Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This is how voices of Tanzanian youth got louder

 

Fearing the disengagement of youth from politics, a radio program Niambie was established three years ago. Today it’s one of the most successful radio shows in the country, helping young people navigate through their lives.

When construction worker Clever Daudi Mngongo renovated a hall, he remembered the radio show Niambie. It had recently talked about the use of Social Media like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for business. So Mr Mngongo did as the show suggested. After he completed his task, he posted pictures of his work on Social Media. And as a matter of fact, he received a phone call from someone who had seen his post and liked his work. They offered him to come to Dodoma and help build a warehouse to store sunflowers. And that’s what Mr Mngongo did, expanding his business to a place as far as Dodoma. To Niambie, he is very thankful. “It helped me know how to capitalise on social media”, he says. “In the future, I have a dream of doing big things using Social Media.”

The case of Mr Mngongno is the perfect example of the purpose of Niambie. “Our goal is to provide practical knowledge to young citizens to improve their lives,” Colin Spurway says.

He is director of BBC Media Action, the international development charity of the BBC that stands behind the show. It’s been three years since the show started and on the 25th the show celebrates its anniversary with a special broadcast. Funded by the Swiss government, the initial goal of Niambie was to empower young people to make informed political choices in the elections of 2014 and 2015.

When the show took turned out to be a success, Switzerland extended financing beyond the national election in 2015, broadening the scope of the show. Since then, it’s not only about civic engagement anymore, but also other issues that are relevant for the well-being of Tanzanian youth. Topics recently covered include for instance writing a job application, creating a business, coping with stress, eating healthy or teenage pregnancies.

For most listeners though the exact rationale behind the show is not decisive, they just like the show. And there are many of them. According to the latest numbers more than 3 million people between 15 and 30 years listen to the program every week, most of them on Cloud FM that airs the show on Saturday 11am and a rerun on Sunday 10pm.

One important reason why the listeners find the show not only useful, but also interesting, is the way the program is set up. Different from a textbook that lectures the youth how to behave properly, the radio program uses entertaining elements to gain the attention of young people. It includes testimonials from peers and makes use not only of experts, but also of celebrities. And above all, two eccentric presenters make sure that the listeners don’t get bored. It’s Noel Mwakalindile and Meena Ally who present they show, and it’s also them, who are the public faces of Niambie.

Noel Mwakalindile worked as a presenter for another radio show of BBC Media Action Haba na Haba, when he was asked if he wants to help to set up a new radio program addressing the youth.

“They probably thought my presentation style was a bit too eccentric for a serious program like Haba na Haba,” he says and laughs. He became a member of a team consisting of producers and development professionals that started working on the show in 2013, later Meena Ally, the female voice of the show, joined the team. In November 2014, Niambie aired for the first time.

Talking to Mr Mwakalindile is a bit like talking with the biggest fan of the show. “I feel very privileged to work for Niambie,” he says. He emphasizes that he learns every week something new and that he feels humbled by the feedback he gets.

This 36-year-old is full of stories from young people thanking him in one or the other way for having been helpful in their lives. He tells for example the story about the general election in 2015. Niambie ran a show on how people should behave after they voted.

The lesson was to leave the polling place right after the cast of the vote to avoid potential trouble. When Mr Mwakalindile recently went to Iringa to record testimonials for a show, he was approached by a young man.

He told Mr Mwakalindile, how his friends wanted to stay at the polling station back in 2015 to make sure that their vote was counted. This young man, however, recalled the Niambie suggestion and left.

Luckily so, because after the closing of the polling station, violence broke out and a friend got injured. “This kind of stories make our job so rewarding,” Mr Mwakalindile says.

He is proud to have an impact, saying “I am very happy that young people learn and are changing their lives through our show.”

Employment, education, health, civic engagement: The topics discussed in the show often touch politics. But still, Mr Mwakalindile has this to say, “Institutional politics is not really something I am especially interested in,” . For him, it’s more about the practical implications politics have on people’s lives. His blindness to party politics also makes it easier for the show to be impartial. “After dozens of shows about the electoral process people approached me, saying that they didn’t know who I voted for”, Mr Mwakalindile says. “And that’s exactly how it should be.”

A characteristic feature of Niambie is the involvement of celebrities. In every show musicians, actors, entrepreneurs or other socialites would talk about their personal experiences with the topic, capitalizing on their function as role models for a part of the youth. Mr Mwakalindile says that at the beginning it was not always easy to convince celebrities to come to the show. Now it’s all different, he says. “As soon as you mention the name Niambie, they are excited to participate,” he says.

One of the musicians who have participated in the show is Bongo flavour star Kala Jeremiah. He recently appeared in a show that urged young people to join Local Health Facility Governing Committees to improve health services in their neighbourhood. He is full of praise for the show. “Niambie is big,” he says. “Not only does it have a lot of listeners, it is also highly appreciated by the youth.” He calls idea behind the show “bombastic”. “I think it’s a great way to improve young people’s life,” he says. Commending the show, he has just one little wish. “Please give us celebrities a bit more time on air.”

As a matter of fact, BBC Media Action is right now pondering about the future of the program. Colin Spurway from BBC Media Action explains that the program is funded until April 2018. It is up to this day still open, if the show will continue or not. He personally would like it to go on, Mister Spurway says. “We have created a trusted brand in the last three years, so it would be a missed opportunity to let it stop in a moment when the show is so popular.” Mr Spurway aims high. His vision is that shows like Niambie will play an important role in the national elections of 2020. “It would be a dream come true if the candidates talked with the youth from all over the country through our program”, he says. “This would prove that Tanzanian leaders see young people as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”     

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