Gabriel Kondesi, a 21-year-old villager who was arrested and jailed for operating a pirate radio in Mulanje, Malawi “stayed with thugs” in jail for about three days. He was released after his father and well-wishers paid the MK50,000 fine.

Gabriel Kondesi, the radio boy

Gabriel Kondesi, the radio boy

His father Jonas said the family managed to pay the fine after selling household items such as a television set and DVD player. He also sold six bags of cement that he intended to use for plastering his house. He borrowed about K12,000 from around the village. Well-wishers, who were keen listeners to his son’s radio station, contributed K14,500. Zodiak Broadcasting Station managing director Gospel Kazako visited the family and donated K20,000 to offset the debts accrued.

Upon hearing the news of his arrest, a group of people running SMEs across the country, which had a summit in Blantyre the same week, was so moved such that it contributed over a MK100,000 for his release. But when the group heard that he was out, it decided to run a fund for him so that he can go back to school. It has now transpired that Kaphuka Private Schools has offered Kondesi  a scholarship for all his secondary education.

As this boy goes back to school, his handlers must be reminded that, initially, he dropped out, not because of lack of financial support, but rather because he did not find school interesting at all. He is on record as saying school did not provide any clues. He must, therefore, be advised that an all-round education is very important for him to realize the full potential of his technical capabilities. The fact that he was the managing director, the marketing manager, head of news, DJ and engineer for his radio is enough to show that he needs a good education background.

While all the talk of support and scholarships is centering on Kondesi alone, the world must know that he was not operating this radio single-handedly. He had his “partners in crime”, ten of them to be precise. According to the Times group, he employed these guys, most of them of his age, to run the station either as DJs or presenters. Those without the voice were employed as sales assistants. There is a need to find out the education background of these guys. There is a high likelihood that they are also dropouts just like their master, Kondesi. They should also be sent back to school. The fund that has been set up by the SMEs for Kondesi’s education must  also take care of the education needs of these guys.

When the news of the boy’s arrest just broke out, most of us were not aware of the full details. Judging by his education background, we thought that he did not know that he could not operate a community radio without a license. But it has now transpired that he was fully aware. It has been reported that he travelled to Blantyre two years ago to find out how he could get a licence; the people at Macra said they would communicate with him through the Mulanje District Commissioner but there had been no communication up to now. I am not a legal person but I am sure the law cannot allow someone to operate such kind of a radio. One wonders as to why Macra kept this boy in suspense for a straightforward case like this.

The fact that the boy was warned by the police but continued operating the radio further confirms that he was not acting in ignorance. But I still think that condemning him to jail was not the right thing. A suspended sentence or some community work would have been better. But I am glad because he is out and that he will soon be in class.

The Daily Times article of Wednesday, 28th October, reported that the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (Macra) had since given Kondesi a free licence, and had also promised to fund the radio station for up to MK10 million in equipment and infrastructure. But on 3rd November, it was reported that Macra did not promise neither a community radio station in Muloza nor to buy studio equipment for Kondesi. Macra Communications Manager Zadziko Mankhambo said

Macra did not make any decision or commitment to award a broadcasting licence to Mr Kondesi or to establish a community radio station at Muloza. Macra only invited Kondesi to find out more about the operations of his pirate radio and to assess availability and needs of broadcasting services in Muloza.

There was no specific promise for Mr Kondesi. All the proposals for assistance were aimed at ensuring that the community itself does not suffer as a result of Mr Kondesi’s conviction.What concerns us is that an impression has been created that Macra made concrete promises about the community radio and studio equipment. You do not give studio equipment to someone who broke the law and got convicted.

Mankhambo further said that during the same meeting, a journalist wanted to know from Macra the estimated cost of setting up a community radio station, to which Macra director general Mike Kuntiya estimated it at about K10 million. So all these journalists (Times, Malawi Digest) misunderstood Macra? I would like to hear their comments on this issue.

Now that Macra has backtracked on the radio and licence offer, there is a need for those of us who are in support of Pachikweza radio station to ensure that this radio comes back to life.

Last but not least, why did Macra invite Kondesi, the man they describe as a convict, “to find out more about the operations of his pirate radio and to assess availability and needs of broadcasting services in Muloza”? Why discuss “the various proposals for assisting the community” with a man who was supposed to be in jail by now? Don’t they have better sources for this kind of information?

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