State Broadcasting Monopolies in Postcolonial Africa

Tawana Kupe, Lecturer, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe, and Research Fellow, University of Oslo

The colonial legacy of state broadcasting monopolies has continued but is now under guise of nominally autonomous corporations in which the state interfered in policy, appointments, management and programming decisions in the name of nation building and development. Of all the media in Africa broadcasting is the most restricted. The reason is that it has the capability of reaching the majority of the population who are either illiterate or have no access to the print media. To make matters worse, the public broadcasting corporations were not at independence given enough money to run the stations and capital to expand capacity to cover the national territory. Today very little investment has gone into updating equipment or expanding capacity despite claims that communication is vital to development. As a result, as Kivikuru notes today, "Publicly-owned media have weakened dramatically, and above all, nation-wide radio broadcasting is breaking down because of outdated equipment." In most cases private or community broadcasting was not allowed by law until the recent wave of liberalisation.

Any alternatives that have been in existence before the current wave of political and economic liberalisation have been in the press where again except in Kenya and Nigeria the state owned or controlled mainstream commands more resources and has a wider "nation-wide" circulation. These have been either commercial ventures in the form of weekly newspapers or weekly and monthly magazines owned by publishing companies or groups in civil society like churches, trade unions, professional associations or radical left-leaning groups. While it is true that they "cling to the same value system, though attacking it," it is important not to underplay the latter aspect. In many African countries this lower circulation and struggling press has been able to keep the torch of a more critical media burning. It has provided an avenue to voice some dissent in one party systems and formed a crucial part of the internal pressure for political liberalisation.

[From Tawana Kupe. "Comment: New Forms of Cultural Identity in an Afican Society." Media and the Transition of Collective Identities. Ed. Tore Slatta. Oslo: University of Oslo, 1996, pages 116-17. Available from Department of Media and Communications [[email protected]].

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Last Modified: 14 March 2002