Seydou and his enlightening radio | #mediadev - media development insights and analysis | DW | 12.07.2016
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Seydou and his enlightening radio

Find out how radio helped a blinded stonemason become a farmer and why he loves radio so much, as part of a #mediadev series on how people around the world view and use media.

Sitting under a shed facing his plot of land in Loumbila, a tiny backwater 30 kilometers north of Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougo, Seydou Ilboudo is especially chatty on this windy afternoon.

"Radio is like a faithful companion," says the elderly man, stroking the radio set on his knees with his lined hands.

Seydou and his radio have long had a love affair. It became more passionate 15 years ago when Seydou was blinded and forced to give up his job as a stonemason.

"The radio was a form of psychological therapy for me. It enabled me to accept my fate," says Seydou.

Even now, the airwaves still work their magic. "When I am feeling low, the music and variety of programs broadcast allow me to overcome my sadness and helps lift my spirits," he says.

Learning from the airwaves

In Seydou's life, radio is more than just therapy though. It has also proved to be a lifeline.

When he was blinded, Seydou, a faithful Muslim, had two wives and eight children. Many in his village assumed the loss of his eyesight would spell tragedy for the whole family.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita GDP of around 620 euro ($684) according to the World Bank's 2013 figures (the last year for which statistics are available).

People with disabilities are generally doomed to absolute poverty in the West African nation.

But determined to support his family, Seydou changed careers and became a farmer.
He now manages to produce enough food to feed all his family - with the radio playing a large role in his achievement.

"Thanks to the farming programs on the airwaves, I learned a lot about agricultural techniques," he says.

This year in Loumbila, the harvest was poor for many. Not for Seydou, who managed to harvest a good yield.

"On the radio, the agricultural experts advised everyone to use seeds that would be drought resistant. This is what I did," he says proudly.

Radio is king

Seydou's favorite radio stations are Radio Savane FM, Radio Vénégré and Radio Oméga, all of which broadcast in Mossi, the language of his ethnic group. Seydou tunes in three times a day, fitting in his radio listening between working in the fields and saying his daily prayers.

Seydou isn't alone in his love of radio. It's the most-listened to medium in Burkina Faso, where there are more than 150 radio stations across the country.

Newspapers are much less popular. The majority of the country's population is illiterate (the illiteracy rate was around 64 percent in 2015) and most newspapers are distributed exclusively in Ouagadougou. While Internet penetration is growing, it is still low at around 9.4 percent.

Radio also has the advantage in that it is inexpensive. Batteries for his receiver only cost Seydou around 2,000 West African CFA francs (3 euros), he says.

Of the three stations he listens to, Seydou prefers Radio Oméga, which is dedicated to news and current affairs. He likes it, he says, because it is respectful. After all, the elderly man is molded by the traditional values of his community where respect is a cardinal principle.

"It is not like listening to a chat down at the market. During live phone-ins, callers' identities are revealed. If a caller becomes rude they are kept in check. If a caller persists in using profanities and rude words, the phone line is cut," he says.

"Often there are contributors who engage in personal attacks and in denigrating others. They don't show respect for one another. I really dislike this type of broadcast," says Seydou.

Media defender

Despite never having set foot in a classroom, Seydou is well aware that he doesn't always hear the complete truth on the radio. In Burkina Faso, he says, journalists are prevented from telling the whole story, working in what he eloquently calls "a controlled system of freedom."

"I have noticed a difference in the news broadcast by state-run radio and the news on private stations," he says. "State radio does not give you the full facts. By contrast, private radio like Savane FM and Oméga FM give exhaustive details."

Seydou believes the media in Burkina Faso "must serve the interests of the citizens and not only the interests of the powerful in society. They should be a force for peace, not for fueling hatred."

In order for this to happen, the wise man of Loumbila has a solution: "You have to pay journalists a decent wage."

In fact, Seydou has great admiration for journalists and praises their courage.

"Real journalism is a risky job," he says, smiling widely. "Investigating arms traffickers with only a press card for a defense is really risky."

Looking more serious, Seydou says that it's particularly in times of crisis that people realize the importance of the radio. He remembers that in September 2015, when the presidential guard overthrew the interim government, everyone in his village was glued to their radio receivers. They wanted to know what was going on in the capital but it was impossible to find out.

"The rebels had ransacked the radio stations leaving them unable to broadcast. At the time, most people believed it was a problem with the reception and the aerials weren't working properly," he explains.

While the media in Burkina Faso still face many difficulties, press freedom groups are cautiously optimistic about the direction in which the media are heading.

Burkina Faso ranked 42nd in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, which tracks the safety, independence and freedom of journalists and the media. That was four places higher than in 2015. Reporters without Borders, which publishes the index, called Burkina Faso an African "success story" with both print and broadcast media more pluralistic and dynamic than in most African countries.

And as for Seydou, farmer and unofficial media critic, he reaches down and switches on the radio. It's 3 pm, time for the news on Radio Oméga.

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