Monday, January 30, 2006

KPRC, 91.9 FM in Nairobi


Len Baldyga passes along a Voice of America article on the People’s Republic’s new radio broadcasts in East Africa:

State-run China Radio International Friday launched its FM station in the Kenyan capital. The move is seen as a way for the Asian country to have a greater influence in Africa.

The station is transmitting 19 hours of programming in English, Kiswahili (the language widely spoken in East Africa) and standard Chinese.

China Radio International director Wang Gengnian said in a statement the station will broadcast the latest news from China and around the world and "the latest on friendly exchanges between China and Kenya."

One observer sees the PRC broadcasts as a move to augment its record-high trade with Africa—especially in oil from Sudan—with reputation-enhancing broadcasting:

Kodi Barth is a journalism lecturer at the United States International University in Nairobi and writes a column about the media in one of Kenya's daily newspapers. He tells VOA that he believes the new radio station is connected with China's increasing economic activities and interests in Kenya and the rest of East Africa.

Barth says Kenyans may initially tune into the station out of curiosity, but will have trouble competing with Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and other foreign heavyweights.

"Historically Kenyans seem to identify with the BBC," he said. "I think they occupy a market that's hard to beat, maybe because of Kenya's history with Britain. The Voice of America also, Kenyans tend to turn to VOA when they're looking for what they regard as independent analysis of their country. Now I don't see that happening with the Chinese radio, maybe because Kenyans haven't perceived the Chinese as interested in democratic space or independent views."

It’s unlikely the PRC is expanding its Africa broadcasts out of the goodness of its heart; as many observers have noted, Beijing seeks Africa’s extensive mineral wealth and has moved aggressively to secure it. China Radio International already broadcasts extensively in English and other languages, and already has offices in Lagos, Nigeria—a no-brainer for its oil interests—and Harare, Zimbabwe, perhaps as a sop to the Robert Mugabe government that controls access to large amounts of chromite and platinum.

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