June 12, 2012
On July 9, 2011, a historic vote resulted in southern Sudan seceding from the north. The Republic of South Sudan, Africa’s newest nation, was born.
But lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. One year after independence, South Sudan struggles with violence, poverty, illiteracy, food insecurity, and a weak infrastructure. Amid this uncertainty, Sudan Radio Service (SRS), an independent media outlet funded by USAID and managed by EDC, broadcasts vital news and civic information across the region.
SRS station manager Stephen Omiri has observed the transformation of South Sudan firsthand. Omiri joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) when he was 9, and left at 24 to pursue an education. He began work at SRS in 2003 as a stringer, receiving on-the-job training as a radio journalist before working his way up to producer, senior producer, and now, station manager.
Q: How does SRS help the people of South Sudan?
Omiri: Civic education has always been our main focus. People need to know what their government is doing and what they should ask of their government. Of the 22 programs SRS has on air, 6 are about civic education. We’ve also added some new programs to educate people on human rights.
Panorama is a new show about women’s empowerment, particularly for women who want to work with the government and play a role in building this new nation.
Our Voices targets youth, who are exploited during times of conflict. It answers such questions as What is their role in advancing this country? In good governance? In the stability of the nation? The program talks to youth, and we bring youth group leaders into the studio. We want to hear from them.
Children in Our Lives is another program about youth and children, and the importance of education. Illiteracy in South Sudan is at 80 or 90 percent. There’s a need for free, universal education for all.
Q: What changes are needed in South Sudan?
Omiri: My hope is the government will pass a media law so the environment will be conducive to reporters gathering and sharing information with the people. There are some things we cannot report on because we don’t have access to information in government offices. My hope is a bill currently in the Parliament will pass, providing access to information and protection for journalists. People have the right to information that will help them make informed choices.
Q: What’s next for the radio station?
Omiri: There’s a lot of need for information in South Sudan. For many southern Sudanese, the only way to get information is radio. Every time I do my work, I’m reminded there is someone, somewhere, who needs this information. And that person is waiting for us to give that information to them. That is a duty and a responsibility for us here at SRS. It makes me want to work extra hard. This is a time for nation building that needs everyone’s participation.