In the vast Serengeti ecosystem of North Tanzania lies a radio mast: a developmental lifeline for the world-revered people who work this desert and scrubland, the Maasai people. An antenna on this mast belongs to Loliondo FM: a permanent source of information and empowerment to the pastoral Maasai communities.
The Maasai are a tribe of people who live in parts of Tanzania and Kenya that are known as tall and fierce warriors. But as any visitor will tell you, they are a calm and welcoming people. They live a nomadic life, which means they move from place to place with their animals according to seasons. Relying on their animals for food (including milk, meat and animal blood) they walk for miles with their animals to find fresh food and water. All other foods they require are obtained by trading (swapping) with other Maasai people. The men herd cattle and carry spears to protect their cattle from wild animals such as lions, while the women are responsible for cooking, collecting sticks for the fire and building the home.
Local women in the community receiving solar-powered radios
For many people in developing nations community radio is often the only effective source of information for local people. In Kenya, Maasai literacy rates are below 20%, and fall as low as 5% among clans pursuing a purely nomadic lifestyle. Community radio is a vital source of information in an area where no other forms of media or sources of information exist.
The running of these stations relies upon the enthusiasm of volunteers, as in the developed world, but the output of information and advice has the potential to significantly improve the health and economic wellbeing of isolated communities. Loliondo FM provides such information and advice to the Maasai people on issues like:
- Tackling illiteracy
- Land and human rights
- Eliminating poverty
- Education for girls
- HIV/AIDS transmission
- Female genital mutilation
- Traditional medicine and healing
- Cultural practices and traditions
- Service delivery and accountability of the government
- The impact of climate change
Salangat Mako, coordinator of the IrikiRamat Foundation, which works to support Loliondo FM, describes the importance of the station as:
"benefitting the community in many ways from announcement of lost livestock, outbreak of livestock diseases, to education on various issues pertaining to daily pastoral undertakings. In the broader sense, change to the Maasai is coming so fast that Loliondo FM has to prepare the Maasai of Ngorongoro for the change."
Radio station staff doing their thing
Community radio has an organised, international presence through the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). In its Abidjan Declaration of 30 April 2009, AMARC Africa affirmed that communication and communication rights are a basic human right and that community radio is not only a media outlet to reach a community, but also a project in its own right, that gives voice to the voiceless, empowers the excluded and fosters the community to express, to be heard and to organise itself. The Declaration also acknowledged the contribution of community radio to good governance and the fight against corruption, and its ability to increase awareness on development challenges from HIV/AIDS, women empowerment and gender equality, to democratic participation in the electoral process. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO has stated that indigenous media...
“...is especially important for indigenous women, whose voices are shunted aside, and who are making already a significant contribution to local human development. The media can help educate and inform. They can include and bolster voices. They can also promote changes in attitudes and social behavior, and help identify sustainable opportunities for development that are inclusive and equitable”.
Not only is Loliondo FM, as a source of information, now educating the Maasai people on these important issues, the impact of the station goes even further. Importantly, all sections of the communities are involved in the programming content including children, young people, women, and elders.
The purpose of Loliondo FM is to be a permanent source of information and empowerment to pastoral Maasai communities of Ngorongoro district through their active participation in the modern medium of community radio. The radio station seeks to encourage debates and discussions on issues affecting the lives of local people and is evident in the crowds of Masaai who gather to collectively listen to their hand held radios to hear national electoral debates, local weather forecast, or ads for local NGO-supported small businesses such as the women’s jewellery shop, beekeeping and poultry enterprises that are promoted through the radio.
Indeed, Loliondo FM and other community radio stations are bringing the Massai into a new age: allowing the people preserve their way of life while keeping up to speed with the world around them.
To find out more and to support these truly awesome people, you can head here.