Radio Okapi is run by the United Nations Observer Mission in Congo (MONUC), in partnership with Fondation Hirondelle, a Swiss-based organization of journalists that sets up and operates media services in crisis areas. The radio station's mission is to provide the people of the DRC news, information, public service programming and entertainment not otherwise available throughout most of the country. Currently, there are nine FM stations throughout the country. Areas not yet covered by FM can receive Radio Okapi via short wave radio.
There are two keys to its success. For the first time in Congolese history, radio programs can be transmitted countrywide (Ituri in the northeast remains the exception, as continuing insecurity has stalled the placement of the last transmitter.) Second, Radio Okapi broadcasts factual information, not government or UN propaganda.
In fact, UN leaders are sometimes upset about what they perceive to be negative reports about UN personnel and operations. For example, Radio Okapi occasionally reports on soldier misconduct. One Radio Okapi official said, "There are 300 soldiers here. They do what soldiers do. We deal with the problems and try to educate the soldiers about not repeating the problems. We try to educate our listeners about what to do if they encounter problems."
In addition, Radio Okapi reporters also broadcast facts that tend to make government and rebel forces uncomfortable. In September 2002, a Radio Okapi correspondent was imprisoned by the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), an armed rebel group led by Jean-Pierre Bemba. The correspondent had filed a story about the hardships of child soldiers recruited by various rebel factions.
NGOs and Congolese people say the radio programs are very credible. According to one NGO representative in Kinshasa, "Radio Okapi is very popular. It's seen by Congolese as 'real news.'"
Programs are broadcast in the languages common to the DRC: Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo, as well as French. The journalists are recruited from among the Congolese people and are given extensive journalism training, with an emphasis on independent, fair and factual reporting. Radio Okapi actively recruits both men and women. In Kalemie, for example, the reporting staff consists of four men and three women.
MONUC's plan is to leave all installed equipment throughout the country in place whenever MONUC departs. In this way, the DRC will have a good infrastructure, including a core of trained journalists, for an independent media.
The DRC is a nation at war. NGOs and even MONUC have little access to much of the eastern part of the country. The people are isolated and desperate. Right now, they have little to hang on to, other than the voices of their countrymen on Radio Okapi broadcasting unbiased news, factual information and real hope.
Refugees International recommends:
- That MONUC continue to support Radio Okapi and expand its access throughout the DRC.