Fighting the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 in the Sahel through local language community radio 

29-05-2019

ANDERAMBOUKANE, MALI  "Before our radio programme, people didn't even believe in the disease," says Mohammed Samate, director of Radio Dodia in Anderamboukane, some 1,600 kilometres from Bamako in eastern Mali. "Thanks to the programme, they now realize that it's not a joke," he says.

Radio Dodia, located on the border with Niger, broadcast short messages in Tamasheq, the local language, to raise awareness of the global COVID-19 pandemic. So far, more than 5 million people have been infected worldwide.

The messages were broadcast during a special radio programme focusing on social cohesion and conflict management in the framework of a project implemented by UNODC and UN WOMEN, within the framework of the UNODC Sahel Programme and with the financial support of the Peace Building Fund.

The messages focused on preventive measures applied to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as travel restrictions and the closure of national borders.

"We decided to integrate awareness-raising on measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 such as border closures into the broadcasts because, according to radio sources, some farmers in Mali were frustrated by the fact that the security forces prohibit them from selling their livestock at a weekly market across the border in Niger," said the UNODC project manager.

With more than 40,000 listeners eager to hear civil society groups, community leaders and defence and security forces on the air, Samate took the opportunity to raise awareness about COVID-19.

"In our nomadic culture, as long as you haven't personally seen a sick person, you tell yourself that there is no sick person. Seeing our community leaders sitting together to discuss the pandemic really made an impact on our listeners," Samate said.

The radio programmes helped to put an end to the misinformation and rumours that were circulating.

  

"We have noticed that people don't greet each other as they used to. They are following the prevention measures. People no longer sit side by side at weddings and baptisms," according to Samate. "Now the first thing someone asks you when you enter their home is to wash your hands, it has become a habit," he continued.

Located on the border with Niger and close to Algeria, travellers crossing the border now wash their hands more conscientiously. Previously, border guards would have had difficulty enforcing the barrier gesture.

"Nomads usually exchange a handshake when they meet. If you don't offer your hand to a nomad, you'll be in trouble, you know! Now, when you meet acquaintances, it's no longer expected."

While access to masks is a little more complicated, nomads have their own solutions, according to Samate. "Nomads traditionally use their turbans to protect their faces. This hasn't changed. If we have the masks, we wear them, but if we don't, we have our turbans!" he said.