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Radio Okapi: Worldchanging over the African Airwaves
Alex Steffen, 15 Apr 05

In the developing world, radio is king, and the worldchanging medium of choice. (Stories here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

A great case in point? Radio Okapi ("Breath of the DRC"), the Democratic Republic of the Congo's most listened-to station.

As Okapi's Franklin Moliba Sese writes, during the DRC's horrific (and largely ignored) recent wars,

Radio, television and newspapers served as a means to disseminate messages of hatred, propaganda and slander. The Congolese media did not differ much from the neighbouring Rwandan radio station “Mille Collines”, which back in 1994 urged Hutu listeners to go out and murder their Tutsi neighbours, to devastating effect.

After the Rwandan genocide, a group of Swiss journalists assessed the damage caused by partisan radio, and set up the Hirondelle Foundation which works for independent and professional media, notably in zones of conflict... Radio Okapi was set up as a radio for peace amidst war.

The difficulties involved in creating such an independent national radio station is a decimated country are not to be underestimated. As one reportputs it, "The DRC has practically no roads. It has no railway system. The river routes were closed and mail and telephone services did not work."

The phones may not be working, but it appears Radio Okapi is.

Okapi not only has the most listeners, it has the widest trust, and by all accounts, the news, educational and public service programs it airs are top-notch. Call-in talk shows, however, are what the people tune in to hear: Okapi's talk radio programs often include "human rights defenders, development and NGO experts" and debate is lively (reportedly: I speak none of the five languages -- French, Lingala, Tshiluba, Swahili and Kikongo -- in which it broadcasts). Okapi journalists even seem willing to bite the hand that feeds them:

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.”

The plan is to make Okapi a public, listener-supported radio station after the U.N. pulls out.

Now, I'm sure huge problems and shortcomings remain. But helping to create independent, free media in places where information is scarce is totally Worldchanging. Well done, Okapi journalists!

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Movie "Hotel Rwanda" came out this year and is a staggering illustration about the misuse of radio.

Posted by: Maurits on 16 Apr 05



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