Victor Lugala recalls the historic day. Voting for southern Sudan’s independence was to begin at 9 a.m. on January 9, 2011. “People began lining up at 2 or 3 a.m. so they would be there when the polling stations opened,” says EDC’s Lugala, a Sudan Radio Service (SRS) journalist. “Thousands stood in line for hours to cast their vote. People who have suffered with civil war and unrelenting conflict and poverty for more than 50 years—they were waiting for that day.”
This was their chance to make history.
SRS operates as an independent media service in this struggling country. The new state-of-the art station, managed by EDC and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, began full operation just weeks before the election. SRS recently moved its home base from a shortwave operation in Nairobi, Kenya, to the new quarters on the outskirts of Juba in southern Sudan. SRS now broadcasts in multiple languages (including English and Arabic) and has become a critical news resource during this historic time of change.
In January, more than 3.7 million southern Sudanese voted to secede from the north, which supporters hope will bring about lasting peace. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 ended the civil war, but Sudan still suffers from great poverty and fear of violence. Southern Sudan has until July to declare independence and become Africa’s newest country.
“Civic education is a major part of our mission,” says EDC’s Jon Newstrom, who directs SRS. “Less than half the population is literate, so we work to educate people about what’s happening and their rights.” Two Sudanese journalists from SRS offer their perspectives.
Lucy Poni Modi
“SRS educational programs expand the lives of people in southern Sudan.”
Producer Lucy Poni Modi totes her reporter’s microphone, interviewing a U.S. Consulate General representative. “At SRS, you learn how to do everything,” she says. “Voice-overs, writing scripts, reporting, editing, reading the news. Everyone is given the opportunity to learn.” SRS hires people with potential to become unbiased radio journalists and trains them with classwork instruction and on-the-job mentoring.
Modi joined EDC and SRS in 2006 after working for an investigative news agency in Nairobi. She says the new station “is a dream come true for SRS.” A radio tower emits a powerful FM signal that offers clarity and reach across the region—a vast improvement, she says, over the limits of shortwave.
“Now we can broadcast into more towns,” says Poni. “This is important post-referendum, as so many economic and development issues need to be discussed. We’re waiting to see how this democratic transformation will improve the lives of the local people.”
“The journalist is the bridge linking the people in power and the ordinary person.”
The best thing about interviewing people in southern Sudan, says reporter Victor Lugala, is their bluntness. “They blurt out whatever is on their minds,” he explains.
He urges young journalists to get out in the field and ask lots of questions, to get all sides of a story. “We abuse the power of the media if we give more access to the politicians than the ordinary people,” says Lugala. “We have to be in touch with our listeners. Ordinary people have stories, too.”
As does Lugala. “When my father died, the only thing I inherited of value was a radio and a few books,” he says. “The more I listened to radio, the more books I read, I knew I wanted to become a writer.” At first, he worked for the Sudan Council of Churches in communications, interviewing displaced southerners and activists imprisoned in the north. He has since published numerous articles, short stories, and books of poetry on the human toll of war and corruption.
Lugala joined EDC in 2003 to work for SRS in Nairobi. He relocated to Juba to cover the referendum voting and now, southern Sudan’s transition to independence.
His optimism can be summed up in this passage from a short story he wrote after the CPA was signed: “[A] new chapter was being written as the people who were united by a common destiny embarked on their last and final leg of their long walk to freedom.*
*From Vomiting Stolen Food, © 2009 Victor Lugala, Published by BlackRain, Nairobi, Kenya
Originally published on April 29, 2011