by Danielle Chynoweth
In January, I joined 30 independent journalists from Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya met for 4 weeks in Nairobi, Kenya with a handful of folks from Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia, and some German indymedia activists. We came together to develop infrastructure for independent media production, while the 2007 World Social Forum was going on in Nairobi.
We build two radio stations from scratch – soldering the transmitters and cables by hand in part to build knowledge of how to maintain and repair such equipment. One station remains in Nairobi in the hands of the Kenya IMC, and the other in Kisumu in western Kenya in the hands of the small, resource strapped public Maseno University. A number of small (1/4 to 1 watt) transmitters that can broadcast to a small neighborhood and usually fall under the radar of communications commissions, were distributed to organizations in 2 Nairobi slums, 4 Ugandan communities, Nigeria IMC, Cape Town, and elsewhere.
We also built a 4 color printing press from scratch, printing 100 Indymedia Africa shirts and leaving the press behind for future poster and t-shirt projects.
We wrote and printed a newsletter with a run of 5,000 which we distributed at the World Social Forum, during our visits to the slums, and distributed to our delegates for distribution in their communities.
And we broadcast live as Radio Huru 107.9 FM during part of the World Social Forum from a tiny room where we interviewed a steady stream of grassroots activists – for example, we interviewed a Nigerian about the ongoing Ogoni struggle against Shell oil, a Somalian women’s group about their efforts to promote solar and sustainable energy sources and minimize the use of charcoal which is devastating their land, and gay and lesbian Kenyans in their struggle against discrimination. After a day of broadcasting, several Maseno university students said it had been the best day of their lives: “Today I got to be on the radio for the first time,” one explained. Maseno university’s speech communications department has one computer and non minidisc recorders. They teach audio and video journalism theoretically because they lack the equipment to teach hands on work.
Quickly noticing that most Kenyans were not able to attend the World Social Forum because of the registration costs, we visited three of the biggest slums of Nairobi, hosted by community organizers we met through Kenya IMC. In round table discussions, we interviewed dozens of people focusing on housing, education, media access, and youth issues. In Korogocho, a half million person slum, we met with Koch FM, a new low power station. With the additional support offered by our Urbana funders, we were able to sponsor 10 Koch FM media activists to attend the World Social Forum and work with our Independent Media Center there. We were also able to sponsor 2 members of Koch FM and 2 members of Proactive Youth Kangemi to travel to Maseno University with Prometheus Radio to help teach radio skills.
The most important thing we did was to build solidarity across borders in the long term effort to build global independent media networks. We have built strong relationships with plans for future collaborations. We worked closely with a group called Pro-active Youth in the slum of Kangemi. They do everything from organizing the removal of large steaming piles of garbage to educating youth about their Constitutional rights in a neighborhood familiar with police sweeps. They have built a network of 32 groups and meet in the abandoned police station…