Journalism in northern Mali has become a high-risk job. Since radical Islamists took over the region, keeping the public informed has become extremely difficult and, at times, dangerous. But so far, Radio Hania, in the city of Gao, is staying on air.
Amid equipment failure and political intimidation, station director Abdoul Kader Touré and his three colleagues are struggling to do their job. In fact, one could say that Radio Hania is in survival mode.
"Running a radio station here is a real nightmare," says Touré. The journalist, who in the 1990s celebrated the liberalization of Mali's media, must now cope with a government-less country. What's more, businesses are waning. NGOs, network operators, insurance companies and government officials - they have all left.
Radio Hania used to broadcast round the clock. Today it can only offer two to three hours of programming a day. And that's subject to the availability of electricity, which is supplied only between 6 PM and midnight.
"Entertainment shows and music used to make up 80 percent of our content. But with the prohibition of music broadcasts, that's no longer a possibility," says Touré, referring to the Sharia law implemented by the Islamists who took over. Now it's straight to essentials: the news. The line-up includes local news, followed by news from capital city Bamako and finally syndicated programming from Radio France International (RFI).
Touré laments having had to watch his commercial revenues vaporize. "In the past, we used to air adverts for various companies based in Bamako. Network operators in the area, businesses, international NGOs and social services used to air their ads through our station," he explains.
Yet, the station director faces a pressure that's even worse than broadcasting cutbacks or loss of revenue. "I am often taken to task by the Islamists," he says, recalling what happened to a fellow journalist a few months ago. According to Touré, the unfortunate man was severely battered for inviting people to protest against an amputation sentence passed by the Islamists. Next thing he knew, the man was evacuated to Bamako in critical condition.
Despite the tense times, his sacrifice is acknowledged and appreciated by the local community. At every food parcel distribution, he and his colleagues get served. But one might guess Touré would persevere even without the acknowledgement. "Informing people is a calling. I do it on a non-profit basis," he says.