By John Omo
In a continent that grapples with limited ICT infrastructure and access to internet and digital technologies, radio remains the leading communication medium in Africa with the highest audience and the widest geographical coverage catering to roughly 800 million Africans that remain offline as outlined in a 2021 report by the International Telecommunication Union. While modern technologies that compliment radio broadcast such as internet have been received with skepticism, radio, has over the years, predominantly emerged as a trusted and influential source of information in Africa. If radio is not competing with but complimenting these modern technologies, how can this powerful medium be used as a catalyst in Africa’s digital transformation?
The incorporation of technology into radio broadcast such as online (or livestreaming) services and the increased interaction between radio stations and their listeners through the use of mobile phones is a clear indication of the complimentary roles of the technologies. The role played by modern and emerging technologies in enhancing service delivery in the radio industry is just but one of the many benefits that such technologies can offer not only to the industry but to Africa as a continent and radio can be used to advocate for the uptake and adoption of these technologies.
Throughout history, radio has done tremendously well in influencing positive behavior change among communities in Africa sparking socio-economic development. The rise of community radios for instance, have played a key role in conveying vital information and raising the awareness and understanding of these communities on important issues such as health, peace, civil rights, human rights, education, agricultural best practices, and financial growth and empowerment.
Arguably, it can be said that Africa’s digital transformation is not dependent on the attitude of some Africans towards ICTs but on the availability of ICT resources and infrastructure. Acknowledging that investment in ICT that currently stand to a tune of $100 billion is one of the key solutions in dealing with the digital divide in the continent, it is also important for Africa to prepare its population for the digital transformation. Radio can play a key role in educating the masses on the importance of ICTs and technologies and advocating for the increased use and uptake of ICTs
Internet safety and cyber security is one of the key areas that radio can play a role in promoting ICT adoption and usage. Online security threats can discourage individuals including children from fully exploiting the benefits of the internet. The radio can play a key role in educating the society on online safety by drawing messages from existing laws. Through the radio, the community can be educated on how to identify and report online and ICT-facilitated crimes including those committed against women and children.
The internet can be used for personal and consequently societal development. Daily, new opportunities for education, career development and endless commercial activities are availed across the internet yet a majority of mobile device users in in Sub-Saharan Africa mainly use their devices for social and entertainment purposes than for information-seeking or career- and commerce-related activities. This is according to the Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey conducted by PEW Research Centre. Radio can also be used to encourage the masses to fully exploit ICTs including their mobile phones to access such opportunities and develop knowledge and skills that can positively impact themselves and the society.
Additionally, radio can also be used to encourage and challenge small business and farmers to explore online markets and resources. Many new and innovative digital platforms and services are now available for small businesses and farmers to use. Technology can help these very important groups in our community improve their growth and productivity and increase their market share by accessing new customers. With these tools being introduced at a rapid pace, there is a dire need for them to be educated on how to take advantage of such opportunities and thrive in an everchanging digital environment.
When it comes to ICTs and digital technologies, content is the driver for the demand side of infrastructure. Africa as a continent should promote the production of local content and applications and radio can be used to encourage local content development as well as promote the digital content sector.
As the world celebrates the 2022 World Radio Day under the theme “Radio and Trust”, stakeholders should challenge themselves on how they can use this powerful medium to influence Africa’s digital transformation. The sooner our population appreciates the benefits of digital technologies, the faster the adoption will be even as the continent works towards closing the digital divide.
(John Omo is the Secretary General of the African Telecommunications Union -ATU. The article was written to mark World Radio Day on February 13, 2022)).