I will talk to you about my work on the birth of radios in French African colonies in three parts :
Finally, I’ll present the problems I have to face to achieve my work.
Altough the law establishing « l’Union Française » in Nineteen forty six provided the development of a broadcasting network in the French colonies, only four stations were in working order in Sub-Saharan Africa : in Brazzaville, Dakar, Abidjan, Tananarive. That three last stations, had, moreover, a weak power of transmission ; they have not defined programs and only broadcast short wave programs supplied by The Radio Télévision Française.
Thus, in Nineteen fifty three, there are only a few radios sets in French colonies and radio programmes were aimed at white people and a few educated Africans. Most of the programs were in French and seldom in local languages. The wide majority of the population was out of reach.
Through a swift chronology, we will see how, in less than twenty years, France first built a group of radios whitin the boundaries of it’s Empire and then in the new independent countries with which France cooperated.
First, Nineteen fifty three : deputies and the Minister of « France d’Outre-Mer » entrusted the creation of a real broadcasting network overseas to a man call Pierre Schaeffer. He was an engineer and an artist, fired from Radio Télévision Française. Former resistant and radio producer, he develops a very unusual way of thinking about the radio at this time. Broadcasting was considered as a means of expression for ordinary people. He claimed, that, « what we were not able to do in France after World War two, we may now do this in Africa ». He makes a case in favour of a radio which be listens to people and would respect African cultures. Thus, he decided to create an organisation without the control of the RTF, whith its own school of radio officer, its own staff and material.
Between nineteen fifty three and nineteen fifty nine, fourteen radios were created directly by the SORAFOM and since nineteen fifty five this organisation provided the vocational training of brodcasting staff in his « Studio-Ecole » in Maison Lafitte just near Paris.
After the independence of nineteen sixty, the SORAFOM became OCORA (Office de Coopération Radiophonique) and pursued the development of the radios and vocational training of African broadcasting staff with the States which want to cooperate.
In spite of the competition of other countries, free to offer help to the new African countries, the OCORA stays important : it continues to directly manage some radios and to educate staff. But, in nineteen sixty nine, the OCORA lost his autonomy : it is integrated into the ORTF and disappeared.
2. An interesting research for many reasons
First, Africa is becoming a demographic giant : the United Nations has asserted this summer that in two thousand one hundred, fourteen percent of the population of the World will be African. According to this study, one young person in three in two thousand fifty will be African. This young and numerous population will ask questions about history of their continent and the origin of their media.
Then, the radio is still the first media in Africa. A media accessible to a broad majority in a continent where only fifty five percent of children go to school, where only sixty three percent of adults are able to read, where sixty eight percent of people don’t have electricity. Thus, the radio remains the most reliable means, the least expensive to touch a wide range of people in Africa.
Finally, there are also two other topical reasons for studying the history of the radio in Africa. On one hand, there is a great dynamism of the broadcasting, especially in French speaking countries such as Mali, Burkina and Niger. Those countries have hundreds of locals and independent radios showing a kind of pluralism. On the other hand, radios often play a role in political violence as in Rwanda in nineteen ninety four or in Kenya in two thousand and eight.
My work has an historiographical interest too. At this time, there is no study linking the history of broadcasting in France with the story of broadcasting in Africa. Now, with the development of Empire Studies, historians realize the importance of the intercations between mother country and colonies. Studies on broadcasting in this field still have to be done. Within the SORAFOM and the OCORA, intensive exchanges of people and ideas took place. These exchanges produced bonds often stronger than in the colonial period.
Moreover, the history of SORAFOM and OCORA is interesting in their desire to create news ways to broadcast. Taking the audience into account, preserving the identity of Africans. This experience led out on one of the most original actions in radio during the twenty century : the « radio-clubs du Niger ». This association, founded by a member of SORAFOM, worked on the principle of feed-back. Volunteers, in the country side recorded ordinary people’s reactions, asking questions about the weather, the family, money, agriculture… The recordings were used to make a programme. This programme was listened to by clubs in villages in order to provoke reactions, discussion and change.
This is an expression of faith in progress and mobilizing utopia born with the Second World War. A belief in a better world allowed by education and new technologies.
 POTTER Simon, Broadcasting Empire, The BBC and the British World (1922-1970), Oxford, …
"Les communicateurs aux pieds-nus" : un animateur des radio-clubs du Niger en action, milieu des années 1960, in Guy ROBERT, Les radios-clubs du Niger, OCORA, 1967.
3. Difficulties I have to face
I have to face many difficulties to achieve my work :
First, the problem of archives in broadcasting stations in Africa. I don’t know in which state are the archives which I need. I am looking for pieces of information concerning this archives : are they accessible, filed, damaged ?
Second : the contradiction between abundance of documents on one hand (Ina, National Archives in Pierrefitte) and the lack of sources on some events, especially for the beginning of my period.
Finally, another contradiction : while many witnesses of this period are still alive and are often very happy to testify, to pass on their history and memory, they produced themselves testimonies and history on their action and seek to protect their image and memory against criticism. Thus, some people control the access to their archives.