Freedom Fone

Kubatana Audio Drama

The experience of Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe has shown that high call costs can be a challenge to getting callers to access information through Voice Menus. In 2009, the civic activist platform Kubatana ( used Freedom Fone to launched Inzwa, a call-in news headline service. They followed on with a constitutional reform information service, but came to realise that due to the high cost of phone calls, callers were more willing to pay for news and entertainment than civic information.

To test their entertainment theory, Kubatana experimented with micro audio dramas and Freedom Fone's Voice Menus. The dramas comprised 4 to 5 short audio episodes of roughly 2 minutes each, with the episodes each finishing with a compelling hook to the next in sequence. The idea was to use edutainment as a means of sharing information that audiences would otherwise find tiresome or difficult to consume. The episodes were kept short to minimise call costs.

Launched in June of 2010, Tariro on Top was an audio drama that raised awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace in Zimbabwe. The drama is about a chauvinist boss, Mr Kunaka, who is used to expecting sexual favours from his secretaries. Matters take an unexpected turn after he meets Tariro, a woman who is prepared to risk her job by rejecting his advances.

Below follows a transcript of the audio drama where Tariro, still a new employee, meets Mr. Kunaka:

FELICITY: Uh-uh, jairai asikana. Hmmm your hair is so nice! What have you done? Wakaitirwa kupi?!

TARIRO: Oh, thanks Felicity. Yah, you know, I thought now I have been transferred to this office to work for Mr-Most-High-and-Mighty-Kunaka, I should be looking really professional. That's why I thought short was maybe better. I don't want to be a secretary forever handitika, and if I can impress Mr Kunaka with my work . . .

FELICITY: Ahhh, my dear, Tariro, listen. About impressing Mr Kunaka -

MR KUNAKA: Hello ladies! Uribho Felicity, Uribho Tariro. Did you have a good weekend?

TARIRO: Yes, thank you Mr Kunaka. And I want you to know that I'm very pleased to be finally working in this office.

MR KUNAKA: Excellent, excellent, well, we are pleased to have you here I'm sure. I've always thought you had a lot of . . . potential.

Following on from the success of Tariro on Top, the Kubatana team created two other micro audio dramas - Beckham in DZ and Big Dhara - to highlight issues troubling young sexually active adults. Focus discussion groups were organised to identify and discuss common issues and thereby inform the script writing process.

To minimise the loss of audio quality across mobile phone networks, Kubatana used a professional studio to record high quality audio files. They also engaged local drama students to add life to the characters' voices. Aware that their audio files eventually had to be downsampled for Freedom Fone, Kubatana made sure to start the process with quality recordings.

To promote the micro audio dramas, Kubatana make use of their extensive mailing list of over 10,000 addresses and SMS list of over 22,000 numbers. To engage new listeners they flight adverts in local newpapers and print colourful flyers that are handed out for free at traffic intersections. Call data Records show that advertising a service this way often increases the number of callers.

"Freedom Fone opens doors. It's a new way of sharing information with an offline target audience. The popularity of Tariro on Top revealed that a service which deals with a social issue in an entertaining manner with strong characterisation and dramatisation was most popular. Call lengths were up to 10 minutes at a time which shows that people will pay for a service they are interested in."
-- Amanda Atwood, Content Manager, Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe

Kubatana encourages feedback on the audio dramas and makes use of the Leave-a-Message (LAM) and Incoming SMS functions to receive critique and suggestions.

Role of Freedom Fone

  • Creating an information-on-demand service
  • Addressing social issues with edutainment
  • Integrating the collection and dissemination of information
  • Strengthening connections between Kubatana and their audience