The August 26th episode of BBC’s World at One with host Sarah Montague featured Mike Thomson reporting on an Internews project in South Sudan that gets news and information to internally displaced persons living in camps. Listen to the report:
Sarah Montague: Now then radio, we hope you realize, has an amazing ability to paint a picture. Nowhere is that more true than in remote areas of the world that don’t have access to television or printing presses. In places that are plagued by conflict and insecurity or isolated by geography and cut off from the outside world, local radio is often the only source of news and information and so it plays a central role in the lives of those who live there. Our correspondent Mike Thomson has been taking a look at day to day life in some of these rarely heard from places through the prism of the radio stations that serve them. We’re going to be hearing a series of reports from him, beginning with the extraordinary radio Boda Boda Talk Talk, which operates in South Sudan’s biggest camp for displaced people. It’s near Bentiu in the far north of the country.
[Sound of motorbike]
Mike Thomson: A boisterous crowd gathers around the battered old motorbike in South Sudan’s largest camp for displaced people, near the battle-scarred northern town of Bentiu. Then, at the press of a button, this two-wheeled radio station bursts into life.
[Sound of radio voices in local language]
Adhe Boru (reporter): My name Adhe Boru. I’m working with the Boda Boda Talk Talk in Wau. Boda Boda is a motorcycle taxi. And this Boda Boda can go in places where the vehicles cannot reach. So what we do is mount speakers, huge speakers on this Boda Boda and then travel the market areas in the zones where the camp is arranged and people can listen.
Adhe Boru: People are curious. Everybody starts running to hear the radios. Usually we start with the music to attract people and the motorcycle taxi has become a moving radio that can come and play for them the information that they need to hear.
[Radio: “You are listening to Boda Boda Talk Talk]
Mike Thomson: These pre-recorded radio programs, many containing the latest news and information about local food supplies, tent repairs, and security issues are put onto memory cards and then broadcast from these roving boda bodas or motorcycle taxis. Puot Panyuan of the NGO Internews, which helps fund the project, tells me that listeners have their say too.
Puot Panyuan: We do a live radio talk show and then people call in to the radio some of the topics being broadcast on the radio and we go and pre-record their voices also in the camp. Then we come and play these things on the radio.
Mike Thomson: At the height of the civil war, a hundred and twenty thousand people sought refuge in this UN Protection of Civilians camp or POC. And most are still here more than five years on.
Puot Panyuan: People are now thinking like if the peace is implemented maybe the next focus will be the return to the original places, but now they are not sure whether the places are safe or not.
[Sound of motorbike]
Mike Thomson: This is where the Boda Boda motorbikes are proving especially useful. Until recently, they kept within the boundaries of the camp but now they’re traveling way beyond it to the villages that people fled from, checking what the security situation is like there, seeing who’s returned and relaying messages to their relatives back in the camp.
Puot Panyuan: When we collected those greetings and played them here, oh, it was amazing. People are also responding and we take back this greeting and messages to the relatives who they’ve been separated from for years in those villages.
Mike Thomson: By the time a revised peace deal was signed in September 2018, nearly 380,000 people had died and 2.3 million fled the country. And although the security situation in some areas is still fragile, Puot Panyuan says life is slowly getting back to normal.
Puot Panyuan: There’s a total difference from how the area look like currently and before because the villages and homes were totally destroyed. Now I can see that there are people returning and they are building their shelters within the plastic sheets, with the help of the humanitarian agencies.
[Music and radio]
Mike Thomson: The camp’s radio station, which runs alongside the Boda Boda Talk Talk service, aims to entertain, as well as inform, with a popular music request show. [Sound from radio] And when it comes to the most requested song of all, it seems there’s really no competition.
Puot Panyuan: There’s a song that people request about pali chenga. [music] Pali chenga is talk … in local language. They stop fighting so that people will go back to their normal life. Then people live together and forget about the past. The song is calling for peace.
Sarah Montague: Mike Thomson reporting.