YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - World Radio Day (February 13) was observed in crisis-prone Cameroon, with journalists and other media practitioners calling the medium an important tool in reducing crises and COVID-19. Cameroon has been broadcasting messages of peace and reconciliation, especially to separatists fighting to create an English-speaking state in the French-speaking majority Cameroon. Some fighters say they dropped their weapons after listening to radio messages.
This is the voice of Cameroonian President Paul Biya warning Cameroonians to beware of a resurgence of COVID-19. The message, urging Cameroonians to always wear face masks, wash their hands regularly and consult health staff if people notice COVID-19 symptoms, is played before and during primetime news on many radio stations.
Cameroon’s Public Health Ministry says that, thanks to radio, the message has reached millions of Cameroonians who now protect themselves from the coronavirus.
Journalists in Cameroon broadcast special programs on the history and importance of radio and why radio can be trusted to mark the day. Some marched on the streets of the capital Yaoundé to stress its importance.
Geraldine Fobang is a journalist with the Christian Broadcasting Service, based in the English-speaking western town of Buea, and president of the NGO Cameroon Community Media Network. She says many Cameroonians now distinguish between hate language and propaganda on social media and verifiable information on radio.
"If something is not said on radio, some people will not believe it, that is why when they see anything on social media, the next thing is to tune to the radio that [where] people get credible and factual information," Fobang said. "It is a dire need for journalists working within this traditional media [radio] to be very conscious of what they send out."
Cameroon has been using radio to communicate messages of unity and reconciliation in its western regions, where separatists have been fighting to create an English-speaking state out of the French-speaking majority country.
Theodore Kiniben Dufe is a former fighter. He says while in the bush, he could only get information from a solar-powered radio. Dufe says he escaped from a separatist camp in the English-speaking northwestern village of Mbuluf when he heard from the radio that surrendering fighters would not be arrested by the military.
"I heard that any person who drop his weapons will be forgiven. The radio again said Amba boys [fighters] who stop fighting will not be killed, that they will instead be trained and given money to start a business," Dufe said. "That is why I escaped from the bush and I came to Yaoundé. Honestly, I believe I should have been killed by the military if I did not get an encouragement from the radio to surrender and leave the bush.
Cameroon says it is difficult to give statistics on how many fighters have surrendered because they listened to radio pleas for them to drop their weapons.
Journalism associations, however, say radio’s impact on peoples’ lives is huge. People listen to the radio in their cars, shops, homes, offices and farms.
Radios are cheaper than TVs, and newspapers are either not always available in the hinterlands or are out of reach for many.
Cameroon has more than 200 radio stations.
The central African state accuses some of the stations of propagating separatist ideology. The separatists accuse some journalists of broadcasting only information favorable to the government.
Peter Essoka, president of Cameroon National Communication Council, says radio is essential for those who want to communicate in Cameroon. Essoka says journalists should work harder in verifying the information they broadcast, to continue to gain their audience’s confidence.
"You have to be tenacious. You see, the life in the media has become so easy with technology and our young people ought to be more professional than we ever were," Essoka said. "Don’t mess up your profession. Be patient. We are running much faster than we should."
World Radio Day was proclaimed in 2011 by UNESCO countries and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 as an International Day. The U.N. describes radio as a powerful medium and a mass media reaching the widest audience in the world. It is free, democratic and trusted, the U.N. says.
UNESCO this year called on radio stations to mark the day’s 10th anniversary and radio’s over 110-year history by stressing radio’s adaptability, accessibility and utility during disasters and crises.