Freedom of Speech

Today I watched over the lunch with my co-workers the terrific video by June Arunga and produced by the BBC, "The Devils foothpath" which recounts the adventures of this Kenyan law student trying to travel from Egypt to South Africa through several countries of the continent. The video is excelent and my friend Brad saw it first and made an interesting review of it here where among other things recounts her stay here at Atlas. As I watched the video I realize how akward things are in Africa and how freedom of speech will bring them some sort of relief. Speaking with a fellow co-worker, he pointed me out to this article that appeared in MSNBC The Lifeline Radio Project by the Free Play foundation.

The idea of the project is basically that you can do a lot of good in Africa, specially in war thorn countries were communications are inexistant and infraestructure like electricity is years away. The idea as explained by the MSNBC article came:

In 1994, just as South Africa was emerging from the years of apartheid and forming its first democratically elected government, a colleague of Rory Stear saw a TV special featuring a wind–up radio.
In the spirit of the great hope and optimism at that time, Stear, a South African entrepreneur, and his colleague, Chris Staines, immediately saw the potential of a manually operated radio to spread information and education in sub-Saharan Africa and bought the rights to develop the technology.

The radio which gets the energy it needs from a hand cranked generator built into the radio can be also powered by solar cells. It also features 4 bands (FM, MW, SW1, SW2) and is built to resist a fall from a second floor. It's colors are bright and I guess they are choosen to appeal the kids, that according to the foundation, are the beneficiaries of the equipment.

I find the idea appealing and I will add my contribution here. If the idea is that freedom of speech to get news is behind all this project, why don't add also a simple feature to allow those radios to communicate with each other like walkie talkies do, to nearby ones. This will add another dimension to the radio that will not only allow people to be passive recipients of the broadcast but also to empower them to communicate with other fellow listeners and make their comments. In that way the radio will not only play a role in spreading information and news but allow other people to communicate easily and although is not a phone or a CB radio at least will allow them to use on a personal level to broadcast their own information and news. I guess that adding that functionality is not difficult or expensive and will have an impact like CB communication made on its time, and then later on, the internet and it's sub-products in particular like e-mail, Instant messaging and BLOGS like this.

I will really love this idea to be added to the radio, and since the organization that promote it is a non-profit one, I am not claiming any sort of intellectual property right on the idea, just recognition to the origin of it in case no one else came up with the idea before and it is found worth it by the makers of the radio.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the plug for the Devil's Footpath Romulo.
    I think your comment highlighting the importance of information is right on the money. The radio, has driven so much change step by step throughout the continent of Africa. In Kenya for example - people living in the rural areas, who have never left, hear of the capital city and the differnt opportunities available there only on radio.
    Their curiosity builds up and they begin to look at the road leading away from their village with increasing anxiety, wondering if it is worth their while to take it, and find out whether there is a better life out there- thus the radio inspires rural to urban migration taking people to factories to learn new skills, to the city where they meet many more people and share ideas, exposing them to electricity and other forms of technology and the uses these can be put to- to increase productivity. They also get exposure to potential markets for the agricultural products that their folk left in the village produce... this is just the tip of the ice berg.
    With increasing freedom of the media in Kenya more and more radio stations are getting licenced, thus fuelling political debate, critiquing government policy, and thus informing the discussions in civil society: parents teachers associations on education policy; transporters associations on how to self regulate to avoid getting the government passing more laws that would make their operations less efficient and the list goes on.
    I know all this may sound rather strange as you have had radios and the television in the US widely distributed and with freedom of the media too, but for people in Kenya, this free media is very new, only 8 years ago, the media was controlled by the government and used for propaganda.
    There is so much to say about these things, but that is my little contribution for now.