News / Africa

    Innovative Radio Talk Shows Give Ugandans a Public Voice

    A combination of radio talk shows and SMS (text messaging) technology is seeking to empower Ugandan citizens to hold their public servants accountable for the country's problems.

    Uganda’s lively radio shows have always tried to get people talking about the issues of the day. But now, an innovative new pairing of radio and SMS technology is allowing Ugandans to voice their opinions in a way that was never possible before.

    Every Thursday, listeners of a popular radio breakfast show in Kampala are asked a question about some aspect of public life. The questions probe issues like public transportation, the state of health care, even the performance of individual politicians.

    Hundreds of listeners can respond by sending in a free SMS text message to the show, and visual representations of the answers are put together as the texts start rolling in. The software that makes this possible is called Trac FM.

    “For instance, if we have a question like, ‘Where is the worst street in your city?’  Then people send in the name of the street, and the presenter gets an overview on a map and on bar charts where people think is the worst road, and he discusses these issues during his talk show," said Wouter Dijkstra, a Dutchman living in Kampala who developed Trac FM.  He got the idea three years ago while researching new media in Uganda.

    “During the research I went to several places to see where this interaction between government and civilians is most possible.  You see that a lot of radio feedback is used by inviting politicians or policymakers over to radio stations, and people who are allowed to phone in.  This is where I saw there was a lot of energy for dialogue," he said.

    Trac FM is currently being used by two radio stations, one based in Kampala and one in northern Uganda.  The project is run as an NGO, and access to the software is free to radio stations who want it.

    Dijkstra says that thanks to widespread use of both radios and mobile phones, even in villages, this method of opinion polling gives a voice to ordinary Ugandans who have no other way of speaking out. “In Uganda you do have relatively free media, but for the ordinary person they tend to not really get involved in the public debate about these kinds of issues, especially issues of service delivery. People complain, but they don’t have a channel to really reach the people who can make a change," he said.

    Last week, Kampala listeners weighed in on the subject of electricity bills - a timely topic in a country where the cost of power has just spiked, and extended power cuts have recently caused riots.

    Seanice Kacungira, one of the show’s hosts, says that what makes Trac FM so successful is that it is easy and free for anyone to get involved in public debate. “I think the fact that it’s free is very important, so people feel like they can always get involved and it doesn’t cost them anything, which is very important right now in tough economic times. So it helps inform our discussions, it helps us know what the pressure points are," he said.

    Sometimes the answers can be surprising. Last year, listeners were asked what they thought of Dutch aid cuts to Uganda. An overwhelming 82 percent texted in to say they approved of the cuts, and that they would rather have no aid at all than aid that supports a corrupt government.

    Host Seanice Kacungira says many of those who respond to Trac FM’s questions have a surprisingly low level of confidence in public officials. “Perceptions that I find interesting are the levels of disillusionment with government, with their ability to provide services. It’s a lot worse than I had initially thought," he said.

    At least some of this information does make it back to the officials and institutions concerned. Kacungira says that she and her colleagues will be sharing the answers they get about electricity billing with Umeme, Uganda’s power distribution company.

    Dijkstra says that even if the polls do not directly influence politicians, he still hopes that they will encourage Ugandans to be more vocal in voicing their opinions.

    Dijkstra says he plans to expand to other countries, and has had interest from as far away as Tajikistan and Indonesia. With a platform adapted to work in different languages, he says, it is an idea that could work practically anywhere.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.