Little by little

Thanks to a chance encounter in Bukoba’s tiny airport, I got invited to the launch of a new BBC programme, “Haba na Haba” on Friday evening. What I didn’t know was that BBC World Service Swahili would be broadcasting live from the soiree, hence a moment of panic when the presenter started mingling through the crowds to ask their views – my Kiswahili isn’t quite ready for the international airwaves.

Anyway, the project is run by the BBC’s media training organisation – recently renamed Media Action, and previously known as World Service Trust (apparently, before that it was named “Marshall Plan of the Mind” – who on earth thought that one up??). Media Action will be working with local/community radio stations throughout the country, helping them to produce programmes on topics related to governance, which are then broadcast on the BBC and on local channels. The idea is to train radio journalists while stimulating “a national conversation” that brings together ordinary people and their political leaders.

Two interesting things: first, the programme hopes to fill a gap left by most media, which don’t respond to the needs of the 80% of Tanzanians living in rural areas. I’ve recently learned about Farm Radio International, which has much the same goal (though they’ve been around much longer). Maybe the more we move towards an urban society – Dar es Salaam’s population is supposedly growing at around 4.5% each year – the more we’re looking back at those left behind?

Second, working with community radio was actually a sort of plan B for the BBC. In 2010, they had been working with the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation on political programmes in the run-up to the elections. The ruling party, CCM, had been in favour of this, but changed their minds when they realised their candidates couldn’t perform well on air. The programme was shut down early.

This year’s more indirect approach of the BBC is reflected in the name: Haba na Haba comes from an expression (haba na haba hujaza kibaba) meaning “little by little fills the measure”. They hope political leaders will join the discussions. But of the two government ministers who had been invited to Friday’s launch, one turned down the invitation; the other accepted, but never turned up. Is little by little still too much for them?

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