“DRP is a valued strategic partner for Search for Common Ground. DRP's skilled and passionate consultants helped develop the Independent Radio Network and their training on voter education and covering elections was excellent. Their work has made a positive difference in Sierra Leone.”
As told by: Frances Fortune- Director at Africa Search for Common Ground in Freetown, Sierra Leone
This is a success story in building democracy in one of the poorest countries in the world, Sierra Leone, which ranks 176th out of 177 countries in the UNDP Index of Human Development. As many as 50,000 people were killed in the ten-year civil war and many more thousands became refugees in their own country as rebels burned homes and villages. In spite of having a reputation for rampant corruption, fair and transparent elections were held in late summer of 2007 that resulted in a peaceful change of government.
In war-torn Sierra Leone, radio is the most important communications medium due to a sixty percent rate of illiteracy and virtually no newspapers outside of its capital city, Freetown.
Working closely with our in-country partner Search for Common Ground, starting in March, DRP consultant Terry Fitzpatrick spent three weeks working with local stations and a production team from the IRN to create the first weekly national news program featuring reports from outside of Freetown. Most of the reporters were volunteers with limited experience. Terry taught them how to produce stories using sound and to make a local story of interest to a national audience.
Later, in August, Terry provided training on voter education and preparation of local and national coverage of the elections including how to organize debates. He also created an election handbook and stayed through the exciting final counting of the ballots.
In the end, the IRN received praise from the National Electoral Commission (NEC), political parties, observer groups and the public. Recognition came from the Media Monitoring and Refereeing Panel which commended “the admirable roles being played by media institutions such as…the Independent Radio Network, the BBC Trust and Talking Drum Studio,” in “charting the way forward for the media to be actively engaged at all levels of the political process in the country.” In contrast, other media outlets were censured for “inciting violence, promoting hate, malice tribalism and political intolerance.”
The country’s 75.8% voter turnout and successful elections mark a turning point for the country. According to Search for Common Ground, “The national elections marked a critical benchmark in Sierra Leone’s transition out of its brutal decade-long conflict, and symbolize the consolidation of its peace, stability, and development…Overall the elections were hailed as free and fair and a positive example to the region of how to conduct peaceful and transparent elections in the poorest of countries.”
Search for Common Ground attributed IRN’s success to, among other things, the expert technical assistance of Developing Radio Partners in building local radio capacity.
In addition to Search for Common Ground and IRN, the National Election Watch and Honoring Women’s Initiative were a few of the other organizations that contributed to this success.
Developing Radio Partners is proud to have been part of a braided cable of partnerships that played a key role in these elections that pulled this fragile democracy forward and showcased the power of community-led radio to positively affect local and national level governance.
“No democracy can endure without considering the views of both the majority and the minority. A strong and vigorous media – especially independent radio broadcasting – will help ensure that no one is left without a voice at the decision-making table because of lack of resources.” Andrew Kromah
Andrew Kromah is a private radio station manager in Sierra Leone who operates two stations, KISS-FM in Bo, and SKY-FM in Freetown. His reporting on local police corruption in the series, Mr. Owl, resulted in increased pay for the police and the establishment of a community affairs department. Andrew’s voter education programming, “Democracy Now,” resulted in higher voter turnout in his listening area than other parts of the country. He received the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Award for exceptional public service in 2004.
The country has been rated the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Kromah runs an independent radio station in Freetown and has reported on the rebels and government. Each week, as Mr. Owl he investigates local corruption. Twice his building has been burned down. During the 1996 election there, Kromah and his staff were forced to broadcast from the bush to escape injury. During his visit to the United States, Andrew had a chance to sit down with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross.
In 2001, Andrew visited several public radio stations in the United States and upon his return, he laid plans to create a national public radio service in Sierra Leone. In cooperation with the Search for Common Ground’s Talking Drum Studio in Freetown, Developing Radio Partners conducted an assessment of community radio in Sierra Leone in fall 2005. Working with station managers, stakeholders, and Andrew, DRP developed an action plan for creating a network of local stations.