The Indicator

Nearly Everyone in East Africa Listens to the Radio

In this column called “The Indicator,” we will be taking an economic or financial statistic from East Africa and breaking it down into bite-sized nuggets of knowledge for investors.


This month’s indicator figure is 91.8

 91.8 What?

91.8% is the estimated percentage of people who listen to the radio at least once a week in East African Community (EAC) countries. This figure is equal to approximately 148 million people according to the most recent statistics and available data at the time of writing.

What do you mean by listen to the radio?

These are individuals who have access to and consume some form of radio content at least weekly according to surveys and estimates aggregated from various sources. This data includes active as well as passive listeners to one or more radio station each week.

Why should radio listenership be of interest to EAC investors?

UNESCO describes radio as “Africa’s most influential information outlet.” Any business seeking to share their message with the widest population can use radio content, advertising, or blended programming to share their message, build their brand, and distribute ideas across the income classes in EAC from wealthy urban auto commuters to the rural low income farmers at the base of the pyramid.

Radio is the most consumed media in East Africa for several reasons, but largely because of its accessibility.  Once a person has a functioning radio receiver there is no ongoing cost unlike newspapers, satellite television subscriptions, or mobile phone service.  People can listen to the radio while they work, walk, drive, relax at home, take care of household duties, or participate actively through call-in or other radio interactive programming. Listeners can choose shows in their local language, for short or long periods of time, and notably – radio programming does not require literacy.

In some locations in the EAC, radio penetration is over four times that of mobile phones and the amount of information disseminated in order of magnitude is higher than even multiple SMS advertisements.

How are people getting access to radio content?

In term of listenership EAC radio audiences are consuming radio content from state-controlled radio services, followed by commercial stations, followed by community radio. Much of community radio programming is of a religious nature and focused on benefiting the community.

Which EAC country has the highest and which the lowest rate of listenership?

 Due to its geographic size, relative concentration of population and licensing procedures Rwanda has the highest rate of radio listeners estimated at 99% whereas Burundi has the lowest at 82%.

Is radio listenership in the EAC increasing or decreasing?

It is increasing. State run and commercial radio have been growing steadily whereas community radio has seen astronomical growth. The addition of FM radios to even the most basic feature phones and increased access to the ability to charge phones plus interactive “call-in” shows and stations has been in large part responsible for the 1348% increase in community radio from the years 2000-2006, around the same time mobile phones were becoming more accessible.  Increases in population growth and mobile phone penetration are likely to result in higher radio listenership in EAC countries.

How does radio support development of East African economies?

Radio is a communications medium that can transmit a significant amount of useful information to help improve livelihoods of EAC citizens in several ways.

For example, farmers can listen to radio programming that discusses weather, farming techniques, agronomy, livestock management or other useful topics.  NGOs can make citizens aware of health or social services available in their communities and advertise certain community-oriented events. Businesses can share information about their products and services that increase productivity and incomes while selling products thereby increasing the need for additional employment to meet demand for goods and services. Government agencies can communicate messages and discuss issues so that citizens can be more active and engaged in their community, regional, and national affairs.

What are some of the organizations actively supporting radio in East Africa?

UNESCO’s World Radio Day –  – celebrates the impact of radio throughout the world on February 13th each year with involvement throughout EAC countries.

BBC Media Action – – supports radio development and assists other development organizations to build and distribute more effective and impactful public service radio content throughout Tanzania and Kenya.

Farm Radio International – – works with radio partners throughout the continent to help African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities.

 What are the investment opportunities that emerge from the pervasiveness of radio in the EAC? 


  • Increasing product or brand awareness – companies that are seeking to increase awareness of their product or service throughout the EAC can build their brand in fairly targeted ways through local and community radio. This is an especially strong communications channel for organizations serving the base of the pyramid.


  • Content and advertising creation services – radio stations have hours and hours of time to fill each day and organizations providing content either directly or through advertising or blended content can provide a strong value proposition to companies and NGOs that seek to communicate messages throughout East Africa.


  • Media buying and monitoring – organizations that can determine the audience size, assist in the buying of media in the right markets, and those who can monitor the performance and impact of radio messages are largely immature in East Africa and can be a strong catalyst for brands and products seeking to increase revenue in the region.

How can I learn more?

To learn more about the topics in this article you can visit:

African Media Development Initiative Reports on Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda:

Rwanda census including household radio ownership: 

Burundi radio and ICT statistics:

New York Times article on the benefits of radio for Tanzanian farmers:

About the authors:

David L. Ross is Managing Director of Statera Capital and US Ambassador to the Open University of Tanzania active in growing companies in Eastern and Southern Africa through primary investment, investment advisory, strategic partnerships, and executive education. Connect on LinkedIn at or at

 Catherine Mandler is a Senior Analyst at Statera Capital. Connect on LinkedIn at or at

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