Positive radio brings calm to tense Kenya slum
Pajoma FM spins African music, reggae, hip-hop – and urges people to stay nonviolent in Nairobi's tumultuous Kibera slum.
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Pamoja FM was created to bring news to the community, not just the crime and the misery, but the hope and the opportunities as well.Skip to next paragraph
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"Most Kenyans think Kibera is the worst place in the world, but for us, Kibera is the safest place in the world, because this is where our families are," says Adam Hussein, station manager and cofounder of Pamoja FM, and resident of Kibera. Newspapers cover Kibera only when something bad happens, but Pamoja focuses on information that Kibera residents can actually use to improve their lives. "Since we started this station, people of Kibera are very happy, because at least they can hear what is happening in their own community."
Funded by donations and the pocket money of the station's founders – with equipment donated by several politicians, including Odinga – Pamoja plays dance music to attract listeners, interspersed with news, talk-shows, and informational programs, targeted at specific audiences.
Something for everyone
For youths, Pamoja plays local Kenyan music by up-and-coming musicians from 7-10 a.m., and reggae from 2-4 p.m. For housewives, Pamoja plays traditional East African music from 10 a.m. to noon. For sports lovers, reporters like Fatuma Adan – an unlikely sports fanatic in traditional Muslim veil – give the play-by-play action for local matches.
Abubakr sticks to old-school reggae favorites by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. In between songs, he talks about health and educational programs set up by local and international aid groups to reach Kibera's youths. He invites experts to talk about the health effects of drug abuse, the dangers of unprotected sex, the need for boys to avoid gangs, and young girls to avoid prostitution. The subjects might not please Kibera's traditional Muslim residents, but Abubakr's positive message and push for improvement gives them few reasons to grumble.
"People in Kibera are so poor, the levels of infrastructure are so severe, it is utterly unimaginable that human beings can be allowed to live there," says Njeri Kabeberi, executive director of the Center for Multiparty Democracy in Nairobi.
"Nobody asks what can we do to improve life there," she adds, but news reports about Kibera, such as those reported by Pamoja, can make a difference, informing local residents about their own conditions, and forcing political leaders to take notice.
Despite its even-handed strategy toward political parties – or perhaps because of it – Pamoja received threats last week from gangs in the streets of Kibera, who wanted to burn down the apartment building where Pamoja broadcasts. The reason: the building is owned by a Kikuyu.
Yet Pamoja volunteers such as Mohammad, Fatuma, Adam, and others keep showing up for work, and Kibera residents continue to tune in for news about their own town.
"So many people in the ghetto have no way to express themselves," says Abubakr. "These are people with talent, people with ideas, people who are oppressed. And through radio, we can reach them."