Vatican Radio’s Africa Service Marks 70 Years of Telling Stories Beyond the Obvious

Poster showing participants at the planned Friday, July 17 webinar.
Credit: Vatican Radio

The English Africa Service of the Vatican Radio is celebrating 70 years of broadcasting in Africa, with top management of the radio asserting that its impactful storytelling continues to set it apart from other communication channels on the continent by going beyond the “negative stereotypes of conflict and suffering in Africa.”

To mark the celebration, SIGNIS Africa, the continental branch of the global Catholic Association for Communication in collaboration with the Vatican Radio is planning a virtual event that will discuss the role of storytelling in managing the ills that affect the African society today and highlight the milestones of the radio in Africa.

Themed “Story-telling as a tool to manage racial and social tribulations in Africa”, the Friday, July 17 event will bring together Catholic Communicators in Africa who will participate in a two-hour virtual forum.

In an interview with ACI Africa ahead of the event, Fr. Paul Samasumo, head of Vatican Radio’s English/Swahili Africa Services said stories at the radio service are told by Africans who strive to give a clearer context to events.

“In the English Africa Service of Vatican Radio, we try to dedicate time to give the context of what is happening in Africa. We talk to local Bishops and various Church leaders who are usually living the situation we are reporting about,” Fr. Paul said.

He added, “We talk to local Catholic journalists on the ground. In other words, we let local people in Africa tell their own story as they see it.”

Often, Vatican Radio’s English Africa Service stays with the story long after a big event has passed in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of events in its audiences, says Fr. Paul who doubles as the Vice President of SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication that brings together media practitioners from more than 100 countries drawn from “radio, television, cinema, video, media education, Internet, and new technology.”

“We return to do follow-up on events. We are not only there when there is a big happening,” he says.

According to the Rome-based Zambian Cleric, communicators who scratch beyond the obvious are those who tell the story in its entirety. The reality he has seen, however, is the portrayal of conflict and suffering in Africa, a situation that Vatican Radio’s English/Swahili Africa Services   have always sought to correct.

“When you watch the secular news channels, you come away with the negative stereotypes of conflict and suffering in Africa,” Fr. Paul who is a Clergy of Zambia’s Livingstone Diocese says, and adds, “Yes, this is part of the African reality. We cannot deny the many conflicts on the continent, nor can we deny the suffering. But that is just part of the story.”

“What is almost always lacking is the context and range of coverage needed to tell a complete story. This is not something new. It has been discussed before by other people,” he further says.

Vatican Radio was launched on 12 February 1931 with Pope Pius XI delivering the first message in Latin language. Six years later, the English language program was launched. It was not until 1950 that English language broadcasts to Africa were inaugurated.

To respond to the changing trends in Africa, the English Africa Service of the Vatican Radio was created in 1979. It was “a shortwave evening broadcast to listeners in the English-speaking countries of Africa, airing mainly news of the Holy See and the Church in western countries,” Vatican News has recalled in a news report July 13.

Catechism lessons, African proverbs, and the lives of various saints were included in the Africa Service evening programs, which were broadcast through “a giant rotating transmitter at the Santa Maria di Galeria transmission centre in the north-western outskirts of Rome.”

Sean Lovett who was a member of the committee that set up the English Africa Service has been quoted outlining two considerations that they considered in establishing the Service for Africa.

“One, understanding what the real issues were that concerned the people in Africa. So, identifying questions like healthcare, justice, peace; the issues that were of concern to people who were listening in Africa,” Vatican News has quoted Sean Lovett as saying.

The second consideration, Sean has been cited in the July 13 Vatican News report, “was to overturn that colonialist, European vision of Africa as a continent where only bad things happen and try to create a new vision of Africa, a positive vision of Africa as a place that can serve as an example to the rest of the world in so many things.”

The Swahili Service was established in 1994 and operationalized under the English Africa Service to serve the estimated 120 million people of God spread across Kenya, Tanzania, and parts of Burundi, DR Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Explaining the theme of the Friday, July 17 webinar, Fr. Paul Samasumo who will be moderating the event told ACI Africa that Catholic communicators in Africa have a powerful tool at their disposal to manage racial and social tribulations that cripple the continent.

“We decided to use insights from Pope Francis’ 54th Message for the World Communications Day to stimulate the minds of African Catholic communicators on this critical task of building a vibrant continent,” said Fr. Paul.

He added, “We believe that if we communicate the message of the Gospel in a creative and positive manner, we can contribute, in some way, to uplifting Africa from the ashes of adversity, endless armed conflicts, poverty and discriminations to a future of wellbeing and social inclusiveness. The Catholic communicator cannot afford to stand aloof when confronted with these challenges.”

Fr. Paul says that as the world faces the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and social ills such as racial tensions in the United States, the Catholic communicators in Africa have the duty of “not only reporting social events but also of helping society to chart the pathway for a better future.”

“The idea is sharing as we often do in African villages whenever there are significant issues affecting everyone. The community sits under a tree or around a fire for a community discussion. It is the African way,” he says.

He adds, “The July 17 webinar is our little effort together with SIGNIS Africa to contribute towards providing a roadmap to this future for Africa.”

Key participants in the event will include the vocal and “singing” Prelate, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria, Fr. Federico Lombardi, President of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI-Vatican Foundation, Mother Mary Claude, Superior General of the Religious Institute of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Nigeria and Ms. Sheila Pires who works with Radio Veritas in South Africa and also reports for the Vatican radio in the Southern African country.

Bishop Badejo who is the President of the Pan Africa Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) will address the topic, “Master Weavers of African Stories – Promoting everyday heroes as solutions to Africa Challenges” while Fr. Federico who is the immediate former Director General of Vatican Radio and the Vatican Press office will take participants through the history of the Catholic radio service.

Rev. Mother Mary, on the other hand, will handle the topic, “Witness of Nigeria’s women religious working in some of the country’s challenging environments.”

To wrap up the discussion, Ms. Pires will provide an interpretation of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in the South African context.

Registration is open to via email to [email protected] for those who wish to follow the event, which will also be streamed live on the Vatican News English YouTube channel and on the Vatican News English website.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]