Modeste Shabani Bin Sweni was born in Kibango, in the chiefdom of Kawange, Kasondo territory in DRC. At the time of his birth, the village had no school, no health centre, no electricity, no communication, and no local radio station. His parents and other villagers survived on fishing and farming. To attend school, he went to live with an uncle 50 kilometres away.
During the period of political tension in DRC from 1990 to 1992, his parents, like many villagers, kept up-to-date by listening to foreign radio programs like Radio France International. But since these programs were in French, they paid certain community members to explain the news in the local language. At times, they were deceived and even taken advantage of. Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni was disgusted, and he convinced his uncle to pay him to do the translation. As a result, he was appreciated by the members of his village, to the point that his family called him the “family reporter.”
After studying economics at university, he started a farmers’ co-operative called COOPADEM that began with 3,600 farmers. He soon realized that he needed to sensitize the community on important topics such as agricultural techniques, malnutrition, and girls’ education. He started with community training sessions, but then had the idea of creating a local radio station, the first in Maniema province.
Sauti ya Mkaaji (Voice of farmers) started broadcasting to a one-kilometre area in 2004. With the help of the organization CARE, the station now has modern equipment and a reach of 60 kilometres. The station has also grown into a community media group, with four stations broadcasting from Kasongo, Bikenge, Salamabila, and soon, Samba. They broadcast magazine programs, interactive programs, reports, success stories, and more, always with lots of interaction with their rural audience. Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni is the team leader of this operation.
Soon after it launched, Sauti ya Mkaaji became a broadcasting partner of FRI and Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni received FRI’s resources on a CD. Now, he reads Barza Wire (in fact, he says he suggested the name “Barza”!) and receives resources by email and through FRI’s website. He has also participated in two competitions organized by FRI, one of which was our scriptwriting competition.
Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni says the stations that make up Sauti ya Mkaaji are very connected to the rural population and often receive phone calls or written comments from farmers, particularly through listening clubs. When the presenters go on field visits to record programs or conduct public games, they focus on gathering the voices of youth, the elderly, and women, to make sure their voices are heard on radio programs. Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni says, “All these approaches combined allow us to be always closer to the listener; every day, there are one or two interactive programs.”
Each morning from 6:00 to 6:30 a.m., there is a call-in program to “collect the temperature of the region” when callers share local news like obituaries, safety updates, and more. He says the station’s program schedule is based on feedback from listeners.
Sauti ya Mkaaji has successfully helped improve local communities in at least two ways. The first is their own project called “Vision 20-20” that involved mobilizing, educating, and training the rural communities through listening groups. The goal was to make people happier and more comfortable with rural life, so that they can support themselves through farming and fishing and do not migrate to the city. The project aimed to construct seven brick and tin houses in each rural village in Kasongo, with radio programs broadcasting the experiences and success stories. Mr. Shabani Bin Sweni says they have built 10,000 homes since the project launch in 2013.
The central government has also taken action after broadcasts and radio debates brought to light important local issues like impassable roads, insufficient processing plants, an insufficient supply of improved seeds, and insecurity in some areas. The government was pushed to establish a project called “For the revival of agriculture in Maniema.” This project is supported financially by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and Sauti ya Mkaaji is a communication partner. The results have been promising.
Modeste Shabani Bin Sweni was one of the runners-up for the George Atkins Communications Award in 2019. This award from Farm Radio International recognizes broadcasters who are dedicated to serving their rural audience. Meet the other winners & runners up for this award: http://wire.farmradio.fm/en/spotlights