The Triumphant Return of Radio Gee in Liberia
It was a festive atmosphere in late May 2012 as about two hundred people marched down the dusty streets of Fish Town, River Gee County, Liberia carrying placards that extolled the value of teamwork and the traditional African concept of communalism. It was a day of pomp and pageantry, punctuated by celebratory songs, congratulatory messages, and above all, pride in what had been accomplished.
The occasion: the official dedication and reopening of Radio Gee, the community radio station in this remote Southeastern Liberian town. And the residents here had good reason to be celebratory. In every respect their station had been brought back from the brink of collapse. The station had reached out to the community, and the people had responded overwhelmingly.
Just a few months ago, Radio Gee, one of 19 community radio partners of IREX, was shut down due to a strike action by the staff. They accused the manager of misusing funds belonging to the station. An inquiry committee was set up, comprising CSO representatives and local government authorities. An interim management team was also named from the community. In the midst of the crisis, a team from IREX arrived in Fish Town in February 2012 on a regular monitoring visit and worked with the interim management to organize and facilitate a community outreach forum.
The pomp and pageantry of this day was proof that the community outreach concept works. The interim management team had completed activities to revitalize and restore the people’s confidence in the station. And on this day there seemed to be no shortage of confidence. From every indication, it appeared that the interim management had succeeded in massively mobilizing the entire county to support the station. Operating under the theme, Ai le pei pei con Radio Gee (translation from the local Grebo language – Radio Gee is everybody’s business), the team managed to complete the construction of a new building with funds donated by citizens of the county, and new equipment provided by IREX was installed in April and test broadcasts began.
The IREX Chief of Party, Tilly Reed, cut the ribbon to the new building housing the station and did the first official broadcast on a “revitalized” Radio Gee. Said Reed, “IREX congratulates the community of Fish Town for recognizing the importance of radio and coming together to give new life to Radio Gee. We are proud to lend our support to build the capacity of our local partner to meet local needs.”
The Radio Gee experience is important to IREX as it begins the third year of the USAID funded Civil Society and Media Leadership Program (CSML) in Liberia, a country trying to rebuild after more than a decade of civil year. The community radio sector has established itself as an essential element of the reconstruction process. In the years leading to the war, a vast majority of Liberians felt isolated, totally cut off from the governance process. Community Radio fills that void, giving the people a platform to be heard and to participate in the debate on governance and national development. But the sector faces a major challenge of sustaining itself beyond donor support. IREX introduced the community outreach concept to help citizens realize the need for local radio and the importance of providing needed community support. Fish Town is just one community that’s proven that the concept works. Going forward, IREX will encourage citizens to not only to support local radio but to demand accountability from its management.