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Southern Sudan: New Radio Station to be Launched in Early 2009
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Dec 23, 2008 - 6:29:13 PM

Southern Sudan: New Radio Station to be Launched in Early 2009
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
A group of investors close to the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) has set up a new radio station that will have a wider reach than the existing broadcasters. Given the difficult economic environment, its revenue model is largely based on public service announcement.

A group of private investors with close links to the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) have invested in a new radio station that will have wider reach than the existing broadcasters. Based in Juba, the new Voice of the People (VoP) will, according to its proprietors, deal mainly with developmental issues. “It will be the voice of the people of Southern Sudan and will mainly focus on the developmental challenges facing the Southern Sudanese people and ways of overcoming this. As a result, we shall be hiring professionals from all walks of life from Africa, but mainly from Southern Sudan,” says 31 year old, Benjamin Bol Yei, a shareholder of the soon to be launched station.

According to Bol, VoP will also try to bring back the numerous Southern Sudanese professionals from the diaspora around the world. “This radio station will be relaying its content on the internet and anyone in the world can tune in, therefore a big amount of content will be dedicated to urging Southern Sudanese professionals, such as doctors to come home and help rebuild the country,” he says. Attracting professionals is crucial, he argues, citing the Juba hospital as an example: Even though the government has tried to equip the hospital with some of the best equipments, and set up a private wing that is good by international standards, there is dire shortage of doctors and other medical professionals. “We have a serious shortage of medical personnel and so the equipment is more than not lying idle, I hope that Voice of the People, will be able to convince Sudanese in the diaspora to come back and work here,” he says.  

Cyprien Hiniolwa, an engineer who works for the United Nations and who is in charge of setting up VoP, says that the new radio station will be able to relay its content to a radius of 360 kilometers in Southern Sudan. “There is no other indigenous radio station that currently has this reach. All the radio stations currently on air serve small radiuses of about five kilometers and that is mainly in the towns of Rumbek and Juba,” he says, adding that having its content available on line will enable VoP to reach an even larger audience.

VoP also plans to set up a TV station. Currently, the only Southern Sudanese TV Station, Southern Sudan TV (SSTV), is wholly owned by the government and is yet to become fully operational. Although already on air, it is currently just replaying advertisements telling what it will offer.

Although the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has raised hopes that Southern Sudan will be able to move on from what had practically become a state of perpetual civil war, several years later the challenges remain significant, indicating that much of the badly needed development of national institutions is progressing only slowly. While much safer than e.g. Nairobi, Juba currently is under a night time curfew from 10pm after a spate of armed robberies. Juba also has more bars than schools, and the streets are filled with children as young as ten years riding motor bikes to earn a living. The GOSS has struggled to meet the expectations of its citizens and a large number of returning refugees that the return of peace had created, and especially any foreign businesses hoping to prosper in Southern Sudan will inevitably need to help out in areas that are not related to their business:

“It is true that Juba has many challenges, but one must look at where we have come from, we are trying our best and soon, it will be a requirement for every business that sets up office in the region does some serious corporate responsibility so that we can have amenities like schools and hospitals,” says Yar Ketch, an official of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation.

The absence of infrastructure in Southern Sudan as well as the lack of local manufacturing capacity means that everything is expensive. At the same time, South African brewers SAB Miller Plc have invested USD37m in a brewery in Juba, a development that would not have been possible in the territory of the Islamic government in Khartoum. The new VoP radio station will look to companies like SAB for advertising revenues. However, the corporate sector that would typically provide the bulk of advertising revenues for media houses is still seriously underdeveloped, and it is therefore not surprising that VoP mainly looks to revenues from the GOSS for broadcasting their messages to the population and secondly to revenues from the UN and other international organisations for the same purpose.

Irrespective of Southern Sudan’s potential, long-term planning is difficult since the referendum in 2011, in which the citizens of Southern Sudan are able to decide for or against a secession of their semi-autonomous state from the northern, Islamic government in Khartoum, creates significant insecurity. Many Southern Sudanese are apprehensive that North Sudan will not agree to the outcome of the referendum that is expected to favour secession from North Sudan. Do multi nationals like SAB Millers or Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), one of the first large corporates to invest in Southern Sudan, have more faith in the process?

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