Community Radio Comes to the Nairobi Slums

ACORN organizers and director of the station and several volunteers

Nairobi     Visiting Korogocho, where ACORN Kenya has worked for the last more than eight years, we wanted to make sure that we had an opportunity to visit an interesting experiment in community radio, KOCH-FM 99.9.  Years ago, I had noticed there might be such a thing when we were visiting our groups, but we had failed to make a connection.  More recently, we had tried to track them down, and ACORN Kenya’s organizers, Sammy Ndirangu and David Musungu, had done several preliminary shows, and a partnership was growing.

Meeting the station manager, Doreen Maan, we got a much better understanding of exactly how unique the station is.  KOCH was the first noncommercial station licensed by the Kenya authorities for broadcasting in the slums of the city and allowed to program on 99.9 as a frequency.  The government’s view of “slum radio,” organized and supported by youth as the driving force in Korogocho, was to limit the power of the station to only 25 watts so that their reach would only be about 3 kilometers.  Given the size of Korogocho as the 3rd largest slum in the country and the oldest in Nairobi, that still gave the station a potential audience of hundreds of thousands of people, if they could reach them.

community radio KCOH 99.9 in Korogocho

Later additional licenses were issued in other lower income slums in Nairobi, such as Pamoja FM in Kibera, Ghetto FM in Pumwani and Mtaani Radio in Riruta Satellite. Since these radios target a specific audience from the lower income settlements and are limited to only a narrow range with 25 watts of allowable power in a unique arrangement, they share a common frequency, 99.9 FM with each other as community radios in Nairobi.  They program a range of music and commentary.  Sometimes they even are involved in some activism.  Quoting from one description about KOCH-FM:

…In response to the political violence witnessed in Kenya after the disputed results of the December 27 2007 general elections, Koch FM gathered community members to create peace messages and jingles, which they regularly played on air. The team mobilised people to donate food and clothes through radio appeals; they then distributed the donations to the over 500 families that were camping at the Star of Hope Academy in Huruma. In collaboration with other pro-peace initiatives, Koch FM mobilised, organised, and undertook a call-for-peace procession in Korogocho and Ngomongo. Apart from peace slogans, songs, and chants, Koch FM distributed handbills and T-shirts with peace and reconciliation messages.

Indeed, these were our kind of people.  We had an extensive conversation about ways that ACORN could partners with KOCH, as well as the prospects for KOCH joining our partner, the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement and sharing some programming, technical tips, and experience.

We hope great things come from this small beginning.

tower for KCOH

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Catching Up in Korogocho

Daniel Kairo head of ACORN Kenya under our mission statement

Daniel Kairo head of ACORN Kenya under our mission statement

Nairobi  Technically it was a holiday in Nairobi, which only meant that there were fewer traffic jams and that schools and banks were closed, but for many, if not millions, it was another workday. We had several meetings in Korogocho with our leaders and with a larger group of members and others, including addicts, scheduled to discuss the issue of drugs in the community.

There were changes in Korogocho since my last visit, though many outsiders would not have noticed them. There were more paved roads. Electricity poles were more numerous. Nairobi Water now had a small office in the community along the roadway. There was enough water that there was an active motorcycle power washing business going on as we walked to the meeting space donated by one of our partners.

 

some of the ACORN members after a meeting in korogcho

some of the ACORN members after a meeting in korogcho

There’s a saying in post-colonial east Africa that when the occupiers came “we had the land, and they brought the Bible, and when they left, they took the land and left the Bible.” This deeply religious strain can be heard everywhere from the midnight vigils on Friday nights until past 2 AM in the morning to the pervasive way that the values go deep among the ACORN Kenya leadership. In the planning meeting five of the seven in attendance had connections to various denominations from bishop to pastor to elder. Meetings often begin with prayer in the United States, but in Kenya they begin with prayer, end with prayer, and sometimes, judging from the meeting in Korogocho, there’s something like prayer in the middle. Importantly though, Daniel Kairo, the elected chair of ACORN Kenya, made a point of welcoming and thanking some of the more active members who were Muslims and specifically emphasizing the inclusive nature of ACORN work and membership. The organizers told me that they would estimate that the village of Highview where we first began organizing six years ago is now a majority Muslim. In the debriefing after the general meeting this point was made by several leaders that they needed to be more ecumenical in the way the meetings were conducted to adapt to the changing demographics in the slum.

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The spirit and “sharing” was good though and the evaluations of the meeting were very positive. Some of the hope for seeing addicts transformed in the process had dissipated and there was suggestion of a Korogocho-wide march and demonstration being organized to pressure the political and police chiefs to clean up the area and put pressure on the distribution points for drugs in the community. There was a call for other partners to join in the effort as well. This was definitely a more promising turn in that campaign.

There were other issues that also were emerging. The need to move the dump away from the Korogocho border and finally to the space obtained by the Nairobi City Council years ago, but still deadlocked in politics and conflicting special interests, was seen as a high priority. The health impacts on the community at every level were horrid, so this could be a very important push.

The membership now, depending on how it is counted, ranges between 600 and 1000 with about 200 actively paying dues every month and others coming in and out depending, but there is a real ACORN organization here with real members, leaders, and campaigns, and that’s a big change over recent years. People from other slums in the Eastlands of Nairobi have started attending meetings and the leaders feel they need to see how to engage a larger area, but there’s so much work to be done that we are humble to the task.

 

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