The voice of Southern Sudan

21 Dec 2010

The voice of Southern Sudan

A proud and smiling Sheila Keji Modi recalled that she and a fellow reporter were the first voices to be heard on Radio Miraya.

It was 30 June 2006, when the UN station went on air for the first time in the Southern Sudan capital of Juba.

The historic broadcast featured a live programme with President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit.

Ms. Modi felt honoured to be selected with Ayuen De-Gabriel, out of a team of what she described as very good reporters and presenters, to go on air with President Kiir.

"It was such a privilege and a humbling experience sitting close to President Salva Kiir," she said.

Now, four years after its first broadcast, Miraya airs 24 hours, seven days a week.

The station's has expanded from its initial coverage of Central Equatoria State to six of the 10 states in Southern Sudan.

Radio Miraya Deputy Chief Neeraj Bali noted that the station had transmitters in 14 locations -- Juba, Wau, Malakal, Rumbek, Maridi, Yambio, Torit, Yei, Bor Aweil, Melut, Bentiu, Naseer, and Kapoeta.

"We are installing two new transmitters - one in Kajokeji and one in Nimule -- in August and all going well, we should be transmitting there before the end of the month."

The management are also in discussions with Internews to broadcast for a few hours every day on its community radio stations in Leer, Turalei, Kurmuk and Kauda.

New directions

To reflect changing times, Miraya launched new programming in March, following a survey of different stakeholders.

"We commissioned a qualitative survey in 2009 to analyse what the audiences like, what they do not like, what they would like to see and so on. This study was done in the north and south," Miraya Editor-in-Chief Jean-Claude Labrecque said.

The new programming includes current affairs in the national and regional level, women's issues, youth programming and a roundtable discussion on national events every night.

The news broadcasts have also changed to accommodate audiences who go to work early in the morning. Now, there is an additional morning news hour from 6.00 a.m. to 7.10 a.m.

Staff numbers have also increased from an initial 20to 139 in Sudan. At 100, Sudanese nationals make up the bulk of employees.

"The national employees are the backbone and the sinew of Miraya," said deputy chief Bali.

Covering the referendum

Being the only regional broadcaster in Southern Sudan, Miraya played a successful role in civic education and election coverage in April, said Radio Producer Helene Papper.

"We received a lot of feedback from our audiences before, during and after the elections through the mobile phone short message, short code service," she said.

Hundreds of Juba residents also attended the fourth anniversary celebrations this past June. "The community is very much attached to the radio station," Ms. Papper said.

Miraya is expected to duplicate its election function in the forthcoming 2011 self-determination referendum in the south.

"The Southern Sudan referendum is one of the most important events in African history this century," said Miraya's first chief, Leon Willems, who now works with Radio Dabanga in Darfur.

"If Miraya is going to continue to be an important factor in informing the people about the referendum, you have to make sure you have correspondence in all corners of Southern Sudan," he added.

Miraya has an ambitious expansion plan to 16 new sites. "We want to expand our reach to cover as many county capitals, especially in areas with no radio coverage at all," Ms. Papper said.

A referendum coverage charter (explain) is also in the pipeline.

"The referendum is a sensitive issue so we will have a referendum coverage charter just like we had with the elections," said Mr. Labrecque, adding that they planned to share it with all Miraya stakeholders.

The radio station will introduce new programmes targeting referendum news and civic education. It also plans to invite commissioners from the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) to the studio to discuss with audiences their roles as well as the SS Referendum Act 2009.

"We will have some drama, skits, and public service announcements in different local languages, in partnership with the SSRC," Mr. Labrecque said. The radio's website,, which targets Sudanese in the Diaspora, will have a special referendum section.

Training of staff will be another major element. Journalists and editors will receive training on the meaning of unity and secession and how to cover referenda polls in a balanced and objective manner.

"Miraya should do the best it can to make sure there is freedom of speech, that people can express their views, that there can be real debate and real discussion about issues of relevance and that normal people can take part in this process. That is where their key function lies," said Mr. Willems.

Spreading peace

Resolution 1590 of the UN Security Council mandate for UNMIS called for the formation of a radio station, primarily to inform Sudanese people about the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

"Miraya is a UN radio station, run in partnership with the Swiss non-governmental organization Fondation Hirondelle,"said Mr. Bali. "We work under the UNMIS mandate and our primary objective is to disseminate information about the mandate to the people of Sudan, and support peace."

The establishment of Miraya in 2006 was made possible through the determination and persistence of many people. It has played a significant form in informing the largely illiterate population in Southern Sudan about the peace process.

"I am very proud to have been part of that team," said Mr. Willems. "President Kiir opened Miraya and he gave a big boost to freedom of the press in Southern Sudan. Officials at the Ministry of Information also played a very positive role."

The first challenge during Miraya's inception was to find qualified Sudanese staff in the war-torn south. It quickly dawned on the recruitment team that they had to look outside the country's borders.

"I travelled to Kenya and Uganda for the recruitment. The Southern Sudanese staff we got were fresh from college with no experience in radio," said former Deputy Chief of Miraya Valerie Msoka.

After a three-month training session in Khartoum, they deployed to Juba, where the staff of 20 held editorial meetings under trees as they waited for construction of office buildings.

Ms. Modi was among those recruited in Nairobi, where she had been living as a refugee for 18 years. "I had just finished a journalism course and I knew I wanted to return and give (something) back to Sudan."

She was among the first group of five journalists on the CPA sensitization programming team. "We studied and did a lot of programmes on CPA facts and produced a lot of census awareness programmes. Even today, when I go out and introduce myself, people ask 'you are Sheila Keji Modi of CPA facts and Census?' They still remember our programmes."

Looking back, the radio journalist believes Miraya has really been serving its purpose. "In the south, radio is the only means of communication that can reach even the remotest corner. Though it has not had as wide a coverage as was expected, it has made a huge impact."

Ms. Msoka noted that all voices on air had been Sudanese from the onset, which was still the case four years on.

Lately, international staff have been training national employees to take on more leadership roles, said Ms. Papper.

"We are training the staff to take up more responsibilities. Our head of news is a national staff, Nelson Nwak, and the Miraya national staff was also responsible for the planning of the fourth anniversary celebration."

Due to the large number of tribes in Sudan, Mr Bali said the radio station lacked capacity to have daily programming in all local languages. But it plays music in languages found all over Sudan.

Miraya plans to air short referendum-related public service announcements in six to seven local languages.

The Miraya frequency is available on medium and short wave in the south, on NileSat (digital radio and television) in the north and streams online from the radio's website.