Ako sitting in one of Radio Arc-en-Ciel’s recording studios

Ako’s Radio

A young African leader amplifies voices of peace

Ako Essan Emile grew up in a small town in the African nation of Côte d’Ivoire.

He and his nine siblings were raised by his mother, grandfather and stepfather. Abidjan, the country’s economic capital, seemed like a faraway world, but Ako dreamed of one day going there.

A photo of Ako’s home town in the African nation of Côte d’Ivoire
A photo of Côte d’Ivoire’s economic capital city, Abidjan
Ako and his friends play a game of basketball at the University of Cocody in Abidjan

His wish came true in 2006.

Ako was admitted to the University of Cocody in Abidjan. He studied English, but a passion for radio communications blossomed. “One day, I heard an ad in a barber shop about a competition of young radio hosts at Radio Arc-en-Ciel,” Ako says.

Ako and other members of Radio Arc-en-Ciel gather outside of the company’s building in Abidjan

Ako was selected to host an English-language talk show at the station.

Ako overlooks as one of the other members of Radio Arc-en-Ciel edits a radio program
A mural depicting the violence that erupted after Côte d’Ivoire’s 2010 presidential election

In 2010, as Ako was pursuing his master’s degree, the country’s disputed presidential election devolved into a civil war. “I saw so many people fighting in the street and dying,” he recalls.

A picture of the University of Cocody after it was forced to close down during the civil unrest that took place throughout Côte d’Ivoire in 2010

Ako fled the city.

When he returned four months later, everything was different. Election violence claimed 3,000 lives and closed many shops and institutions — including Ako’s university.

Higher calling

With his education disrupted, Ako began translating a pastor’s sermons into French, the national language. But Ako was driven to a higher calling.

“I want to devote my life to creating opportunities for young people,” he says.

A boy and a man speak at a religious sermon in Abidjan
A children’s choir singing at a religious sermon in Abidjan
Ako uses Radio Arc-en-Ciel to spread a message of peace ahead of Côte d’Ivoire’s 2015 presidential election

Ako also worked to revitalize Radio Arc-en-Ciel. After becoming the station’s managing director, Ako started using radio — the country’s most widespread form of media — to spread messages of peace.

A poster for one of the USAID backed outdoor radio programs that Ako organized throughout Abidjan prior to the 2015 presidential election

2015 brought the next presidential election.

While the country was returning to peace, the 2015 election posed a critical challenge. Would tension over nationality and identity endure?

“During the days before the election… people did not go out as they used to. The fear of another conflict was just too pervasive,” Ako explains.

One of the performers that Ako brought to the outdoor radio shows that Radio Arc-en-Ciel organized with funding from a USAID grant

Music and dance

In the lead up to the election, Ako’s station organized outdoor radio shows with funding from a USAID grant. Using music and dance, Ako and a team of volunteers were welcomed into neighborhoods that were previously too dangerous to visit.

Roundtables and radio

They also hosted election roundtables for residents to ask community leaders questions.

“In the communities where we held radio programs, nobody opposed the message of peaceful elections. Instead, they actively contributed to spread the message,” says Ako.

Ako meets with community leaders in Abidjan prior to the 2015 presidential election
One of the people that Radio Arc-en-Ciel interviewed prior to the 2015 presidential election in order to create audio messages of peace

“Let’s live together in peace.”

In street interviews, Ako and his team asked people to create audio messages of peace in their own languages.

One message referred to the country’s first president: “Houphouët-Boigny taught us understanding and reconciliation, which led to peace. So, dear parents, please forgive and let’s live together in peace.”

A group of Ivoiriens wait outside of a polling booth for their chance to vote in the 2015 presidential election

Ako’s outreach efforts were put to the test when Ivoirians returned to the polls in October 2015. The election was reported to be free, fair and peaceful.

Much given, much expected

The 28-year-old is proud of his country and of his role in the successful election. But there is still much work to be done to make his country even stronger.

“Much has been given to me, so for sure, much is expected from me, from my community, from my country and from Africans.”

About this story

USAID is a major supporter of democratic initiatives around the world.

In Côte d’Ivoire, where elections historically have been a source of stifling instability and violence, USAID’s radio station grant was one of many initiatives supporting post-conflict reconciliation, informing communities about election processes and promoting peace.

Using a community-based approach, USAID helped re-establish social and political ties in Côte d’Ivoire by bringing together opposing groups, including ex-combatants, at-risk youth, women’s associations, and administrative and traditional leaders.

Because of his work with Arc-en-Ciel and with civil society organizations in the Abobo neighborhood, Ako traveled to the United States in summer 2015 as a participant in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative, the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Inspired by YALI and his community, Ako would like to start his own radio station for young people. To learn more about Ako’s efforts, contact him at seniorako@gmail.com.

Photos by Kendra Helmer and Evan Papp, Video by Evan Papp