The Ugandan Radio Show That Saves Lives

Lacambel in-studio

Lacambel in-studio at 102 Mega FM Gulu, Uganda.

KAMPALA, Uganda - There is a corner in towns and cities across Uganda where there stands a memorial to the lowering of the Union Jack in 1962, which signaled the sunset of British colonial rule and the dawn of independence. In the northern city of Gulu, the monument is situated near the building which houses Mega FM, charged with transmitting a powerful message not only in Uganda, but to many parts of East and Central Africa.

John Lacambel, a 64-year-old father of 13 children, has passed this independence memorial every day for the last 11 years as he enters the Mega FM studio. As he strides down the station’s hallways, he passes certificates of appreciation which adorn the walls. These accolades have been showered on Mega FM to support its peace-building efforts via the radio dial in northern Uganda.

Leading these efforts is Lacambel. Admired by colleagues and loved by listeners, he has made this community radio station one of the Uganda’s most popular through his hosting of its longest running program.

Like clockwork, he takes his seat in front of the microphone, puts on his headphones, and slides up the volume control in order to begin his program. In the Luo language, he says, “Hello! This is Lacambel here at 102 Mega FM. It is Thursday and the time is now 10 p.m. This is Come Back Home.” Come Back Home is known as Dwog Paco in Luo, a language commonly spoken in Uganda, Kenya and DRC.

Tonight, Lacambel’s phone rings shortly after the show ends. He has a brief conversation with the caller, and then explains, “That was a former LRA general. He’s one of my listeners. He wanted to comment on this week’s program.”

An Uncivil War

During the height of the 20-year-long brutal war with the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, Lacambel was broadcasting Come Back Home up to three times a week to counter LRA propaganda. As part of their reign of terror, the LRA would tell abductees that if they returned home, they would be arrested by Ugandan soldiers or killed by family and friends in the community.

A warrant for Joseph Kony’s arrest, along with three of his deputies, was issued by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Finally driven out of Uganda, the LRA is now believed to be located somewhere in the area between Central African Republic, South Sudan and DRC, terrorizing people wherever they go.

Lacambel’s phone rings frequently. “Yesterday I received a call from someone in eastern DRC. They told me they listen to the program and wanted some assurance that the LRA was not in their village,” he says.

Come Back Home is retransmitted via shortwave by the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, or UBC, and can be heard where Kony is believed to be in hiding. With the help of U.S.-based organization, Invisible Children, Mega FM is trying to reach a much larger audience with its signal.

“Through Invisible Children we have a network of radio stations which rebroadcast the program. They also air from helicopters the Come Home messages I have recorded,” Lacambel says. “We’re also constructing a shortwave transmitter so we don’t have to rely on the UBC signal from Kampala.”

David Olara, 31, was born-and-raised in Gulu, Uganda. He’s been listening to Come Back Home since he was a boy. This is when his family moved him into the town, fearing he would be abducted with other children into the LRA.

“Lacambel is very experienced in the field. He’s a gentleman and a peace-loving guy.” Olara says. “Through his skills in communication, the abductees were encouraged to come back.”

Invisible Children partner with 11 radio stations in Uganda, DR Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The organization states its objective with Come Home broadcasts is “to reach deep into the bush, encouraging individuals or entire groups to surrender and escape the LRA.”

Peace and Reconciliation

“Now because there’s peace in northern Uganda, I’m on-air once every Thursday night,” Lacambel says. “I chose the 10 to 11 p.m. time slot for the program after speaking to child returnees to find out the best time to broadcast. They told me this was the time they finished marching in the bush and began to rest.”

Photo courtesy of Invisible Children.

Photo courtesy of Invisible Children.

Nicky Afa-ei is program manager at Mega FM. He says Come Back Home was originally started to give the parents of LRA abductees a voice. They would go on-air with Lacambel and plead for their children to return.

“LRA soldiers carry radio sets in the bush. When abductees would surrender we would also host them to tell their comrades how they have resettled safely in the community,” Afa-ei says. “It became such a vital program. Now most returnees are listeners.”

Moses Odokonyero used to be a news editor at Mega FM. He is now a program manager at the Northern Uganda Media Club, or NUMEC, a training centre based in Gulu.

“At one point during the war the LRA banned its soldiers from listening to the radio. Many were killed for simply tuning into the Come Back Home program,” he says. “Lacambel’s agenda is to end the LRA, but as the primary conflict has ended secondary conflicts have arisen.”

As Lacambel exits the Mega FM premises, he tucks the newspaper under his arm and heads out into the street. He says, “I feel proud when my voice is helping people. I feel I’m serving my fellow Africans and contributing to peace on the continent.”

Published online @ Huffington Post Canada

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Kenya Slum Upgrading Project in Kibera

Featuring Kibera residents Godwin Oyindo, 24, Hilda Olali, 49, and Justus Ongera, 24.

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Uganda: Urban residents turn to vegetables and chickens to improve their lives

Ruth Nalunkuma outside of chicken coop

Ruth Nalunkuma stands outside of her home where her chicken run houses 35 chickens.

Ruth Nalunkuma sits on her front doorstep and gazes at her kitchen garden. The 47-year-old mother of five grows fruit and vegetables in a garden outside her tiny home in Kigoowa, a suburb eight kilometres northeast of central Kampala.

Mrs. Nalunkuma says, “I grow spinach, pumpkin, passion fruit, onions, spinach and dodo [amaranth] in my garden. Unfortunately, I recently lost my eggplants due to disease.”

The widow shoos away one of her four grandchildren and slips on her sandals. With a skip in her step, she escapes her cluttered home to tend to her plot. Mrs. Nalunkuma provides for her family with what she harvests from her four-by-two metre square, 30-centimetre high raised bed.

She raises her right hand high above her head, saying, “I want to build a fence up to here to keep the goats out because they come and eat my vegetables.”

But Mrs. Nalunkuma is not just a gardener. Behind her home, a chicken run is shaded by banana trees growing in the muddy, red soil. The chicken run houses 35 layer hens, which she expects will produce enough eggs to earn her some much-needed income.

She explains: “I just started poultry farming. I have 35 chickens in this pen and another 35 chicks in my house. I hope to start selling the eggs at the market in the next few months.”

Ten years ago, Mrs. Nalunkuma was working as a registered nurse for Kamwokya Christian Caring Community, or KCCC, a Catholic organization. She learned about farming and, since retiring, has grown and sold crops to meet her family’s needs. Her example has encouraged others in the community.

Cathy Nakasi is Ms. Nalunkuma’s former supervisor at KCCC. She says: “Thanks to [Mrs. Nalunkuma], we now have many women engaged in peri-urban agriculture. It’s a great business opportunity, one I’m considering myself.”

Ruth N tends to her small garden

Ms. Nalunkuma tends to her kitchen garden.

Juliet Ndagire is the host of CBS Radio’s Buganda farming program. She has also adopted poultry farming to increase her income.

The journalist and mother of two lives in Bwebajja, a suburb southwest of Kampala, where she keeps 600 chickens. Mrs. Ndagire raises broiler chickens and layer hens, and sells the meat and eggs.

She says: “I now deliver my eggs directly to consumers in Bewbajja and Kampala. The cost of living has gotten much higher. This helps supplement my income as a journalist.”

Unlike Ms. Ndagire, Mrs. Nalunkuma has no external income to supplement. Although she still volunteers for KCCC, the work is unpaid. She is pinning her hopes on her small-scale poultry operation, expecting that it will provide her with a comfortable future.

Ms. Nalunkuma says: “I do what I can with the little space I have. One day I hope to have a one-acre farm on the outskirts of Kampala, but I will keep growing fruits and vegetables in the city to feed my family.”

Published online @ Farm Radio Weekly

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Tanzania: Small-scale farmers speak up for better market access

25-year-old Tanzanian onion farmer Juliana Amadeus pauses from her work in Kirya village, a semi-arid region of northern Tanzania.

25-year-old onion farmer Juliana Amadeus pauses from her work in Kirya village, located in a semi-arid region of northern Tanzania.

Digging her hands into the soil, Juliana Amadeus pulls up a fistful of onions with green, leafy stems. As the wind picks up, the onions’ pungent aroma wafts across the one acre farm. Ms. Amadeus drops the onions on to a large pile. Another woman picks up the onions and, one-by-one, hacks off the roots with a machete.

Ms. Amadeus looks over her shoulder at two men picking onions nearby. The 25-year-old says: “We all started farming at a young age. Rajabu [Shabani] is 22 and Eliraha [Wazo] is 24. We work together as a family. I’ve been farming with them since I was 14-years-old.”

Onions usually command a good price in Tanzanian markets, but Ms. Amadeus and the other small-scale onion farmers say the price per sack has dropped by half this year. This is devastating news for families in Kirya village, located in northern Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region, about 200 kilometres southeast of Arusha. The sale of onions is one of the biggest sources of income.

With a look of desperation in her eyes, Ms. Amadeus says: “The price per sack of onions dropped from 100,000 to 50,000 Tanzanian shillings [$60-30USD] this season. I don’t know how I will make up for this loss.”

Ms. Amadeus is a mother of two young boys, aged six and four. Her family lives in a one bedroom home, five kilometres from the farm where she works. She grows onions on half of the acre plot, and maize and beans on the other half-acre.

Since she already knows that the onions will make her less money than last season, she is planning ahead. She says, “I can make some extra money selling my maize and beans. But it will definitely affect our financial situation.”

Kirya village is located in a semi-arid region of Tanzania. Due to the lack of rainwater, irrigation canals were constructed from the nearby Pangani River. Unfortunately, Ms. Amadeus’ plot doesn’t have access to this irrigation system.

Elizabeth Wangui is a researcher at the Local Knowledge and Climate Change Adaptation Project in Tanzania. She writes: “Many of the people of Kirya have likewise identified irrigated farming as an important strategy to help them adapt to increasing climatic variability and change.”

Ms. Wangui adds: “However, only about half of the people in the village benefit from irrigation. Many, especially women, are unable to access the land they would need to farm.”

Juliana Amadeus sorts onions

Ms. Amadeus’ brother-in-law, Eliraha Wazo, has dug ditches to feed water from the main irrigation canal to his own one acre plot, on which he grows onions and beans.

But irrigation is not the simple answer to these farmers’ problems. The onions from Kirya are sold in Himo town market, 160 kilometres away, and middlemen control the means of transport.

Mr. Wazo says: “If we could take the onions to the market ourselves, we could receive up to 80,000 Tanzania shillings [$48 USD] per sack. But we don’t have the means for transporting our crops to the market.”

Ms. Amadeus adds: “I believe if we sold all the village’s onions together at the market, we wouldn’t need to deal with a middle man. He rips us off. Since we farm together, we should sell together and receive a better price for our onions.”

*In 2014, Farm Radio International conducted a mobile phone-based radio poll asking small-scale farmers in Tanzania to raise their voices and be heard. 65 per cent of farmers do not feel they have access to good markets for their crops. The results of “Paza Sauti [Raise Your Voice]” were presented to Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and Minister of Agriculture Christopher Chiza.

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Radio Boda-boda goes the extra mile to serve listeners

IMG_6950-1-595x400Rural radio broadcasts reach some of the most remote areas of sub-Saharan Africa. However, when FRI Tanzania staff visited the farming village of Engare Nairobi west of Mount Kilimanjaro, it became clear that people there were unable to receive a radio signal. Without access to radio, Engare Nairobi’s farmers were missing out on critical agricultural information.

Radio coverage map that shows how the village of Engare Nairobi misses out!

Radio coverage map that shows how the village of Engare Nairobi misses out!

But now, through an innovative project developed at FRI’s radio and ICT innovation lab, The Hangar, radio content is being delivered to hard-to-reach places such as Engare Nairobi on motorcycle taxis — or “boda-bodas” as they are known across much of East Africa.

Working with FRI broadcasting partner Sauti ya Injili, FRI hires a boda-boda once a month to transport SD memory cards containing several pre-recorded agricultural radio programs to a community listening group in Engare Nairobi. The boda-boda travels 85 kilometres from Sauti ya Injili’s studios in the town of Moshi to Engare Nairobi.

Tanzanian farmers listening to a solar-powered Freeplay radio with SD card.

Tanzanian farmers listening to a solar-powered Freeplay radio with SD card.

Villagers listen to the programs on wind-up, solar-powered Freeplay radios that FRI gave to community listening groups. Each memory card holds up to four programs. Listening group members are not only able to listen to the programs, but can also record messages for the Kilimo ni utafiti (Farming is research) program on Sauti ya Injili.

Tumaini Masahi

Tumaini Masahi, chairperson of Engare Nairobi village in Tanzania.

Tumaini Masahi is a 47-year-old small-scale farmer and mother of two. She is also the village chairperson. Mrs. Masahi says, “Each month, [the] Kijiji Biashara farmers group receives the SD card [and] listens to the Kilimo ni utafiti radio program together at the Engare Nairobi village office. It [has] helped us understand the importance of sharing agricultural information with other farmers from nearby villages.”

Published online @

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Beep4Weather: Forecast and Farming advice available on-demand in Tanzania

With weather patterns shifting due to climate change, farmers need weather-related information they can count on. Luckily, their mobile phones can help them get it.

“Utabiri wa hali ya hewa” (Swahili for “Beep for Weather”) is a radio and mobile phone service for farmers that was recently developed at our radio and ICT innovation lab, The Hangar. It enables farmers to receive important weather and agricultural information by calling into a radio station and promptly hanging up so to receive a return call, free of charge, and listen to a recorded message. We recently piloted this technology in Tanzania, with forecasts and information for the Kilimajaro, Arusha and Manyara Regions.

Because this is a service with which many farmers are yet unfamiliar, it was important to start by raising awareness about it. To do this, we began by airing a promotional jingle over the radio that explained how the service works and encouraged listeners to beep (place a missed call) to sign up for updates.

The promotional jingle ran for over a week, during which time approximately 600 listeners subscribed to receive text message notifications to alert them of newly available updates. Over time, other farmers not subscribed to the SMS updates learned about the service over the radio and also beeped for weather. Between December 2013 and April 2014, 1,241 different people called in to receive a call back with weather and farming advice, for a total of 2,041 beeps!

Helen Madege of Radio Sauti ya Injili demonstrating the Beep4Weather service.

Helen Madege of Radio Sauti ya Injili demonstrating the Beep4Weather service.

What made Beep4Weather recordings unique to farmers was that they contained not only a forecast, but also useful farming advice. The audio shared here contains a 30-second weather forecast recorded by Tanzanian journalist Rotlinde Achimpota with data from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency and Toto Agriculture, as well as weather-specific advice for farmers provided by agricultural extension officer Digna Massawe. In collaboration with FRI staff, Rotlinde prepared both weekly and monthly weather reports for radio stations across the northern highlands of Tanzania, including Farm Radio International partners Radio 5, Radio Sauti ya Injili and Habari Maalum Media.

FRI’s Kassim Sheghembe and journalist Rotlinde Achimpota at work in The Hangar on a Beep4Weather recording.

FRI’s Kassim Sheghembe and journalist Rotlinde Achimpota at work in The Hangar on a Beep4Weather recording.

In northern Tanzania’s Siha District, west of Mount Kilimanjaro and south of the border with Kenya, villagers in Ngarenairobi used the Beep4Weather service often. Small-scale farmer Leonard Kinyamagoha grows maize and beans, but is no longer able to determine when to expect rain. He explained to us how he accessed Beep4Weather.“Helen Madege mention[ed] the phone number on her program Kilimo ni Utafiti[Swahili for Farming is Research] and I ‘flash[ed]’ it. It call[ed] me back, at no charge, and [told] me what weather to expect in this region. When it [said] to expect heavy rain, I [knew] to plant my long-term maize.”

Leonard Kinyamagoha and his beans

Leonard Kinyamagoha, a farmer in the Kilimanjaro Region who used the Beep4Weather service.

Kassim and Rotlinde recently conducted a brief poll on the usefulness of Beep4Weather for farmers. It was sent to the 600 farmers who subscribed to the SMS updates. The results were very positive. When asked if Beep4Weather information was helpful in farming activities, nearly 70 per cent of respondents said yes. And, when asked if they would recommend Beep4Weather to other farmers, nearly 85 per cent of respondents said yes.

Following the success of this pilot, we are excited to expand the use of Beep4Weather technology in our work.

Published online @ & Soul Beat Africa

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South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists Call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farming

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS) - “What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means Work Hard in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm. The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

Published online @ Inter Press Service

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