels, International institutions and non governmental organizations, providing resources and expertise in order to meet the rural population needs concerning the access to information and communication for economic and social development focused on poverty alleviation and on the empowerment of rural population to contribute to the building of good governance at the local and the national level.
Activities of the RURANET/ICD initiative include:
- Setting up a rural radio broadcasting network composed of 160 self managed solar units covering the main part of the country (20 units in each region)
- Setting up Information Centers for development around rural radio units, promoting solar energy for several use (TV, telephone, multimedia unit, water pumps, mill, drying system, etc)
- Training activities to empower local associations for management activities and information and communication qualitative production in local languages.
2. A Long Term Strategy
In the framework of the National Strategy for Poverty alleviation and of the National Communication Policy that the Government is finalizing respectively with Bretton Woods Institutions and with UNICEF and FAO, RURANET/ICD is an initiative which required many years for its achievement. Since the starting point in Summer 1999, three main phases have been identified.
- Year 2000: Experimental Phase setting up a first network of height self managed solar rural broadcasting units, one in each region, except Niamey. The operational partnership in this phase was composed of UNDP, the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and Dutch cooperation (SNV).
- 2001-2002: Consolidation Phase setting up twenty self managed solar rural broadcasting units in each region supported by CIDs ; The partnership during this second phase is opened to the UN System (UNICEF, FAO, UNFPA, UNESCO, IFAD, ECA), bilateral (France, Canada, USA, Swiss, Netherlands) and multilateral cooperation (World Bank, European Union, International Agency for the Francophonie, etc) as well as to international private sector (Worlspace Foundation, Baygen Foundation, Wantok Canadian Entreprises LTD).
- 2003-2007: Maturation Phase Generalization of RURANET/ICD in each commune in the framework of the ongoing decentralization policy. In this phase all partners in development interested by information and communication activities welcomed to take part to the initiative.
3. Ambitious Goals
RURANET/ICD initiative aims at providing rural population with real capacity to access and master new information and communication technologies. The ownership of local radio broadcasting will enable voiceless rural populations to take part and contribute to the national, regional et local debates, especially on a development focused on the poverty alleviation, decentralization and good governance issues.
Progressive local capacity bulding in the sectors of information and communication will facitilate the on-going negociation aiming at setting up an Up Link in Niamey. Thanks to the Up-Link, selected programmes will be broadcasted through the satellite Afristar. After that it will be easy to listing with confort evrywhere in Niger, but also in the large part of Africa and Europe such programmes either with a digital receivers or with very simple receivers in localities covered by solar rural radio broadcasting.
4. Bankilare : The Starting Point of the RURANET/ICD Initiative
4.1. Bankilare: A Pilot Experience Being Replicated
- Bankilare is one of the poorest villages in Niger located at 240 km West of Niamey :
- 120 km land-locked rural road from Tera the District capital ;
- Community of approximately 2000 inhabitants living without electricity ; telephone, in a precarious environment without drinking, or water supply facilities ;
- 10.000 nomads live 20 to 30 Km around Bankilare ;
- A UNDP Poverty Alleviation Programme, identified Bankilare's communication problems as a principal need for women local population.
4.2. Communication, Priority and Urgent Need for the Population of Bankilare
- Local population has the greatest difficulty to receive the national and regional radio broadcasting.
- In very rare exceptions, they do not have powerful receives nor means of buying batteries.
- Very few ORTN programmes broadcast available in comprehensible languages for Bankilare : Tamacheq, Songhaï, Peulh ourArabic.
The challenge was :
- To find appropriate solutions able to meet the populations' needs at their own conditions to ensure the sustainability of the experience
- To take into account very low income level, absence of traditional means of communication and energy
- To develop very localized and rural communication, produced by the population to meet its development requirements in local languages.
4.4. Grassroots and Participatory Strategy
The approach aimed at:
- To create a grassroots association able to handle a Self managed Solar Rural Radio Unit (SEMRRU)
- To build with local technology facility for the SEMRRU and select a trained team for management, programme broadcasting and content control of the SEMRRU
- To obtain the national authorization for broadcasting
- To distribute FM receivers using manual and solar power for collective listening
- To participate to the SEMRRU Networking and contribute to ICTs research and applications.
4.5. The First Self Managed Solar Rural Radio Operational in Bankilare
Looking for a minimal cost of the unit :
- Transmission panel, antenna, solar panels, mast : $ 10.000, including complementary equipment for multimedia
- Construction of the adapted facility (woodless technology : community counterpart, labor contribution $ : 2000)
Bankilaré Rural radio
Objective 1. Looking for sustainable conditions to a real self management of the unit
- Seven broadcasters receive 7.500 FCFA/month : 12 $ ;
- They are supported for their travels, they benefit from transportation means used by reduction Poverty and Environment local projects ;
- Association mobilized about 500.000 FCFA : 800 $ from donors, village contributions, and sale of "Free Play Baygen radios, offered by ACMAD ;
- It has obtained a commitment from Environment project for $ 10.000, including $ 3.000 for receivers, $ 2.000 for small equipment and $ 5.000 for training ;
- Other partners to be identified to invest in IDCs.
Objective 2. Ensuring the respect of the national legislation and procedures, defined in Decree 001/CSC of 17/7/95:
- Association Handwritten request with statute, rules of procedure, standard of equipment and programme of emissions (documents to be withdrawn with the Observatoire National de la Communication (ONC)
- ONC copies files to Ministries of Interior and Communication before assignment of the frequency
- Issue of a provisional permit to emit 3 months for the technical tests then years renewable.
Objective 3. Making the installation process of the Bankilare unit as efficient as possible
- September 1999: Preparatory workshop with local population for creation of the local association
- October 1999: Obtaining provisional authorization to emit 3 months
- October 1999: Installation of equipment given by ACMAD/ PNUD/ SNV and start-up of broadcasting from a room rented by SNV project in Bankilare
- April 2000: Transferal of the Unit in its own building built by the Association.
Objective 4. Implementing participatory approach at the institutional level
The SEMRRU Association is composed of:
- Executive Committee of 3 members: a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer
- Management board of 7 members
- And Committee to control the of the quality of the broadcasted programmes
- Of 17 members - 6 are women ;
- Of 7 broadcasters - 3 Women - Present the programmes in Songhaï, Tamacheq and Peulh languages.
4.6 The Next Phases
Consolidating the experience of Bankilare which know a great success in Niger and all around the world relevant actions have to be undertaken:
- To continue the consolidation of the correct management of the Unit: taking into account the population participation and reinforcement of the capacity of the staff and broadcasters
- To integrate into programming inputs of the digital radio Worldspace "Africa Learning Channel" and "Afristar/Francophonie Channel"
- To experiment multimedia applications, reception of digital data and images
- To provide if necessary local populations with materials concerning statute, rules of procedures, standard of equipments and programmes which must meet local development objectives: 2/3 of the programme as development items in local languages and the remaining 1/3 as information and advertizing items.
- To create best conditions for installation and self management of the Information Development Centers (IDCs), in a progressive way according to the Capacity of population to appropriate
- To build second room for solar television
- A third room for multimedia applications (solar micro computer, etc...)
- Other rooms for solar telephony, solar mill and other solar applications (which could be rented to private operators to ensure financial inputs and to guarantee the association's sustainability ;
- To develop other income generating activities related to the communication sector and to the ICTs
- To benefit from the support of Pilot Joint Steering Committee for Rural Radio Network (RURANET).
The RURANET was created in November 1999 and includes representatives of Civil Society (The ANDDH NGO chairs it), NGOs, Donors, Public and private operators and Government officials.
RURANET: 5 commissions in charge of :
- Programming (leader : SNV)
- Resource Mobilization (leader : Ministry for Rural Development)
- Training (leader UNICEF)
- ICTs promotion (leader : SONITEL, National telecommunication operator)
- Equipment (leader : ACMAD).
- To consolidate the First network composed of 7 experimental SEMRRU, one by area except Niamey (Agades : Aderbi-Sanet, Diffa : N'Gourti, Dosso : Doumega, Maradi : Bermou, Tahoua : Tchin Tabaraden et Tillabery : Bankilare). Bankilare, Aderbi-Sanet and Tchinta are operational, the four others are in advanced phase of preparation.
- To reinforce the first network by 14 new SEMRRU to be operationnal by the end of this year 2000 ;
- And to create the best conditions for a third broader network (horizon 2001-2002) aiming at 160 SEMRRU : 20 in each area.
Bankilare constitutes a remarkable example of the information and communication experience accessible to the poor, voiceless and isolated populations. Bankilare is already used as a Center of promotion and training for Tchin Tabaraden and Belbeji Rural Radio Associations, while waiting for other SEMRRU sites. The Bankilare case was successfully exposed to the Addis Ababa Workshop held in April 2000, it attracts professionals of the communication as well as other interested specialists.
Recently, in August 2000, the UNESCO mission, the Ambassador of France and The European Union Delegate participated in Bankilare to a download operation of documents sent from Worldspace Washington through the Satellite Afristar and received directly in the village, thanks to the Digital receiver and PC connected to solar energy without any other energy or telephone facilities.