ARUSHA, Tanzania - The radio speaker cackles with static as Rotlinde Achimpota turns the dial, before stopping at 93 FM - Mambo Jambo Radio, affectionately known to its listeners as MJ. The voice of a young broadcaster is heard reporting live from a bongo flava concert. This speaks volumes about the message this energetic radio station transmits.
Dar es Salaam is referred to in the country's burgeoning music industry as ubongo, or "brain" in Swahili. But this privately-owned Arusha radio station is challenging Dar's biggest entertainment behemoths with something different.
Rotlinde Achimpota, at 46 years of age, is the oldest staff member at MJ. A wife and mother of four children, she knows first-hand what it's like to communicate with Tanzania's youth.
"I'm a full-time mom and part-time radio presenter. I learn so much from my kids about what's going on in Tanzania," she said.
Achimpota lives in Usa River, 23 kilometres east of Arusha, where she tends a to small farm. Maize, cassava, pumpkin and potatoes all thrive in her kitchen garden which surrounds the family's home. For the last six years she's been working as a broadcaster, but 12 weeks ago she decided to bring something new to the table at MJ.
"I launched Arusha's newest agriculture program, Kilimo na Jamii ("Farming and Society") on Saturday, June 14 . It airs every Saturday from 4:30 to 5 p.m." Achimpota said. "I really want to engage youth in agriculture as a business opportunity. Most youth tend to think cultivating is for old people. I want to show them it's not."
Weather ICT for rural farmers
Kassim Sheghembe, known as "Flash," is Farm Radio International's Radio and Information and Communication Technologies developer in Tanzania. Achimpota teamed up with Flash earlier this year to develop a weekly weather alert for farmers in the northern highlands. The result, Beep for Weather, has already become an essential service for farmers around Arusha.
"After this [project], Rotlinde [Achimpota] was very eager to start her own farmer radio program. She approached me to ask for Farm Radio's support, so I told her we could support her with ICTs," Flash said. "She's very resourceful and self-motivated. She's already found a sponsor for her program."
Working with Farm Radio International has helped Achimpota to improve her skills as a broadcaster giving her the confidence to start a program which has never been attempted at MJ before. Once she realized the impact her weather report was having on farmers, she decided to make it a regular feature on Farming and Society.
"It helped me be more comfortable with editing. I'm becoming a radio producer. I do the program all by myself. I prepare it every week," she said. "If you tune in you can hear from farmers and experts share critical agriculture information."
Rights Media in the community
Jared Knoll, a Canadian human rights media trainer, was placed for six months at Mambo Jambo Radio by Journalists for Human Rights, or JHR. Between September 2013 and February of this year, he worked closely with Achimpota, building on her raw talent.
"She was always curious and eager to learn new skills," Knoll said. "I learned as much from her as she learned from me. She's a very brave individual and so passionate when it comes to helping her community. I found those qualities very inspiring."
MJ is one of many radio stations around the world to benefit from JHR human rights media training. Knoll helped Achimpota understand the importance of covering women's and children's rights stories, which has since made her a household name across northern Tanzania.
"What set Rotlinde [Achimpota] apart was her ambition to become a great journalist, and determination to overcome many of the risks and obstacles in her way, not only as a muckraker in an inhospitable political climate, but as a woman in an intensely patriarchal country and industry," he said.
Achimpota hopes to see Farming and Society go from 30 minutes to a full hour farming news magazine show. She's now using recording equipment and mobile phones to interact with farmer groups at the Nane Nane exhibition grounds in Arusha.
"I want to share stories about successful farmers. I hope this will inspire others to take up farming or improve existing agricultural practice," she said. "I really want to see young Tanzanians, like my children, start farming to improve their financial situation."
*Over the past two years I've worked alongside Rotlinde Achimpota, starting as MJ Radio's first-ever JHR human rights media trainer, then at FRI Tanzania, where I brought her on as our weather ICT reporter and producer. I also played a role in developing her investigative journalism and online skills at a training hosted by VIKES Finland and MISA Tanzania.