How radio helped Kenyan communities engage with oil and gas developments

Oxfam Governance, Methodology

World Radio Day on 13 February celebrates radio’s role in empowering people as a source of information and dialogue. All too often we assume people around the world have mobile phones or internet access and overlook the most widely available mass communication medium in the world: the humble radio. In Kenya, Oxfam has been using radio to engage with communities on issues of oil extraction, as Joyce Kabue from the Kenya programme explains.

The discovery of more than 300 million barrels of oil in Turkana, northern Kenya in 2012 sparked optimism for potential jobs and economic growth, but also left citizens concerned about their land rights and who was set to benefit. As part of the Kenya Extractive Industries Development Programme funded by the UK government, Oxfam started working with partners
to raise awareness of the discovery and gather feedback on oil and gas developments in Turkana from communities.

Hosting face-to-face meetings helped us ensure the communities had a chance to represent their views and the radio then became a catalyst to share this across the region.We introduced a powerful combination of radio and SMS text messaging to facilitate transparent public dialogue. Oxfam’s partner, Africa’s Voices, was influential in helping us to listen intelligently to communities, to promote citizen engagement and to amplify the voice of citizens in
development and governance debates.

The process began with community meetings or ‘barazas’ in remote areas of the region. Citizens raised concerns which helped to create scripts for upcoming radio shows. Meanwhile, LightBox, a transmedia firm focussing on audio visuals for development, recorded conversations so that audio clips could be played on Jambo Radio Turkana, a popular local radio station.

So why was this approach relevant? Rural Turkana is largely unconnected – most people haven’t even seen a computer and only around five out of 250 people in attendance at the meetings owned a mobile phone. Hosting face-to-face meetings helped us ensure the communities had a chance to represent their views and the radio then became a catalyst to share this across the region. By playing the recordings of the barazas on the radio shows, the urban, connected communities in Lodwar and Lokichar were able to hear the opinions and concerns of the rural communities and their conversations were brought together on air.

In total, three radio shows were aired, and audiences were asked different questions about the effects of oil discovery, which they could respond to with a free SMS text message. Over 600 messages were received from 220 individuals, which were then analysed and disaggregated by gender. We found that 20 – 29 was the most active age range in both genders and 37.4% of those who participated were women. The Saturday Show elicited only around 60 texts – significantly less than the other two. It was assumed that most young people are taking care of their livestock in the
fields, and women are busy with chores at this time.

Africa’s Voices’ key contribution was the analysis of SMS data and discovery of rich insights, for example through the use of co-occurrence networks and thematic analysis. Below, the most frequently used words in the SMS text messages are shown as “word clouds”.

Overall, the most frequent questions that came up were around land rights, how to get employment from the extractives sector and when the community would start seeing benefits from the oil. From verbal conversations in the barazas, levels of understanding were low, with the perception that communities would be asked to move from their land or an assumption that if they settle near the pipeline they will receive more compensation. There were also concerns around negative impacts of oil exploration, such as social problems or conflict, environmental impacts and public
health implications.

Levels of understanding were low, with the perception that communities would be asked to move from their land… Working with stakeholders (county and national government, oil companies, CSOs), Oxfam and partners have ensured communities have the information they need to engage with those in positions of authority in matters related to oil, including community land rights, employment opportunities and social investment projects, such as health facilities, schools and water points, that will benefit communities. This is aimed at mitigating any
conflict that could potentially arise from a lack of information and citizens not being able to actively participate in making decisions about their resources in relation to oil exploration. In the review meeting organised by Oxfam, in partnership with Turkana county government, Tullow Oil, Danish Demining Group and Cordaid (with UK government funding), duty bearers said they are willing to be more involved with communities as the project progresses.

During the next phase, Oxfam will work with partners, communities and radio stations to further bridge the gap on awareness of rights around extractives with more of a focus on women and youth participation. Further information dissemination will be through sketches and dramatised edu-tainment aired on the radio.

This project has taught us that despite the mass penetration of new digital technologies, it’s important not to overlook more traditional mediums like radio. As a well trusted, low cost and widely distributed platform for information and dialogue, radio can offer accessibility for those who might fall through the gap of the digital divide.

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Author: Joyce Kabue
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.