By Nervious Siantombo
The sustainable development school of thought asserts that meaningful development is attainable only to the extent that the process to achieve it involves and adequately responds to the development needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens, particularly the underprivileged.
This is the challenge facing the southern African countries such as Malawi where the majority of people continue to be on the margins of development processes, without any chance to be heard on the kind of development they desire for themselves.
In an effort to turn around the socio-economic malaise that Malawi has been experiencing of late, government has in the past year embarked on stringent but essential macro and structural reforms such as devaluation of the currency by about 50 per cent. In addition, government has rolled out an Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) which seeks to specifically address a few priority areas termed to be pro-growth, quick wins and highly effective. These include social protection programmes such as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), public works, school feeding and scholarships for girls and cash transfers.
It will, therefore, be imperative that the intended beneficiaries of the development interventions are engaged and provided an opportunity to add their voice to the development processes that concern them and are meant to address their socio-economic plight.
With support from the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (Osisa), Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf), a communication for development organisation working in the Sadc region, has seized the challenge and set out to create platforms for informed and inclusive development-oriented dialogue among and between citizens and duty bearers through a project called Radio Platform for Community Development (RPCD). This project—which is also being implemented in Mozambique and Zambia—will see the establishment of radio listening clubs (RLCs) in around six community radio stations, namely Dzimwe, Nkhotakota, Mzimba, Voice of Livingstonia, Usisya and Mudzi Wathu. Each of the radio stations will work with about five to 10 RLCs.
In April 2013, PSAf conducted a project sensitisation and Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop for the six radio stations in Lilongwe to set stage for the roll-out of the project in the target communities.
The RLC of the RPCD will build on a similar PSAf undertaking in Mangochi where clubs working with the Development Broadcasting Unit (DBU) of the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) discussed and sought solutions to a range of challenges such as HIV and Aids and gender-based violence.
RLCs are an effective communication tool to magnify voices of the marginalised, especially when the listeners participate actively in the whole process, raise issues, discuss on them, explore options and seek external support.
The communities raise their own development issues affecting their communities and debate on them; explore options for solutions and ask questions that can influence policy or development planning, or enhance their understanding of certain issues. These issues are brought to the hearing of relevant audiences; and follow up on service or resource providers on any development initiative they have been promised. In this way, the voices of such remote communities are brought to the ears or the government, policy and development planners.
People that would otherwise have no way of contributing to development and policy are now able to communicate through such RLCs. Since PSAf started using RLCs as a communication tool for marginalised communities to contribute to policy and development decisions, a number of successes and positive impacts have been achieved, and it is expected that the same positive outcomes will be attained with the RPCD.
—The author is the PSAf Regional Programme Manager for Environment and Natural Resources Management. He can be contacted through email on email@example.com. This article was first published in the Daily Nation of Malawi, and the original version can be accessed on http://www.mwnation.com/component/content/article/105-the-nation-opinion/my-turn/19653-on-radio-listening-clubs-development?highlight=YToxOntpOjA7czo1OiJwYW5vcyI7fQ==