May 03, 2012
For decades, North Eastern Kenya was left without television or radio signals, leaving citizens who live here out of touch with the rest of the country.
But with the recent introduction of satellite television, there has been a shift in the appetite for information, industry experts say.
Joseph Otieno, a media consultant based in Nairobi, said the lack of broadcast signals in the region forced residents to subscribe to satellite providers."The hunger to be informed like the rest of the country is forcing residents of the region to go to any length," he told Sabahi.
In other parts of the country, viewers have free access to news and entertainment programming from the official Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and more than five privately owned media stations, he said. Those broadcasters, however, do not transmit signals to North Eastern Kenya.
Public and private media organisations found the region unattractive and unable to raise financial revenue through the traditional advertisement model, Otieno said, forcing providers to use alternative business models to fill the void.
Otieno said since last year, and increasingly during the first quarter of this year, there has been an increase in subscription to satellite channels such as the South Africa-based DSTV.
Abdullahi Hussein Farah, a DSTV representative in Garissa, told Sabahi that subscription to the channel has increased by more than 2,000 last year.
"As much as it is business, I believe it has also helped access to information," he said, adding that DSTV technicians accompany people to their villages to help set up satellite dishes for a small fee.
Residents of Wagalla village in Wajir county watch the news every evening on a communal television set in a community hall.
Abdikhadir Abdi Musa, 35, who keeps the keys to the hall, said the villagers have been doing this since February, when the community raised money to buy the television set, a power generator and to pay the monthly subscription fee of 10,000 shillings ($125).
Similar scenarios are replicated in several areas of North Eastern Kenya, where satellite dishes jut out of makeshift structures.
Mohammed Ibrahim Shebe, a 37-year-old manager at Wajir town hotel, said many locals come to the hotel simply to watch the news and stay informed. A television set is available in the restaurant for any customer who comes in to eat or drink, he said.
Shebe said providing access to satellite television has morphed into a business opportunity not limited to the hospitality industry. He said some residents who can afford to pay the monthly subscription on their own have turned their living rooms into a viable business providing a needed service.
Hussein Abdi Halake, a Modogashe resident, said he charges 20 shillings ($.25) per person to watch news or entertainment programmes in his home.
Every evening, a few minutes before evening programming starts, Halake sits outside his hut to sell tickets to passers-by. Regular customers include security officers, regular citizens and civil servants, he said.
Nurdin Nur Elmoge, a journalist with Wajir Community Radio station, said watching the news has become an important part of the evening for residents. "Occasionally, the transmission may fail due to technicalities or power failure, leaving the audiences unhappy," he said.
The success of satellite television in the region has also helped increase investors' interest in the area. For example, three new private radio stations are expected to broadcast soon, Elmoge said.
Information providers are also attempting to meet the increasing demand for information by making print media more accessible.
Abbey Hussein Korrow, a 30-year-old newspaper vendor in Wajir, said newspaper distributors also started investing in the region earlier this year.
Providers transport newspapers on daily flights from Nairobi to Wajir, making the newspapers available to residents in the area before midday. Before, newspapers were delivered via road transport, arriving in the region late in the evening or even the day after publication, he said.
However, the added cost of air transport has raised newspaper prices. A newspaper with a cover price of 50 shillings, costs 100 shillings once it reaches Wajir, Korrow said. Residents often pool resources together to afford the price, with 20 people sharing a single copy, he said.
Amina Mohammed Adan, a 26-year-old resident of Mandera, said access to information is expensive, but a necessity.
"There is a common saying in the region: 'If you thought information is expensive, try ignorance'. Without information we are not able to know how much devolved money is allocated and spent. Information empowers the community," she said.
Khalif Abdi Farah, the executive director of Northern Forum for Democracy, said lack of information has hindered residents from making sound decisions and understanding their rights and government policies.
For instance, many people had the perception that funds provided by the central government through the Constituencies Development Fund belonged to parliamentarians, Farah said. Now, many residents know the guidelines of using the devolved funds and can question misuse of the money, he said.
Before information was more widely available, residents were vulnerable to political exploitation and abuse of their basic rights, he told Sabahi. In addition, Farah said, the lack of information partly explains why the region lags behind in development, education, social and political matters.
Thanks to the recent information revolution, the region is coming out of the dark just in time to prepare and inform voters for the 2013 elections, Farah said.
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