Overcoming jamming in Ethiopia
In August, when protests broke out across Ethiopia, the government began jamming VOA broadcasts via shortwave in Amharic (Ethiopia’s national official language), as well as in Afaan Oromoo (spoken by the largest ethnic group) and Tigrigna (used in the north and neighboring Eritrea).
VOA responded by boosting its broadcasts, adding an extra 30-minute daily program in Amharic and using two additional shortwave frequencies.
Engagement on the VOA Afaan Oromoo Facebook page increased by more than 200 percent since the unrest began.
While much of the international news media focused on the reports of migrants fleeing turmoil in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 150,000 people who fled violence and hardship in Africa largely have gone unnoticed.
VOA’s French-to-Africa and Somali Services documented the plight of African migrants who made their way from East and West Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Photos of what they saw and the harrowing stories they heard became part of a special multimedia series, Adrift: The Invisible African Diaspora.
VOA Zimbabwe Service was a reporting partner with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on the so-called Panama Papers detailing global financial misconduct. VOA uncovered documents linking mining executives to an offshore shell company that allegedly paid salaries skirting Zimbabwean tax laws, leading the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to open its own inquiry.
Exposing injustice in Nigeria
VOA Hausa Service, with a measured audience of more than half of all Hausa-speakers in Nigeria, reported that although 22-year-old polio survivor Umar Yusuf won Nigeria’s National Quranic Competition, contest officials sent the second-place finisher to the finals in Saudi Arabia instead. VOA Hausa exposed the injustice, galvanizing lawmakers and religious leaders, who ordered the immediate return of the replacement contestant and compensation for Yusuf, who thanked VOA “for standing firm and seeing to it that my right was restored.”
Shaka Ssali, the host and managing editor of Voice of America’s TV and radio program Straight Talk Africa, was selected to serve as one of three moderators for the Uganda presidential debate in Kampala, Uganda on February 13, 2016. This was the first debate incumbent President Yoweri Museveni had ever agreed to. Ugandans went to the polls on February 18 to elect a new president from among eight candidates, including Museveni. Ssali was joined by retired journalist Joel Kibazo and Makerere University professor Suzie Muwanga to moderate the debate, which was viewed by millions in Uganda.
VOA’s French-to-Africa Service launched a weekly television insert Correspondents VOA, placing on-camera VOA talent inside the nightly news programs of more than 20 affiliates with produced packages, commentary, and analysis from Washington, the political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, and from Election Night in New York.
VOA Kirundi launched the daily half-hour radio show Iwanyu mu Ntara, or From the Provinces, focusing on underreported stories from outside Burundi’s capital Bujumbura and from refugee camps in Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The program reunited a family separated for more than 20 years, connecting on-air a woman facing financial hardship in rural Burundi to her brother who grew up in a refugee camp in Malawi and is now a small businessman who can help her.
The VOA60 Afurika program in Kinyarwanda became available to mobile subscribers in 2016. The 60-second daily news roundup, produced by VOA’s Central Africa Service, will be available to smart and feature phone users. Subscribers will receive an SMS alert when new content is added, and when breaking news occurs. Subscribers also will have access to archived content and can engage with the service by leaving comments on the programs they hear.
VOA’s Swahili Service launched a daily half-hour show Kwa Undani or In Depth, exploring the issues driving the day’s news headlines. On Facebook Live, shortwave, and FM streams in Congo and Kenya, Kwa Undani takes VOA audiences beyond the soundbites to discuss what is behind the stories, from political deal-making to corruption and opposition to the International Criminal Court.
Young African Leaders
Since the inception of the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010, VOA has closely covered the program that brings African civic, business and community leaders aged 25–35 for six weeks of academic coursework, leadership training and networking at U.S. universities. In 2016, VOA interviewed more than 130 YALI fellows at their Washington summit and during their U.S. university studies.
U.S. Embassy Mali YALI coordinator Adama Kouyate said, “We have always had the impression that we increased our influence among our target groups after each broadcast or interview with VOA about our programs. These broadcasts have also enabled us to increase the number of people who follow us on Facebook and therefore increase the number of young people with whom we interact on issues related to good governance.”
“Wow, the program opened my eyes and ears about the girls’ rights to make choices when they grow and venture this huge world which is full of challenges.”
– VOA Swahili listener
Somali town hall
In September, VOA held a first-of-its-kind televised town hall linking young Somalis in Mogadishu with young Somali-Americans in Minneapolis. The event provided the Somali diaspora in Minnesota with a rare opportunity to speak directly with the Somali President, and they asked the President questions on extremism, unemployment and education. Audiences in Minnesota gathered at Twin Cities Public Television station KTCA-TV, while audiences in Somalia met at the Presidential Palace in Somalia.
“Instead of local people looking at the diaspora as a strange or alien people, and the diaspora when they come and see the destruction and see that this is a different world—the engagement now, exposing what is inside Somalia and what is outside Somalia and having a common understanding, this is a good opportunity, and I am very much grateful for the VOA to provide this opportunity for the Somali youth,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told VOA at the conclusion of the event.
The VOA program aired live on Somali National Television, on the VOA Somali website, and on the VOA Somali Facebook page, where videos of the event have received more than half a million views.