Solar Power Multiplies Air Time for DRC Radio Station

USAID Provides Reliable Power for Community Radio
A Bubandano community radio journalist at work editing audio.
Photo Internews
Broadcasting hours jump dramatically for electricity-strapped town
“We do not have to face power failures that interrupt our broadcast programs anymore. For now on, Bubandano community radio followers can listen to the news on time.”

Jan. 2015—The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country the size of Western Europe. It has fewer miles of paved roads than Maryland, and less than 10 percent of its population have access to electricity, which is erratic. Persistent electricity problems in Minova, a town in South Kivu province, meant that the radio station could never be certain whether its news programs would air.

During the day electricity was extremely sporadic. The only time reliable power was available was between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.—long after Radio Bubandano had signed off for the night. The station had to increasingly rely on a generator for its energy needs, but when fuel prices rose, paying for fuel became even more difficult. The future of the station became uncertain.

This small community radio station, created in 2007, broadcasts a number of programs in Minova and the surrounding area. It is one of the few sources of local news and information and an important outlet for public service announcements. Beyond providing news and entertainment, it is also an integral voice in the community that enables citizens to participate more effectively in public issues.

The USAID Media Sector Development Program provides training and skill building for the Congolese media to provide reliable, objective, and timely news and information to the public, allowing Congolese citizens to participate more effectively in public affairs. Through the program, USAID installed a solar energy system at Radio Bubandano to access a reliable source of power. Now, rather than broadcasting for less than four hours a day, the station has increased its air time to 15 hours a day organized around 24 weekly programs.

The response from listeners has been overwhelmingly positive. Colos Buzukanwa, an avid listener of the radio station, noticed a major change. “We do not have to face power failures that interrupt our broadcast programs anymore. For now on, Bubandano community radio followers can listen to the news on time.”

The financial benefits are significant as well. Since the solar kit was installed, Radio Bubandano no longer has to spend $72 every week buying 40 liters of gasoline for its generator, a huge proportion of its budget.

“For sure, an improved cash flow has already been noticed, since we do not have to spend that much anymore on gas,” said Jacques Mulobi, the Radio Bubandano accountant.

As a result of these savings, and just two weeks after the installation of the solar system, senior management increased staff salaries, which has greatly increased morale.

The director of Radio Bubandano, Austère Bahati, said he is proud the radio station is ensuring listener loyalty with continuous broadcasting time. With USAID’s help, Bahati now spends most of his time developing programming and thinking about ways to improve service instead of worrying about electricity.

With violent armed groups continuing to operate in South Kivu, regular access to information broadcast by Radio Bubandano not only allows citizens to participate more in civic affairs but also enhances security.

Through its five-year Media Sector Development Program, which started in December 2010, USAID has helped install solar panel kits to provide reliable and affordable alternative electricity to six community radio stations. The project supports the growth and sustainability of dozens of community radio stations in Maniema, Bandundu, Katanga and South Kivu provinces. As a direct outcome of this support, community radio stations have modified their programming schedule to provide greater variety and longer broadcast hours; the audiences of these six stations are able to listen to programs without frequent broadcast interruptions due to blackouts; the regularity and stability of broadcasts have boosted audience loyalty; and key partners such as the Catholic Church in these provinces now feel more accountable and have promised to be more supportive of provincial activities in the future.

In addition, USAID trained more than 350 Congolese journalists and other media practitioners in investigative journalism, information gathering techniques, newsroom management, editing techniques, community radio station management and marketing strategies. These efforts strengthened the capacity of community radio stations to produce informative programming covering issues directly associated with corruption such as public procurement and service delivery.


Follow on Facebook, on YouTube