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VOA Swahili Service Celebrates 50th Anniversary

David Ensor, VOA Director (R), shakes hands with Aleck Che Mponda, retired pioneer VOA Swahili broadcaster (L), joined by Gwen Dillard, Director of the Africa Division (Center).
VOA’s Swahili service is marking its 50th Anniversary this May, with tributes to the reputation the service has built throughout its broadcasting history.

“It gives me enormous pride to congratulate them on 50 years of broadcasting. We are the first African language service… [and] we have developed over the years an audience that is very large, that is very loyal, that trusts Voice of America,” said Gwen Dillard, Director of the Africa Division. Dillard spoke Friday at a festive and music filled gathering of Swahili Service journalists and special guests.

Swahili Service chief Mwamoyo Hamza opened the event by sharing the rich history of the service, followed by congratulatory remarks from VOA Director David Ensor. Special guests included Deputy Chief of Mission and Head of Chancery of the Embassy of the United Republic of Tanzania, Lily Munanka, and Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Republic of Kenya, Lucy Kiruthu. Also on hand, one of the first Swahili broadcasters, Alek Che Mponda, who is now retired but remains a fan.

In addition to being the first African Language at VOA, the Swahili Service is also the first in the Africa division to develop television programs for mobile devices.

“As human beings find more ways to communicate with each other, we are keeping up with that, and we are keeping up with that in Swahili as well,” added VOA Director David Ensor.

Today, the service reaches out to its audience through shortwave, FM affiliate stations, the Internet and mobile platforms. It broadcasts to East and Central Africa, covering regional, international and U.S. news. More than 7 million listeners tune in to its programs each week.

Ensor and Dillard foresee prospects for growth because a sizeable audience speaks the language.

“Swahili is the single largest language group in Africa and that is an impressive target audience,” said Dillard.

Ensor calls Africa “the land of opportunities” and hopes to develop more television programs in the Swahili service and expand on other African language services as well.​