Radio by Boat

Guy Mayo is captain of the riverboat Dieu merci (“Thank you God”) in the Central African Republic. Last fall, on his regular route along the Oubangui River, shuttling goods and passengers to and from the capital city Bangui to the port city Kouango, his cargo included something new: radio equipment.

As cholera gripped the country last year, with hundreds of cases and 20 deaths reported when the outbreak was declared in August, CAR’s Network of Journalists for Human Rights (RJDH) produced a special radio show, Honka Cholera (“Go Away Cholera”) to inform listeners on how to protect themselves and stem the spread of the disease.

Internews and RJDH partnered with captains like Guy, working from The Port of Soa in the 7th Bangui, to equip their boats with broadcast equipment and episodes of Honka Cholera, to play for the passengers.

“Thanks to these radio shows, people who come from small villages where radio signals do not reach are able to listen to important health advice on how to protect themselves against cholera. It is our contribution to the fight against this disease. Health is very important,” said Guy.

“This is the first time that an organization has included us in the fight against cholera,” said Anatole Crispin Prince Ngbokotto, president of an association of river boat drivers. “No one has included us in the well-being of our people despite the fact that it is our pirogues (a long narrow boat made from a single tree trunk) and canoes that transport the sick to Bangui.”

Three men holding audio equipment stand by a boat at the dock.
Distribution of radio equipment to boat captains. Credit: Internews

“These types of programs will help those we transport to protect themselves from cholera. Even for me, the advice I received from this programming has allowed me to understand a lot more about the disease,” he added.

The fight against cholera requires the dissemination of timely and accurate information, including health advice to avoid cholera: basic hygiene, food and clean water consumption. Honka Cholera also explained what to do if citizens see the symptoms of cholera in someone.

A man stands on a pile of filled sacks on the front of a boat

Innocent, who is the captain of the boat Dieu agit encore (Once again God reacts) was preparing to leave for the neighboring town of Mobaye. While he was loading his boat for the seven-day journey, with stops to sell and pick up goods along the way, Innocent started to play and listen to the broadcasts. “This is a very good initiative. We never thought of such a thing,” he said.

Honka Cholera has also been broadcast in other communities in CAR that are not along the Oubangui River. It played continuously on six major radio stations that reach Bangui and the surrounding areas. And similar to the pirogues broadcasting the show for river-based communities, twenty-give motor-taxis have followed suit by doing the same in the remote interior of the country — drivers received the program on flash drives and loaded it onto the radios on their bikes.

By bike, boat, or radio, Honka Cholera ensured that citizens within communities affected by Cholera were well-versed on prevention.

Jeremie Soupou is Internews’ Humanitarian Journalism Trainer in CAR. The Cholera radio initiative was supported by the United Nations Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF). Internews’ ongoing work in CAR is supported by the US Agency for International Development.

(Banner photo: Sailors departing for the city of Kouango in the Central African Republic, a town affected by 2016’s Cholera outbreak. Credit: Internews)