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Human Rights and African Airwaves: Mediating Equality on the Chichewa Radio

30th November 2011

Human Rights and African Airwaves: Mediating Equality on the Chichewa Radio

Dr Harri Englund (University of Cambridge)

The seminar marked the publication of Human Rights and African Airwaves: Mediating Equality on the Chichewa Radio, author Dr Harri Englund (University of Cambridge) is in conversation with Dr Thoko Kaime (University of Surrey) and Dr Florence Brisset-Foucault (CGHR, University of Cambridge)

Human rights activism, important as it is to campaigns for equality, may not mediate the most consequential claims against injustice in Africa’s newly democratizing countries. Radio broadcasting in African languages is another vibrant public arena for making claims. Through innovative programmes, it can express grievances in popular idioms and narrative forms.

This seminar discussed arguments in Harri Englund’s new book on Nkhani Zam’maboma (News from Districts), a daily programme of stories on Malawi’s public radio that takes authorities to task by highlighting obligation and mutual dependence in the midst of searing inequalities. Englund’s ethnography on journalists’ everyday practices and the popular reception of their broadcasts reveals a quest for justice. The public arena they have created for moral and political debate is ignored by those critics who see in public broadcasting only an instrument of state-sponsored bias and misinformation in Africa.

As one of liberalism’s key concepts, equality appears not as a utopian dream pursued by a vanguard of activists and politicians but as a condition for making claims in public. By taking seriously African-language genres that are often neglected by scholars and activists, this seminar discussed fresh intellectual resources to confront inequality, exploitation, and poverty.

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