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BBC’s six decades of Focus on Africa

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It is not every time that you get a programme on radio or television that has lasted beyond two decades. But when you have one, which has been broadcast for six decades, it calls for celebrations. That’s the story of BBC’s Focus on Africa radio.

Launched on August 15, 1960, that same year, it became a permanent slot on the BBC World Service airwaves. As the first African news and current affairs programme, it started as a 15-minute programme broadcast three times a week. As Focus became popular, it changed transmission times to reach new audiences and became essential listening for people all over Africa eager to know what was happening in their own countries and beyond.

Now, it has been reinvented with the launch of Africa Today podcasting, providing its audiences with daily news about the continent. In addition, the FOA Radio team has built on the fact that Africa is the world’s youngest continent with an average age of 19, BBC recently launched The Comb podcast to engage younger audiences.

Born at a time when only 17 countries on the continent had gained independence with many more fighting for liberation. Over the past 60 years, the programme has covered all the key moments in the continent’s history; the independence of more than 30 countries including the birth of Zimbabwe and South Sudan, the rise and fall of Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin, Ethiopia’s famine, the first elected female head of state in Africa, Nelson Mandela’s release and the end of apartheid, the outbreak of Ebola, major African cultural & sporting events including hosting for the first time ever the World Cup finals and much more.
 


Bilkisu Labaran, Head of Africa News & Current affairs told The Guardian, “Focus on Africa has been a big success over the past 60 years. We use the word flagship programme, because it is really a flagship programme that has paved way for so many things across the continent and for the BBC and that it continues to lead from the front. It has set trends, it has covered major events across the continent, its been really good to work on the video where we captured the main event of each of the past decades, the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the 2000s, the 2010s now and now, the 2020, and just going back over all that material has been really good as a reminder for us about the journey, what the programme has been on, and how much we’ve achieved over the years.”

She added, “as new technology evolves, we are moving with the times and are available not just on Radio but also via digital/social platforms which is helping us to reach new and younger audiences. Our new logo truly reflects what Focus is about: Warm, vibrant and powerful.” 
 
Solomon Mugera, Head of Journalism Africa said: “It is a privilege that we are celebrating Focus on Africa Radio’s Diamond Jubilee. This is the one programme that truly connects the continent with trusted news and information about events that matter most to the audience. It’s about their daily achievements, challenges and aspirations. Behind the programme is a talented team that’s passionate about Africa, its story and place in the world.” 


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