Book chapter

Radio as a Political Medium in Africa (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Radio's affordability, portability, and use of local languages have long granted it a special status among mass media in Africa. Its development across the continent has followed remarkably similar paths despite clear differences in different countries' language policies, economic fortunes, and political transformations. Common to many countries has been the virtual monopoly over the airwaves enjoyed by the state or parastate broadcasting corporations during the first decades of independence. The wave of democratization since the late 1980s has brought important changes to the constitutional and economic landscape in radio broadcasting. Although private, religious, and community stations have filled the airwaves in many countries, it is also important to recognize the many subtle ways in which state-controlled radio broadcasting, both before and after independence, could include alternative ideas, particularly in cultural and sports programming. By the same token, radio's culpability in orchestrating oppression—or even genocide, as in Rwanda's case—stands to be examined critically. Liberalized airwaves, on the other hand, draw attention to developments that find parallels in radio history elsewhere in the world. They include radio's capacity to mediate intimacy between radio personalities and their listeners in a way that few other media can. They also become apparent in radio's uses in encouraging participation and interaction among ordinary citizens through phone-in programs that build on the rapid uptake of mobile telephony across Africa. Such developments call for a notion of politics that makes it possible to observe radio's influence across the domains of formal politics, religion, and commercial interests.