Noah Samara is chief executive of Worldspace, a new digital radio system that broadcasts from space. Last October, the first of three planned satellites covering most of the developing world was put into orbit over Africa. Earlier this month, broadcasting was launched with 25 channels of multilingual news, music, entertainment and educational programming. The first countries to be targeted by Worldspace are Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa.
IRIN interviewed Samara in Addis Ababa this week, on the sidelines of a UN-sponsored conference on Africa, globalisation and the information age.
Q. Are you optimistic about globalisation and the information revolution for Africa?
A. First of all I think, downside or no downside, this is an ineluctable move that is happening to the world, so if Africa is an active participant or not an active participant, it can’t avoid being a participant... I think Africa needs right now its own tools, it needs people to just get up and have Africans view themselves from their own point of view, make their point of view something that we hear on the continent, on the radio waves, on the television waves, on the Internet waves...
It’s really important to think in African terms, rather than in ethnic or in national terms. I think that’s probably the first biggest breakthrough that we could make.
Q. Is this Panafricanism?
A. It is, but you might say it is a nineties version of it. It’s much more evolved, it’s not dogmatic, it is not doctrinaire, it is more of just the state of being. It’s a state of realising we have a whole continent, let’s create that consciousness.
Q. How does your technology not become a Tower of Babel?
A. First of all we have very limited capacity, second because we have limited capacity we can’t give room to every single language. In Ethiopia alone, we have 200 languages. So by force of what the market wants, the programme setup is going to look more like a bouquet of lingua francas, that aggregate huge numbers of people. The other way is the music...I think that will also become another way of making people listen together.
Q. You don’t have some of the big names like the BBC and the VOA.
A. We have had a long dance with both of them and I suspect that at some point they will come on board...We right now have excellent programmes on the satellite, we have CNN, we have Bloomberg, we have this and that. We plan to build a bouquet of an additional 25 more channels, and that would happen in the next few months, and I suspect these guys might be on board by then.