The Place of Community Radio in Rural Development in Kenya: Case Study of Sauti FM in Rarieda, Siaya County.
Rural communities in Kenya have largely been relegated to the periphery of the regular mainstream socio-economic and political development conversations. Their voices remain muted and their core political and socio-economic concerns largely excluded from the core resource planning and allocation. Radio offers a platform for remedying this situation as it is widely regarded as the ideal media for developmental communication (Butner, 2003), particularly for rural populations. Yet not just any type of radio may be ideal for this purpose. Community Radio is the model that is best suited for development communication for rural populations. This study set out to examine the role of Community Radio in rural development in Kenya. Sauti FM, a community radio station located in Rarieda, Siaya County was selected for a case study with the purpose of demonstrating how the radio station has been harnessed for the socioeconomic, cultural and political development of Rarieda; as well as the impacts of the radio‘s programming in its catchment area. This study was qualitative in orientation and data were as gathered through focus group discussions, key informant interviews and direct observation in addition to consulting secondary data from various sources. The findings of this study are that Sauti FM is indeed being harnessed for the social, economic, cultural and political development of the inhabitants of Rarieda in such areas as mobilization of resources and collective action, preservation and promotion of progressive facets of local culture, civic education, behaviour modification, business and social networking, as well as promotion of fraternity and harmony in the community. The impact of Sauti FM is starting to be recorded in the stations catchment area. Radio is considered as the ideal mass communication media especially in developing nations (Butner, 2003). Community radio has grown (Mrutu; 2008) in spite of growth in other forms of mass media such as internet and mobile-based social media is an indication of the enduring versatility of radio. As can be seen from the case of Sauti FM in Rarieda, community radio is a key facilitator of rural development. Notwithstanding that, the number of community radio stations in Kenya remains relatively few. There is need to create a more conducive legal and policy framework to support the development of community radio in the country. Existing community radio stations on their part should develop effective sustainability systems to enable them thrive. Such would include better community participation and support, volunteerism, partnership with devolved government units, and creative fundraising initiatives.