Radio station inspires community fightback against Covid-19

Radio station inspires community fightback against Covid-19

Bungoma has registered relatively low numbers of Covid-19 infections. This can be attributed in no small part to the high-energy concerted campaigns in the county and other counties in western Kenya by the county and health authorities in conjunction with the media.

Authorities say the sense of togetherness has resulted in almost everyone making an effort to protect everyone else from the deadly virus. It turns out that even the local authorities rely on the radio stations for new information and emerging, developing stories. For the region, the centre of this effort is Tandaza FM. Tandaza, according to its manager Jared Mudanya, is a local radio station that traverses the western region and penetrates parts of the neighbouring country of Uganda. “We cover Bungoma, Kakamega, Bungoma, Vihiga, Busia and Trans Nzoia,” says the station manager.

“You quickly realise that they youth have a penchant for ignoring things, however serious they are. So we’ve created segments within our daily programming when we air the Tumaini Hewani series on Covid-19. At the same time, during all the other programmes we keep mentioning steps one has to take to protect themselves. This repeat is intentional: it creates retention, especially among the youth.”

One catches the region’s sense of a unified front against the virus in interviews with the local community policing unit. The Chairman and Organising Secretary of Bungoma Town Centre region is Mr Faraji Omundu Osundwa. He has this to say: “The radio station has given us a centre of information. From it we get not only what is being said around the world but also the voice of the central government, the county government and the local community. If you walk around Bungoma and see the way people are informed about Covid-19, you’d realise how impactful those Tumaini Hewani broadcasts have been.”

Mr Osundwa says that the public transport sector, of which he is a part, have acted without raising too many questions about the new regulations that demand social-distancing. It has also meant they ascertain that every passenger wears a mask. For those who might come to board a vehicle without one, a shop was established by the cooperation of the local community where masks can be purchased. “Nobody has an excuse,” Osundwa says. He attributes the cooperation of the community to the messages coming out of Tandaza FM.

“Those messages have made our work easier,” says Osundwa. “In fact the broadcasts have made the local community so well-informed that the community does the policing on our behalf. They talk to those who have neglected or forgotten to wear their masks or are not socially-distancing to do so. People make phone calls to the authorities and the radio station to raise issues that they meet in their everyday lives.”

In Trans-Nzoia, we get a sense of this unity around a radio station when we talk with Humphrey Okweto, a local man who has become a soldier in the anti-Corona virus army. “We are all trying to stick to the protocols,” Okweto says. “I dare say that 90 per cent of the population has taken this thing seriously and are taking responsibility in fighting it. You see it in the rarity of those not wearing masks – it is almost unheard of. The information from Tandaza FM has permeated every household. Once in a while, however, you come across someone mocking it but even then they’re masked.”

The radio station manager Mr Mudanya says he is familiar with this. “Some people act ignorant,” he says. “They seem to mock the message, itself proof that it is getting home to them. You know they have heard because some have converted the message into song as they imbibe alcohol. They’re particularly fond of singing about Mutahi Kagwe, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health. We have also heard people on their way to the circumcision ceremony turn the Covid-19 messages into song. It’s a bit of a divided message. On the one hand you’re glad they’re getting the message because they’ve turned it into song. On the other, they’ve pulled down their masks to sing at the top of their lungs. So it’s a bit of good news and bad.”

As a matter of fact, the circumcision period has presented another challenge to the radio station’s message. “In our social media accounts one man brought it up,” says Mudanya. “He forcefully argued that the Covid-19 rules should be suspended to enable circumcision to run its course. He said culture should supersede those protocols. In fact, he directed some generous amount of abuse our way. Apprehensive that it would create a storm and divert attention from what we were doing, we quickly deleted it.”

Although he admits to never coming face-to-face with anyone with Covid-19, Humphrey Okweto, Tandaza FM’s top fan, says it is appreciable how seriously people have taken the messages. Prevention, he says, is better than cure. “One person dying from the Corona virus is one too many. If I saw one person with the virus, chances are that I or the person would be disregarding the protocols. So deep has that message permeated our society that even matatus, despite suffering severe financial repercussions, carry fewer passengers than before to create a 1.5-metre gap between passengers.”

There is one thing, however, that Okweto finds dispiriting. “I think there is too much unnecessary travelling by people. I wish the government could do more to keep people in their homes. The problem with rules is that if you can get away with one, you tend to move to the next. Letting people roam about without purpose prepares the ground for ignoring or forgetting the mask, not sanitising, not socially-distancing,” Okweto opines philosophically.

The community leader Faraji Osundwa concludes by saying, “Tandaza FM’s Tumaini Hewani messages help even us who have responsibility in the community. We can confront lawbreakers with the words, ‘You have not heard? It’s all over the radio.”

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