It’s 1.30 pm Nairobi time when many listeners are waiting to hear the top-of-the-hour bulletin. Presenter Fatuma Ibrahim plays a loud and proud jingle that sets the tempo before she presents the day’s news.
Just before piping the last signal, there is one more thing to do, she fades-in a timely message in response to Corona Virus which is part of an ambitious campaign that has been going on at Star FM, a Somali radio station broadcasting from Kenya’s capital.
“Wash your hands, keep social distance, and follow health guidelines” is part of a collection of words wrapped in poetic Somali enunciation. “Take care of yourselves” the message fades out rhythmically.
Over the last few months, the station’s vibrant campaign against Corona has been seizing the airwaves, reaching deeper into the hinterlands where radio remains the king of communication.
The station which is planning to celebrate its 15th year in existence next month has been on the frontline in response to the spread of Corona, educating members of the predominantly Muslim Somali Community about the pandemic.
“At the onset of the disease, we immediately adjusted our daily programming by introducing a segment called ‘ka hortaga Corona’ Nasra Omar, the station’s operations manager, said “We invited health experts and local religious leaders to address the myth and misunderstanding about the disease”
Star FM which also broadcasts in local Borana language is striking the right tone with its response to Covid-19. It was an appropriate intervention to mitigate a health crisis that loomed large in the eyes of the conservative community.
Its new program ‘Ka Hortaga Corona” which is loosely translated as ‘Stopping Corona’ is composed partly of radio spots that run throughout the day before most of the station’s prime time programs.
The campaign started immediately after 12th March 2020 when Kenya reported its first case. With a mix of live talk-shows, pre-recorded programs, and interviews the FM radio raised awareness encouraging listeners to stay home and safe.
From informing its listeners about the need to wear face masks and washing hands to keeping social distance, radio presenters had a lot to tell about the dos and don’ts of the pandemic.
In the beginning, the station tackled raging infodemic, widespread community misinformation, and endless rumors about Covid-19. It stepped up its fight against the proliferation of propaganda about cure for the virus.
Local communities particularly those living in remote pastoral settlements witnessed a barrage of misinformation that included conspiracy-theories and countless unverified speculations about the virus and its transmission.
“There was so much misinformation and rumor about the disease. Most of the community members believed that Corona is a ‘white man’s disease and it will not affect Muslims” Nasra observes
The overwhelming majority of the Somali community was not receptive to the containment measures and messages from national and international organizations that aimed at stopping the further spread of the disease.
Nasra and her team contended with widespread laxity among community members in failing to keep social distancing and wearing facemasks. It was life as usual for most people.
The station’s sister company Star Media Development Centre (SMDC) released a survey revealing that 82 percent of members of the Somali Community either did not believe in the existence of Covid-19 or that the disease is not real.
“The belief that the pandemic doesn’t exist cuts across all Somali regions. Lack of awareness featured in some regions” read part of the survey
Amidst a relentless surge in the number of infections especially in Eastleigh, the capital’s Somali neighborhood, Star FM stepped up the campaign educating their listeners on impending health crisis if the community continue to behave normally.
The station’s invigorated drive is now having an evident impact. More and more members of the community adhere to containment measures. People are adapting to the new normal.
“After our campaign, people’s perception has changed a lot. More and more of our listeners are calling us urging community members to join the response against covid19″ Nasra notes.