Ugandan radio as a political space and the policing thereof
Chibita, Monica B.
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The potential of radio as a political space for contestation during and between elections is probably no longer debatable. Radio in sub-Saharan Africa has over the last two decades been dubbed the people’s medium (van de Veur 2002, Bourgault 1995, Daloz and Verrier-Frechette 2000, Mwesige 2009). The power of radio in Africa in particular comes from the relatively to extremely low literacy rates in most sub-Saharan countries, most print media still being published in the colonial languages and television in most parts of Africa remaining an urban, elite entertainment medium. Radio is relatively affordable, requires no literacy to listen to and transcends the most formidable language barriers. Because of all this, radio has been ideal for enabling the majority rural populations in Africa to participate in public debate on matters relating to their governance. Harnessing the full political potential of radio, though, has still been elusive because building on the colonial legacy, post-colonial African governments have perceived radio’s role in terms of a convenient medium for “disseminating” pre-packaged information rather than as an arena for enhancing participation and the contestation of ideas, representations and identities. Although the political and economic developments of the 1990s have forced most African countries to open up the airwaves and with this, expand the space for political contestation, however, many of these governments still manifest a degree of nostalgia for those days when government had near absolute control of the airwaves and could determine which viewpoints were given airplay. This is evident in both judicial and extra-judicial attempts to police the medium. Radio has on its part displayed a high degree of resilience, often going underground or online and continuing to serve as an avenue for political expression for large numbers of citizens.