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Christians in the Muslim World

In Southern Sudan: The Listening Radio

José Vieira

Mama Muna Hassen Jalal is a 40 year old widow raising seven children on her own in Juba, South Sudan. Although she is a Muslim, she always tunes her radio to Bakhita Radio 91FM, a Catholic radio station that started testing its signal on the airwaves on 24 December 2006 and then went on to provide regular transmissions from 8 February 2007 onwards. «I like to listen to Bakhita Radio because it lets you know what people think and what affects us», explains Mama Muna. She is not only a regular listener but she is an active participant, her voice can regularly be heard on air, as she calls in to add a note of wisdom to the topic of the day. «I like to tell the truth and share my views,», she adds with a radiant face. «Bakhita is different to the other radio stations: it puts everything on the table and its listeners can express whatever they feel without fear».

 

The Comboni Missionary Sisters and the Comboni Missionaries celebrated the canonisation of their founder by establishing a network of eight radio stations across Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. Bakhita Radio is the main radio station in the Sudan Catholic Radio Network.

 

Bakhita Radio broadcasts in Juba for Juba. Its mission statement embodies the slogan of the station, «to provide a forum for the citizens of Juba and the surrounding areas so that they can express themselves as people and as Church.»

 

Bakhita Radio achieves this by providing a variety of programmes which are geared towards young people and women and children, its aim is to bring about reconciliation and healing. Southern Sudan has been at war on and off since the 50's, even before the independence.

 

Janet is a young shop assistant who readily welcomes clients at one of Juba's petrol stations. One day while paying, I noticed that she was tuned in to Bakhita Radio. I asked her why she listened to Bakhita Radio. «Why because it is different!», was her prompt reply. «It has nice music and very good presenters.» Bakhita's presenters are young people who have been attending in-house training courses since May 2006. At the outset, most of the presenters were computer illiterate. Now they are masters of the trade: they prepare their own programmes and then either go live or record and edit them.

 

Milania Hito co-presents Juba Sunrise. The programme goes on air live from seven to ten, Monday to Friday. Milania and Stephen, usually choose a hot issue for every transmission.

 

«We select topics which concern our community: its development, reconciliation, the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement», Milania explains. «The topics we discuss are interesting because our listeners phone in and share their different views with us. Some of them are people who hold high positions in our society and government.»

 

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement on 9 January 2005. It put an end to the second civil war that had started in 1984 and which left two million dead and four million displaced.

 

«We say we are the voice of the Church. But through the radio station our listeners can voice their opinions and express their views freely. Of course this is not only the voice of the Church. It is also the voice of the voiceless», Milania concludes.

 

MUSIC AND BLESSINGS

 

Patrick O.C. is the main DJ of the radio station. He has two programmes: «Music and Rhythms of Africa» and «Echoes of the Night soft music with inspirational thoughts».

 

Patrick says he enjoys the interaction with the listeners and his guests. He is a musician and an actor. When he presents African musicians he also provides us with a profile on their countries.

 

In «Echoes of the Night» he plays mainly gospel music mingled with some short reflections on a given topic. «The ideas and music I share with people remain part of me», O.C. says.

 

YOUTH AND LIFE

 

DJ Julia, a tall and bright young woman, with a fantastic radio voice, presents two programmes on youth: the first, «Youth & Life», addresses the frequently asked questions of young people while the second, «The Joy of Living», deals with human formation and values for the youth.

 

DJ Julia says that «By providing such relevant short stories, Bakhita radio is passing on vital messages to its listeners. Hence the reason why she is the first to keep up the spirit of hard work in the radio station and pass on the good messages to the people.

 

PRAYER PROGRAMMES

 

Peter Wani, a regular Bakhita Radio listener, says that he likes the station because of its programmes. The youth programmes «which talk about the life of young people and how they are supposed to be» are at the top of his list of preferred programmes.

 

He also enjoys what he calls the prayer programmes «which bring in those who do not attend church».

 

Bakhita Radio, as the Voice of the Church, broadcasts some religious programmes, particularly on Sundays. In fact some communities, where priests or catechists cannot get to, gather around their radio set to listen to the Sunday transmissions emanating from Bakhita Radio. «From here we can listen to the Word of God, the reflections and our favourite gospel and choir songs.».

 

Bakhita Radio's daily transmissions run from 7am to 1pm and from 4pm to 10.30pm . Each day starts with a prayer and closes with a blessing.

 

«God's Word for you Today», presents the readings from the daily liturgy and provides a short reflection by priests, sisters and an evangelical pastor.

 

«Know your Faith» aims to build the Church God wants us to be. It deals with a wide range of topics from catechetics to morals and the Church's Social Teaching.

 

On Sunday the station broadcasts part of the Arabic mass live from the cathedral. In the afternoon, it presents some reflections on the Sunday readings which have been collected from the different parishes in town and from the African Service of the Vatican Radio.

 

Three days a week the transmission closes with the recitation of the Rosary.

 

NEWS

 

Apollonia Matia is The Juba Post's Senior Editor, the only newspaper to be produced in the capital of Southern Sudan. She especially listens to Bakhita Radio in the evening after her day's work at her office in the Juba weekly.

 

«Apart from the spiritual aspects offered by the radio, I enjoy the enlightenment it gives in relation to people's social norms and how it helps them to change and shed their past experience», Mrs. Matia says.

 

She adds: «The various means of interaction with different people by radio, through mobile phones or land lines is a great achievement and helps people learn to change their respective -[beliefs] and get a different view of things.»

 

As one of the best professional journalists in town, she is very keen on information. «Another great achievement of Radio Bakhita is that its news items have improved greatly. previously the news bulletins focussed on foreign news, whereas now three quarters of the news bulletins focus on providing good quality local news.. So I would encourage Radio Bakhita to continue to focus more on local news and continue to update the news at the end of each news bulletin, this is for proper archives.»

 

Bakhita radio broadcasts daily the news services prepared by the Sudan Catholic Radio Network news desk and the Vatican Radio.

 

CHALLENGES

 

Cecilia Sierra Salcido is the Director of Bakhita Radio. This 40 year old Comboni Sister from Mexico has spent her last eight years both in the North and in South Sudan.

 

Sr Cecilia earned a degree in communications and journalism in the United States and has managed the communications offices in the Archdiocese of Khartoum and in the Diocese of Wau.

 

She threw herself into Bakhita Radio with great enthusiasm and dedication. At first, she was involved in the training programme for potential staff. Now, however, she is responsible for running the radio station and making sure that it is up to the challenges it faces.

 

«Southern Sudan is in a transition stage and the situation is extremely sensitive», Sr Cecilia explains.

 

She adds: «As director of this station in the capital of the Southern territory, one of the tasks I carry out diligently is to supervise and monitor the topics and content of our programmes. I know that assertiveness and wisdom are essential elements to have when delivering a message in the daunting situation of the region».

 

Sr Cecilia acknowledges that the challenges facing Bakhita Radio are many. «Our station has been on air for about 10 months and our staff and trainees strive daily to develop their potential amid the upheavals of 'inconsistency'. Unstable electrical power supply, a lack of security and proper structures in a city and country which is still in the making are other hurdles» she adds.

 

«Our audience and prominence in town increases daily; and with the various political and social crisis which the town of Juba has been involved in, I feel the responsibility and power associated with the processing and loading of a transmission, in the pushing of the button, the launching of a programme and letting it go out there», she confesses with her usual broad shining smile.

 

The challenges are many and the way ahead is daunting. But Bakhita Radio has proved in ten months on air that it can actually have an affect and effect. In its broadcasting experience, it has proved that it can actually enhance the process of reconciliation, development and peace building in a country that is constantly under the threat of another conflict.

 

SUDAN CATHOLIC RADIO NETWORK

 

Though Bakhita Radio is the only established radio station in the Sudan Catholic Radio Network to be on air, it will soon have some more company with the stations of Yei and Torit which are about to open presenty. The radio station in the Nuba Mountains is also about to to be launched. Yambio, Wau, Malakal and Rumbek are still lagging behind but the network should be fully operational before the referendum for self-determination in 2011.

 

The network is also in the process of setting up a training centre in Juba to prepare and train presenters and journalists for the radio stations. The one year course it offers has been recognised by Tangaza University in Nairobi-Kenya.

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