There has always been a disconnect between the aims of government policies on the communities being targeted and the realities of the effects of those policies on the people targeted.
A good example of policies is the issue of who are the final beneficiaries of food and economic subsidies targeting poverty alleviation among the poor people. Instead of the poor being better off, it is usually the rich and better off communities that benefit from these subsidy policies.
A policy scholar, Alex de Waal, speaking on the failures of many government led strategies in Africa said “Policy is still being made in an empirical and analytical vacuum, by government staff who has donned, not only in public, an impenetrable armour of all knowing and moral righteousness.”
This disconnect is the very reason why many Sadc countries, Zambia inclusive, seem to be failing to uplift their people from untold sufferings caused by poverty, unemployment and other social ills.
Many government policies targeting the improvement of both rural and urban communities are still being designed or developed in board rooms and offices of government technocrats, without consulting the very people the policies are targeting. Some of these technocrats are well versed people in those areas of approach while others are well schooled in the theories of those interventions.
But alas, poverty and unemployment levels have remained undesirably high.
The status quo has remained the same despite these policies being designed at great intellectual and financial costs. This has led to 15 community radio stations in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique providing alternative methods to influence development of new policies and fine-tuning the existing ones.
This approach will transform the radio stations into discussion platforms where various government policies will be discussed, debated and fine-tuned by members of the very communities the policies target.
Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf) with the financial support of Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (Osisa) is providing technical support and equipment to these radio stations in order for them to successfully transform their media houses and programmes into platforms where 80 percent of their radio programmes will be discussion programmes on matters of common local interest.
To help radio stations debate and discuss these matters, the radio stations have been empowered to implement the PSAf innovative audience survey and data generating radio listening club methodology. The stations and their staff have been trained in how to set up and run the radio listening clubs or groups (RLCs) in their communities. These RLCs become an extension of the radio station providing them with the much needed programme critique group or an audience survey sample upon which the radio stations can gauge the efficacy and usefulness of their programmes among the communities they serve.
These RLCs are arranged in such a way that on an appointed day and time, they gather to listen to a radio broadcast on matters of local concern, discuss their views on the quality and usefulness of the topic at hand and then record their opinions and suggestions. These recordings are then sent to the radio stations to form part of materials to use for further discussions with policy makers and other interest groups. The views of the community as recorded by the RLCs and the views of opinion leaders or policy makers find an interface on this radio platform and both views get to be heard and the policy under discussion fine-tuned.
Better and effective policies in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, developed through this innovative PSAf community radio process of consultation, would be expected to propel community development among the poor and marginalised communities to higher heights.
—The author is Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) regional programme manager for media development and ICTs