As recent AID videoconferencing initiatives have no doubt highlighted, infrastructure is one of the principle challenges facing Africa today.  Whether in fighting HIV/AIDS or providing legal remedies to rural communities, its difficult to understate the importance of good roads and adequate sanitation.  This is also true with regard to democratic governance in that infrastructure allows people to act in concert, articulating their vision of the future. 

Although internet access is slowly permeating the landscape, large numbers of communities consistently find themselves cut off from decision-making processes and largely unaware of the political climate that surrounds them.  In West Africa, where ethnic commonalities and geographic proximity often bind neighbors together, tensions spill over.  The situation in Ivory Coast, for example, is worrisome for the new Liberian government and likewise for the fledgling government in Sierra Leone.  Political repression in Guinea and Mauritania complicates politics in Senegal, where a powerful executive would love nothing more than to shove the opposition into oblivion. 

Its evident, then, that the entire sub-region could greatly benefit from an initiative designed to link up geographically-isolated communities and publicize issues that matter to them.  The West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) based in Dakar, Senegal, strives to do just that.  Originally conceived in 2003 by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, WADR hit the airwaves in November 2005 and, having established regional offices in each of the Mano River Union countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea) notwithstanding substantial political opposition, it has already proven to interface well with the strategy of the Soros Foundations Network in sensitizing populations to values of peace, participatory democracy, and good governance. 

Currently, broadcasts are done in French and English in the somewhat testy shortwave format, with only a couple hours of programming per day and periodic retransmissions.  In the future, we can expect WADR to aggressively recruit local stations capable of rebroadcasting programs into regional languages and in FM modulation in order that they reach their intended audiences.  As capacity increases, programming will surely follow, though WADR has already shown itself to be an alternative to much mainstream media intent on emphasizing West Africa’s shortcomings, often with little mention of what is going right on the continent.  At least in the short term, WADR’s greatest challenge remains finding economically effective ways of increasing local listenership.

The formal inauguration will be held at the main office May 18th.  Among those expected to attend are Mr. Soros and the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

WADR is available live on 94.9 FM in Dakar and worldwide on shortwave at 12000 kHz from 7 am to 9 am GMT and 17860 kHz from 9 am to 11 am GMT.