As a TWR Canada missionary, about 10 years ago I was part of the team that negotiated for land and a broadcast license for a new high-powered radio transmitter site in Benin, Africa. Doing business in Africa is a little different than doing business here, but even though the negotiations weren’t what I expected, I left with a new respect for the people and their leaders.
Mathieu Kérékou was President of Benin. He’d become President through a bloody military coup in 1972, was led to the Lord by a local pastor and voluntarily began the process of a democratic election in 1992. He lost that first election, but won the popular election in 1996 and remained as President until 2006. By 2004, he was outspoken about his faith. Through a series of connections, I had the opportunity to personally meet with President Kérékou to build the transmitter.
TWR wanted to build a high-powered transmitter site in Benin to broadcast the Gospel 24/7. Benin is considered the birthplace of Voodoo, and the north of the country is predominately Muslim. Benin was an excellent choice to do business in Africa because the political situation had been stable for many years, and scores well on human rights surveys. A station in Benin would allow our broadcasts to reach into mostly-closed countries like Algeria and Nigeria.
We spent an hour with Kérékou and at the end of our conversation he said we could build a station as long as we promised to make sure his people could hear the Gospel every single day. That support was incredibly helpful. He didn’t just say he would support our work, he actually went out of his way to help us (within legal limits).
But we needed land to build on. We had to negotiate with local leaders for that.
We were taken north to a potential site. There was no electricity or running water. They had rented a generator and PA system so the whole village could hear our proposal. I paused, unsure about what to share knowing the village was predominately Muslim, but I didn’t want them to say we’d been untruthful further down the road. I shared that we planned to build a radio transmitter to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ 24/7.
As we left, I was sure we’d never hear from them, but we got a call to return before we reached the city.
We came back the next day. Benin has a sub-Saharan climate – so it’s hot! I’m walking around this 2 sq. km piece of land in jeans and it’s 35-40degrees out and the sweat is pouring off me. The locals didn’t even wipe their brows. We agreed to buy the land, survey, and fence it. Subsequently, we found out there were 10 squatters on the land. We were happy to negotiate with these squatters.
I got there and was told not to show my face. Our team sat under a tree on short benches, nobody took minutes, and spent two hours negotiating with the squatters. It happened very much like you would see in a movie. The deal was finalized and my friend came to get the money I’d brought. He also needed a pen they could blow the ink out of.
My eyes got big. Why do you need that?
Not everyone could read or write, so they were going to blow out the ink and sign the document by pressing their thumb into the ink. If you think about it, signatures can be forged, but a thumb print is unique to each person. Those signatures can never be forged. Our formal documentation was done in thumb prints instead of actual signatures.
What’s been the impact?
The first broadcast from Benin aired in January, 2008. The very first listener call to the station came from Timbuktu, Mali – 1300km from the transmitter site. Lyle Pennington volunteered at the station in Benin in 2012. “I was amazed, still am, by what happens at the site in Benin. My heart was softened. The nearby communities have changed their attitude toward God. They say, ‘There must be a God’ and give credit to TWR for extra rainfall and better crops than their neighbours.”
What’s your impression of Africa and Africans? Have you ever visited Africa?