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Diasporian News of Thursday, 19 February 2009

Source: Josh ANNY(Jive/Daily Express)

Radio for peace building


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Kojo Mensah, changing lives through radio.

Craig Timberg, former Southern Africa Correspondent of the Washington Post described Liberia as; “play ground of foreign organizations.” He said the country is gradually crawling back to life from its horrendous days into the sunshine of peace and national unity. A brutal civil war lasting over a decade paralysed Liberia- a country that sheltered the last batch of slaves turned away from the Americas, following its abolition.

Numerous lives were lost and properties destroyed. Substantial numbers of them also fled the country in search of global shelter. Most of those left behind ended up as rebels, smoking out each other’s lives. Relative peace has become a friend to the country though the vestiges of the war are still evident; infrastructure and a negative national psyche. However the dust of potential conflicts still hangs in the air and people occasionally flex their muscles in front of each other. The war was not all that bad, at least for those whose financial standings skyrocketed. Such persons still lurk in the dark, hoping an opportunity will avail itself for them to strike. But their hopes continue to fizzle each day, thanks to the United Nations Mission In Liberia (UNMIL). The mission is dwelling on radio to help spread peace and economic prosperity to the Liberian people. One of its architects is Ghana’s Kojo Mensah formerly of Vibe FM.

Kojo was part of a team that set up the station five years ago. Then based in Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone, another victim of brutal civil war, Kojo was working on an initiative to help in the resettlement of children extracted from armed conflicts. His expertise was sought by the United Nation and upon instruction from New York he moved to Liberia. The country was crawling back to life and the presence of radio could help facilitate development. He was then given the task to set up a station under the UN mission to help the country on her feet. Sitting next to him at his living room on a rather humid Sunday morning, Kojo explained the circumstances leading to the birth of the station. Adjusting himself in the seat, he said the station began broadcasting from a “container” with only two staff members. That was in October 2003 at Spriggs Payne, according to information on the mission’s website. Most of the station’s employees he hired to support him at the time were ‘green’ but he was excited they had the passion to work so he picked them up, groomed them and put them on the air. They are running the show with him today. Within the space of five years the station which began broadcasting from a van can now boast of nine transmitters, three frequencies and satellites transmission equipments. The station also broadcasts beyond the country’s borders to Cote D’ivoire, Sierra Leone and Gambia and beyond. It also broadcasts 24 hours in both French and English as well as local Liberian dialects. Kojo Mensah, Chief of Radio and Executive Producer, was happy the station has contributed significantly to the peace building process of the country. He cited an instance where communal riots at Jacobs town nearly resulted in bloodshed. His team quickly got to the scene, brought all the opinion leaders from the community to speak to their people. Calm was finally restored following the intervention of the community leaders. “They were back on the streets holding hands and singing,” he said with a straight face later betrayed with a smile. Currently, the station has embarked on agricultural programme called ‘BACK TO THE FARM’ aimed at giving out relevant information about agriculture to the people. He said the project has so far been go well, and he was grateful, though not willing to take the credit, the recent caterpillar invasion in most farms was contained courtesy the programme. Unfortunately, not everybody was happy with Kojo Mensah’s presence in Liberia. He became an “easy target” to most Liberians who were unhappy about his presence in the country as head of the radio. They preferred a native to a Ghanaian they believed had come to take a job that should be rightfully theirs. Petitions then began to fly from all manner of persons, urging his superiors to fire him. The UN head office in New York served with a copy of the petition. The assault on him was led by journalists and handful elders in the country. They wondered how a baldhead Ghanaian could come into their country and take a job they consider as lucrative and should have gone to one of their own. “I got my job from New York” was his explanation when I wanted to know the circumstances that led to his appointment and whether he thought he could have lost his job purely on the petitions sent to his superiors. He said the behaviour of the petitioners came as a shock to him but all belongs to the past.

Kojo presents his own show ‘FrontPage’ which is news analysis programme. He plays host to Liberian journalists who critique the work of their own colleagues every Saturday for an hour. He said the show is a spot on which has cultivated a reputable listenership in the country. He was hopeful the station will continue to play a critical role in the peace and development process of Liberia for many years to come.

Hopefully when Liberia finally hits the “ground running” again and the names who contributed to her coming back are drawn, Kojo’s name will be listed alongside the many. Source:

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