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Making Egypt's voice heard
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 05 - 2017

“In the past the Egyptian African Radio Service aimed to help neighbouring African countries gain their independence from their British or French occupiers. More than 19 languages were used, and African leaders would even come to Egypt and use these stations to address their people directly, encouraged by late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The stations later ceased to be political platforms and acquired cultural roles instead, though today only four languages are used — Swahili, Amharic, Hausa, and Somali,” comments Ghanaian-Egyptian writer and African affairs expert Gamal Nkrumah.
Chairperson of the Overseas Radio Service at the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) Sanaa Selim Shafei agrees. “At first, the slogan of the Overseas Service was ‘friendship between nations and independence and dignity for countries.' This slogan has now changed to ‘friendship between nations and co-operation between countries.' When the Overseas Service started in the 1950s, its targets were political, and it was intended to support the independence and non-aligned movements in Africa and Asia,” she said.
The first African programme was the Swahili Service which addressed nations in East and Central Africa from 1953 onwards. Other programmes followed, such as the English Service to West Africa.
Today, Shafei sees certain priorities when addressing the African nations. “We try to highlight the fact that we are seeking mutual benefits. They should come together to a point at which everyone can benefit,” she says. “We have common targets and a common destiny. This is the idea that we want to spread.”
“We know that African countries do not pick up Nilesat signals, but they do pick up Intelsat signals. There are now 23 radio stations broadcast on Intelsat, and we are working on airing other stations as well,” Shafei adds.
“In Africa we have 10 services broadcasting in nine languages because we have two English services, one directed to East Africa and another directed to West Africa because short wave cannot cover the whole continent. We also have one service in French transmitted to West Africa, as well as a Swahili programme, a Somali programme, an Afar programme (to Djibouti and some parts of Ethiopia), an Amharic programme (to Ethiopia), a Hausa programme (to Nigeria), and an Arabic Service to West Africa for the Arabs living there.”
“Despite the fact that most of the services are limited, they manage to air a variety of programmes. For the Islamic countries, we start with a recital of the Holy Quran, followed by an interpretation in the language of transmission. We also broadcast short religious songs,” she says, adding that they are keen to broadcast these kinds of programmes because they are written by scholars at Al-Azhar who can give sound information about Islam.
According to Ahmed Kamali and Amr Ibrahim's study Al-Ezaa Al-Masreya Wa Saboun Am (The Egyptian Radio over 70 Years), the Overseas Service was established in 1953 and covered the African Continent with 17 stations broadcasting for some 22 hours a day in 16 languages and dialects.
Today, Shafei says, “we want all our stations to be online and to develop the short wave stations. We want more correspondents in the target countries and more people who master the languages of our stations as we are short of staff fluent in English, French, German, Italian and Russian.”

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