Satellite operator Eutelsat has closed down the Africa No 1 radio station, which reaches 20 million people on the continent, after it failed to pay its debts, staff said yesterday. The Gabon-based network, which was founded in 1981, went off the air at 1000 UTC on Wednesday.
“Eutelsat has indeed shut down the service because of debts. The two main shareholders have been informed. We’re trying to pay at least part of the debt to be able to resume our activities. We hope to be back on the air, perhaps tomorrow,” Bashir Abubaker, the station’s director general, told AFP.
According to a management official, Africa No 1 has not paid its dues to Eutelsat since the month of September. The bill is a little less than 200m CFA francs (305,000 euros/450,000 dollars) including penalties for late payment. “Eutelsat sent us letters asking us to settle the debt and then cut us off unilaterally,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
Following severe financial difficulties, in January 2008 Libyan Jamahiriyah Broadcasting (LJB) acquired 52 per cent of the shares in Africa No 1 with the aim of rebuilding the network to broadcast on different frequencies in several languages, including French, English and Arabic, as well as Bambara (widely understood in west Africa) and Swahili (an east African language). The Gabonese state retained 35 per cent of shares and the private sector held the remaining 13 per cent.
However, touted investments never took place and the radio’s operations were interrupted by several strikes. Africa No 1 employs about 20 salaried journalists and about 50 freelance correspondents around the world.