Survey of Kenya’s Radio Lake Victoria
A new FM station is among five that Kenyan Information Minister Raphael Tuju has accused of inflammatory broadcasting and has threatened to revoke their licences.
On 3 November, Tuju told parliament that Radio Lake Victoria and four other much older radio stations – Kiss FM, Ramogi FM, Radio Citizen and Sayare FM – have been “flouting the set [broadcasting] regulations” in their broadcasts and comments by presenters.
Radio Lake Victoria has not reacted to the minister but observations by BBC Monitoring indicates that the station, which was established early 2005, continues to cause a storm in western Kenya.
Origins and ownership
The station broadcasts on 92.2 FM and is owned and operated by Osiepe Nam Lolwe (Luo for Friends of Lake Victoria), a local non- governmental organization operating in the lake region.
Originally, this group mainly focused on environmental issues but has in recent months diversified to other issues like AIDS, primary health care, human rights, socioeconomic issues and politics.
According to the administrator, Pastor Gilbert Angienda, this broad range of issues is what necessitated its media intervention. “Originally, we used the [state] Kenya Broadcasting Corporation [KBC] and [private] Ramogi FM radios, but this proved too expensive, and we didn’t seem to achieve as much as we wanted, so we decided to set up this community radio, with which the people would identify,” Angienda recently told BBC Monitoring.
He reiterated that Radio Lake Victoria is a community and not a commercial station. The station boasts of being the first radio to broadcast and transmit from the western Nyanza Province, which is predominantly dominated by ethnic Luos. The station’s slogan is “The voice of the lake people”.
According to Angienda, its transmitter, which is located at Kiboswa, 15km north of Kisumu, covers a radius of up to 350 km – from Kisumu to Naivasha (Rift Valley Province), Shirati in northwestern Tanzania and Bugiri in southeastern Uganda.
He added that the station will soon expand to Nairobi, where “influential decision makers” from the target audience (Luos) live.
Up to 90 per cent of broadcasts on Radio Lake Victoria are in the Luo language but the owners say this will soon be whittled down to 75 per cent.
Other languages used in broadcasts are Swahili at 1400-1500 gmt every day; English at 0800-0900 gmt every day; Gusii language at 1315 to 1400 gmt every Monday, Luhya language at 1315 to 1400 gmt every Thursday; Kalenjin language at 1315 to 1400 gmt every Tuesday and Kuria language at 1315 and 1400 gmt on Wednesdays.
All these local languages are widely spoken in western Kenya.
According to Angienda, Finnish donors provided funds for the station’s infrastructure. He remains cagey over the identity of the donors but it is worth noting that an expatriate Finn remains the station’s “radio adviser”.
(Some Finnish businessmen are reported to have recently invested in Kenya Times, a daily owned by the former ruling Kenya African National Union, KANU. The party remains opposed to the draft constitution. It is not clear whether these Finnish investors are the same as those in Radio Lake Victoria.)
The station says it sustains itself through local advertising and sponsored programmes, mostly by NGOs.
Target audience and competition
According to Angienda, Radio Lake Victoria’s target audience is of three million people, mostly Luos. It claims to control 40 per cent of the Luo listeners – with the rest divided between KBC radio, Ramogi FM, Star FM and Sayare FM. There is no independent confirmation of these claims.
Angienda says they are targeting 75 per cent of Luo listeners and claims that they have overtaken Ramogi as the leading Luo-language broadcaster.
Ramogi FM is owned by the Royal Media Services. It broadcasts from Nairobi in Luo. Since its establishment, Ramogi has been the most listened-to Luo radio station. However, it has had to endure virulent criticism from Luo politicians who see it as pandering to the tribal whims of the Kikuyu political elite backing President Mwai Kibaki.
KBC broadcasts in Luo as part of its vernacular services section. The Luo programme is operated from Kisumu. Sayare FM is a Christian station broadcasting mainly in Kalenjin language, but has programmes in Swahili, and other western Kenya languages such as Luo and Luhya.
Star FM broadcasts mainly in Gusii language but has also other western Kenya languages such as Luo, Suba, Kalenjin. It operates from Kisii town near Kisumu.
Like most FM radio stations, music forms the main component of programming on the station.
Angienda says they use music to spice their intervention programmes which would otherwise be too boring, especially for the youth, who are the main target audience. An example is an AIDS programme which is usually fused with “hot” music between 0800 and 1000 gmt on Tuesdays.
There are news broadcasts at 0400 gmt, 0600 gmt, 1000 gmt, 1300 gmt, 1600 gmt and 1800 gmt, and hourly news updates. Since the station is yet to establish a proper network of reporters and correspondents, its news seems to duplicate newspaper and other radio reports, but these seem to be angled to the target audience’s taste.
Political issues are mostly discussed on talk shows: Iwacha Awacha (Luo for “Saying it as it is”), which airs weekdays between 0430 to 0600 gmt. The programme invites listeners to comment on topical political events. The other is Orindi Maliet (Luo for “The hot seat”), which usually involves interviews with top local leaders on current socioeconomic and political issues. The audience asks questions which require response from the guest.
The programme is aired every Sunday between 1400 and 1600 gmt.
The editorial content seems to lean towards opposition to the government of President Kibaki, especially his allies from central Kenya. However, Angienda claims that Radio Lake Victoria is “impartial, non-political and non-tribal”.
He attributes the perceived bias towards opposition to the fact that their audience are, currently, critical of Kibaki’s political allies, especially over the upcoming constitutional referendum.
“We are under pressure from the people, who want us to give them a voice,” said Angienda.
He describes any criticism of government as “centrifugal”, emanating from the audience; and not from any deliberate editorial action or interference by the management, “unlike Citizen radio and Ramogi FM, which have taken to political propaganda and ethnic antagonism”, trends he terms “centripetal”.
Both Radio Citizen and Ramogi FM are owned by Royal Media Services of Samuel Macharia, an ethnic Kikuyu close to President Kibaki.
According to Angienda, Radio Lake Victoria is “a young radio” that “cannot afford to antagonize the government”. He says: “We need to grow, and then a time will come when we will be able to hold opinions, when we will stand by the people.”
However, an introduction to the 26 September “Iwacha Awacha” talkshow centred on earlier remarks by Roads Minister Raila Odinga condemning the church for taking a middle path in the referendum debate. Odinga is an ethnic Luo and draws fanatical support in the community. He is currently unapologetic over his opposition to the draft constitution, and analysts consider his position as the embodiment of Luos’ political aspirations. Odinga was supposed to have officially launched Radio Lake Victoria on 27 October.
Odinga spoke in Luo and dismissed the church leaders during a 25 September rally convened by opponents of the draft law in Kisumu. He had also criticized Citizen TV and radio terming them tribal outfits.
On church leaders, he said: “I want you to know that in the whole of Kenya, we do not have a cardinal… [Catholic Archbishop] Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki is just confused; another one called [Anglican Archbishop] Benjamin Nzimbi, is confused; another called [National Council of Churches in Kenya secretary-general] Mutava Musiyimi is just confused.” A thunderous applause followed Odinga’s remarks.
He went on to condemn the media he deemed anti-Luo: “There is another thing I want to say today. We said we wanted the media to write the truth here in Kenya. However, I want you to know today that there are two issues: One is called Citizen Radio. This Citizen Radio owns another called Ramogi, and another in Kikuyu called Inooro, and another in Luhya called Omulembe; and another one in Kamba.
“They are like a certain radio in Rwanda called Radio Milles Collines. That radio led to genocide in Rwanda. It announced that the president had died, and told [Hutus] to go and kill the Tutsi. More than one million Tutsis’ died because of tribalism.
“Citizen Radio and Television are sowing the seeds of tribal hatred in this country. They are using this Ramogi FM. That’s why I want to tell you unequivocally today; that it [Ramogi FM] doesn’t care for Luos.”
It appears most of the phone-ins are not moderated with presenters either taking biased stands or letting callers make inflammatory comments.
Presenter Ben Oluoch Okello, alias B.O.O., who is also the station’s deputy administrator in charge of programming, began the session dealing with Odinga’s remarks by questioning the church’s role in politics.
“I remember sometime in the past, the church was very vocal on issues of politics and governance, which brought a lot of conflict between the church and politicians…. However, political leaders told them to abandon the church before dabbling in politics…
“Now when it came to the issue of proposed new constitution, the church has decided to stand on a neutral path. The question people now want them to answer is why they are not taking a stand as they used to. It is suspicious. Should we blame the church leaders for their stand?”
Reaction by callers in Luo was strong and inflammatory.
A first caller condemned the church leaders accusing them of backing Kibaki because he is a Catholic. He went on: “They [church leaders] didn’t give [former President Daniel arap] Moi any breathing space. The Catholics used to talk very loudly and openly. But because it is Kibaki, they say they want to read the constitution first. They have secretly met Kibaki and now tell us to decide for ourselves. I’m saying this; they took thick tea [tea with lots of milk, i.e. bribes], and they were given something to work well [to support the proposed constitution].”
A second caller accused the clerics of seeking “to bring tribalism to this country” and urged them “not be as crooked as this Narc [National Rainbow Coalition] government”. The caller also accused the religious leaders of having “sanctioned murder, because one of the [proposed] laws advocates for abortion”.
A third caller said Kenyans were “very suspicious” of the church leaders who were giving citizens “a raw deal”.
Comments on media deemed anti-Luo were also made. A female caller, Nyar Ugenya (Woman of Ugenya), accused Radio Citizen, Citizen TV and Ramogi FM of “having been established to divide Luos”.
She urged Luos to “be careful with these radios that were established to divide Luos, who have for long consistently fought for unity”. According to Nyar Ugenya, Ramogi FM “serves the interests of the Kikuyus”.
Against this background Tuju, an ethnic Luo backing the draft constitution, has threatened to revoke the station’s licence. It remains to be seen whether he will act as the referendum date approaches.