Somalia’s media landscape has rapidly expanded in the past three years, with a proliferation of radio stations, increased television viewership in urban centers, increased use of mobile phones, and the growing importance of websites and social media tools linked to media channels. Approximately 80% of Somalis are listening to the radio regularly with rural populations reporting that radio is still the most common source of information and entertainment. Within this context, Somalia’s media has the potential to play a critical role in the country’s reconstruction, providing constructive platforms for public dialogue, reaching into communities which may be cut off by conflict, promoting tolerance of different viewpoints, and promoting responsive and transparent government. The Somalia Stability Fund, in partnership with the BBC Media Action Service, aims to build an audience-responsive media sector across Somalia, contributing to an understanding of peaceful participation and identity, particularly amongst youth, through drama programming.
“We like this programme because it addresses issues that we believe are important to us,” explains Nimco, a student at Burao University. “I’ve brought all my friends together to listen to it. We don’t have access to television here, so we listen to this program as a group every week.” BBC Media Action radio drama Maalmo Dhama Maanta (A Better Life than Today), has aired for nine months on BBC Somali Service, via three partner stations (Radio Hargeisa, Radio Goobjoog, Radio Garowe). The program’s storyline revolves around young Somalis who dream of a better future. It also provides youth a platform for inclusion on the discourse surrounding politics, migration, the economy, and governance.
The program is an interactive drama for young Somalis, regularly inviting listeners to decide the fate of characters by popular vote. In one dilemma episode, Ali, a young unemployed man, is torn between his wife who wants him to migrate to find a job and his mother who wants him to stay for his education. The overwhelming majority of listeners voted for Ali to attend university at home and build a life for his family in his own country.
In parallel with the fictional Ali in Maalmo Dhaama Maanta, Abaas, a first year student who admitted to being involved in petty crime, wanted to migrate. He also decided to stay in Somalia after relating to the topics of discussion he had listened to. “The programme helped me decide to give up my old life and start a new one,” he says. “It helped me to go back to school… and now I’m in my third semester.”
“We’re seeing that more and more youth are aware of the program, and listen to it loyally”, says Hodan Ibrahim, senior researcher for BBC Media Action. The drama is part of a wider programme called Higsiiga Nolosha (Life’s Aspirations), which incorporates a call-in discussion element. In support of its partner stations, BBC Media Action’s embedded broadcasting mentors work with young journalists and produce content that showcases youth issues. One such programme produced by Radio Hargeisa, featured a small business owner who had received a loan from Kaah Islamic Micro-Finance Services and advice from a microfinance expert to kick-start his business. Audience feedback indicated that the radio programme raised awareness among many young listeners with existing SMEs or ideas for business start-ups who were previously unaware of available loan and financing opportunities. During the making of the episode, the Radio Hargeisa team interviewed a young woman entrepreneur who learned of the Somali Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative from the radio program, applied for a loan from KIMS, she was also featured in the programme.
“We have tried to shape a platform to promote dialogue and debate amongst the youth, allowing them to voice their concerns and advise each other on how to overcome their challenges,” explains Hoda Hersi, project manager for BBC Media Action. “It’s not often that Somali youth are offered a space such as this. To be part of something that is making such an impact in the community is empowering.”
Follow radio program and feedback on (https://www.facebook.com/BBCMediaactionSomali).