BBC Focus on Africa radio celebrates 60th Anniversary

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 August 2020:

BBC Focus on Africa radio was launched in 1960 and by 15th August of the same year it had become a permanent slot on the BBC World Service airwaves.

The BBC’s first African news and current affairs programme started as a 15-minute programme broadcast three times a week.

Focus on Africa was born at a time when only 17 countries on the continent had gained independence with many more fighting for liberation. Dorothy Grenfell Williams and Ugandan Israel Wamala played pivotal roles. Wamala was one of the early presenters before becoming the first overall editor of the programme.

As Focus became popular, it changed transmission times in order to reach new audiences and became essential listening for people all over Africa eager to know what was happening in their own countries and beyond.

Focus quickly endeared itself to the audience as a trusted source of news about the continent. It earned a reputation for holding power to account in young African nations, during civil wars, military coups and crisis. Its presenters were revered for asking probing questions everyone wanted answers to.

The programme frequently received hundreds of letters from its growing base of listeners in Africa and other parts of the world.

One of the key factors in the success of Focus on Africa was the network of reporters were recruited locally. During those days in the 1960s through to early 1990s, the reporters would file their stories via telex or over the telephone.

The power of Focus on Radio brand on the continent paved the way for the successful launch of a daily TV bulletin about Africa. Focus on Africa TV bulletin was launched in 2012 on the BBC’s global channel World News.

Over the past 60 years, the programme has covered all the key moments in the continent’s history; the independence of more than 30 countries including the birth of Zimbabwe and South Sudan, the rise and fall of Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin, Ethiopia’s famine, the first elected female head of state in Africa, Nelson Mandela’s release and the end of apartheid, the outbreak of Ebola, major African cultural & sporting events including hosting for the first time ever the World Cup finals and much more.

Known largely for its staple of hard news, Focus on Africa was keen to tap into the world of humour to the tickle the ribs of its audience.

Thus, The Resident Presidents, an outrageous comedy sketch depicting stereotypical African heads of state was added to the menu with a weekly serving.

The media landscape has evolved from the early days of shortwave radio to digital revolution, thanks to internet technology and the advent of mobile phones.

The way audiences consume media has changed enormously. Days of appointment listening, or viewing are fast fading away. Audiences now consume content on the go or on demand. Focus on Africa reaches audiences globally around the world on digital platforms as well as radio.

The programme has also reinvented itself with the launch of Africa Today podcasting, providing its audiences with daily news about the continent.

In addition, the FOA Radio team have built on the fact that Africa is the world’s youngest continent with an average age of 19, and have recently launched The Comb podcast to engage younger audiences.

The rapid increase in fake news and misinformation has meant that Focus on Africa provides a reliable reference point for trusted news and reporting.

Solomon Mugera, Head of Journalism Africa says: “It is a privilege that we are celebrating Focus on Africa Radio’s Diamond Jubilee. This is the one programme that truly connects the continent with trusted news and information about events that matter most to the audience. It’s about their daily achievements, challenges and aspirations. Behind the programme is a talented team that’s passionate about Africa, its story and place in the world. I congratulate the team.”

Bilkisu Labaran, Head of Africa News & Current affairs says: “Focus on Africa radio continues to do what it has always done best, covering news and current affairs for an African audience. As new technology evolves, we are moving with the times and are available not just on Radio but also via digital/social platforms which is helping us to reach new and younger audiences. Our new logo truly reflects what Focus is about: Warm, vibrant and powerful.”

To mark the 60th anniversary listeners will be able to enjoy specially commissioned birthday features including:

Collection of archive material charting the great moments from Focus on Africa radio

Digital illustrated timeline – showcasing the history of Focus on Africa over 60 years by highlighting the major technological changes for listeners and journalists and includes the major events/moments of African history that Focus covered.

How Focus on Africa radio started – Paul Bakibinga reports on its origins

Match the Focus presenters- interactive game – w/c 17th Aug

A selection of 6 short sound clips of different presenters with the audience selecting the photos to match the presenter

The listeners – talk about their relationship with focus, when they first started listening

Insights from reporters and editors as they discuss the poignant, history making  interviews

Podcast – special footage bringing together clips and interviews – w/c 17th Aug

Special edition of Resident Presidents which pokes some fun at stereotypical African heads of state and their relationship with Focus on Africa –w/c 17th Aug

For more information please contact: BBC World Service Group Communications –marina.forsythe@bbc.co.uk

BBC Africa’s hub brings together the production of multilingual content about the continent on radio, TV and online on bbcafrica.com.  It delivers content in Afaan Oromo, Amharic, English, French, Igbo, Hausa, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Kiswahili, Pidgin, Somali, Tigrinya and Yoruba.

BBC Africa ensures a pan-African approach to the output, offering its audiences opportunities to join the global conversation. It has teams based in London and across much of sub-Saharan Africa. Follow BBC Africa on Twitter, Facebook Instagram and YouTube.

BBC World Service delivers news content around the world in English and 41 other language services, on radio, TV and digital, reaching a weekly audience of 351 million.

3 Comments

  1. Hpppy birthday to BBC FOCUS ON AFRICA. Founded in the sixties, when majority of African countries were emerging from colonial rule and celebrating their independence. While the BBC Network became a success story, and a most listened programme, the same can’t be said about our failed African states. Indeed a lot of African countries are worse off today than before independence. They might not have envisioned it, but little did the founders of this trustworthy network have envisaged the pivotal role they will play to inform an oppressed population that found themselves in the grip of dictatorship, under their new African slave masters.

    Indeed at the time of independence, no one could have predicted tbe African continent will produce monsters like Idi Amin, Bokassa, Mubutu, Saika Stevens, Ahmed Seku Turay, Doe, Gaddafi Mengistu Haile Maraiam, and many sadistic ones like them across tbe continent. Also Africa will be a hot bed of military take overs and civil wars in which millions will lose their lives, and it continues to this day. Think the DRC. One of two African countries if we add newly South Sudan in tbe mix, that have never known peace since their independence. Focus on Africa also helped exposed the so called Rebel revolutionaries. Turns out to be a bunch of sadistic murderers. More like rebles without a cause.

    Dr. Savimbi of the UNITA rebel movement of Angola, Foday Sankoh/Sam Bokari of the RUF and not forgetting the man that started it all Charles Taylor’s NPLF. In certain ways, fucus on Africa became an institution that can be trusted for reporting on news items where local journalists can’t even bother to venture. Because of fear for their own safety and family members. You have to be a brave local journalist to report on what is really going on in your country. Sierra Leone used to be like that and its continued under the Bio government. I think president Bio’s government has gone further. They are not only targeting journalists but the civilian population that dare to speak their minds. May God bless Sierra Leone

  2. Indeed Focus on Africa has done an immeasurable job over the years to keep the Continent informed. Together with its sister programs we can rely on the network to always catch the news almost upon its inception. When the army boys descended on Freetown on that fateful day in 1992 to oust the old APC, I was out of the country. Who did I depend on for the unfolding events? Focus on Africa. That coup has forever altered the political arena of our dear country. One of those involved in that extremely dangerous and life-staking move was the late Tom Nyuma. May the Almighty grant him eternal peace. Thank you very much Focus.

  3. Sixty imaginative years of of consistency,authenticity and trusted reporting across the African continent that helped shape and transform our lives should not go unnoticed but be widely and enthusiastically applauded by our people.Congratulations to BBC Focus on Africa Radio our trusted friends for their unwavering dedication to our beautiful continent.

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