Radio Okapi, a Fondation Hirondelle Project
Enabling the People
of the Congo
A new shortwave broadcast station
began operations in February 2002 from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC). Called Radio Okapi,
the station is a joint project in the DRC by the
United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and the Fondation
Hirondelle, located in Switzerland. This DX Target
will focus on the DRC, the Fondation Hirondelle
(or Hirondelle Foundation) and, of course, the station,
The Democratic Republic of the
Congo, located in central Africa, is one of the
largest countries on the continent. French is the
official language. Years of civil war and corruption
have badly damaged the country's infrastructure.
The DRC shares its borders with Angola, Zambia,
Burundi, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Central African
Republic and the Republic of the Congo. The country's
capital city is Kinshasa. Other important cities
include Lubumbashi, Mbuji-Mayi and Kisangani. An
international port is situated at Matadi on the
DRC has one of the richest reserves of natural resources
in the world. Although the country should benefit
as a result of this fact, this is not the case.
Together with economic mismanagement, the on-going
conflict in the country has resulted in the economic
decline of the DRC. The war has meant a decrease
in national production in all industry sectors.
The war in the DRC has claimed over a million lives.
The conflict is by no means a clean-cut case of
civil war, it is one of a multi-national character
involving seven nations.
Formerly, the Belgian Congo,
this territory was inhabited by ancient Negrito
peoples (Pygmies), who were pushed into the mountains
by Bantu and Nilotic invaders. The American correspondent
Henry M. Stanley navigated the Congo River in 1877
and opened the interior to exploration. Commissioned
by King Leopold II of Belgium, Stanley made treaties
with native chiefs that enabled the king to obtain
personal title to the territory at the Berlin Conference
Brussels granted freedom to the
former colony on 30 June 1960. The Katanga Province
seceded from the new republic on July 11 beginning
many years of national civil strife. In one form
or another unstable governments and revolution since
independence have besieged the former Belgian Congo.
Since 1997 the Democratic Republic
of the Congo, formerly called Zaire, has experienced
ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive
inflow in 1994 of refugees from the fighting in
Rwanda and Burundi. The government of former president
Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion led
by Laurent Kabila in May 1997. His regime was subsequently
challenged by a Rwanda and Uganda-backed rebellion
in August 1998. Troops from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia,
Chad, and Sudan intervened to support the Kinshasa
regime. The DRC, Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Namibia,
and Rwanda signed a cease-fire on 10 July 1999 with
Congolese armed rebel groups. Nevertheless, sporadic
fighting has continued. Kabila was assassinated
on 16 January 2001 and his son Joseph was named
head of state on 26 January 2001. Despite taking
a radically different approach than his father,
the new president has been equally unsuccessful
in ending the war.
The Hirondelle Foundation is
an organization of journalists, which sets up and
operates media services in crisis areas. It is the
only organization in the world, which has such specialized
experience in this field. As a result of its activities,
a number of interesting radio stations appeared
around the world. Unfortunately, many of these stations
have had very short broadcasting lives.
its founding in 1995, Hirondelle has established
and managed Radio Agatashya in the Great Lakes region
of Africa, Star Radio in Liberia, the Hirondelle
News Agency at the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda at Arusha in Tanzania, Radio Blue Sky
in Kosovo, Radio Ndeke Luka in Bangui in the Central
African Republic, and Moris Hamutuk, a radio program
for refugees in Timor. Its latest venture is Radio
Okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Foundation strongly believes that an independent
media has a fundamental role to play in societies
where authoritarian and non-democratic regimes are
in power. In such situations, the traditional media
tend to fall silent because of insecurity and physical
risks. The Hirondelle Foundation collaborates in
the development of tolerant and democratic societies
and contributes to creating a responsible, civic-minded
exchange of opinions within the public.
The following governments finance
the projects of the Hirondelle Foundation: Switzerland,
the European Community, the United States, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Great Britain, France, Canada, Germany and
Japan. International organizations involved include
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural
Organization ("UNESCO"), the International
Committee of the Red Cross ("ICRC"), the
International Foundation for Electoral Systems and
the United Nations Development Program ("UNDP").
The Hirondelle Foundation falls under Swiss law.
One of the Hirondelle Foundation's
cardinal rules is independence from political and
economic influences. Independence can guarantee
the impartiality of the Foundation's journalistic
activities and ensure credibility to its audiences.
The Foundation aims to create or support independent
media. The staff of the Foundation comes from all
nationalities and cultures.
The Foundation works to establish
an independent media under the most difficult circumstances
in authoritarian and non-democratic societies. The
Fondation Hirondelle is usually active where conflict
is endemic, where there are open hostilities or
in post-conflict regions. It is also present in
situations where the political, economic or social
conditions are not as inviting for an independent
media. Obviously, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo is well suited for the media and communications
expertise the Hirondelle Foundation offers.
Radio Okapi is named after a
peaceful, four-legged mammal that lives mainly in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is a protected
species. It has no known enemies. The okapi is well
liked by the people of the DRC. Over the years,
it has lent its name to various Congolese businesses.
No political or military force has tried to appropriate
the okapi's name in the past. The MONUC's station
is the first such use of the okapi name.
Radio Okapi is the largest radio
project that the United Nations and the Fondation
Hirondelle have ever conducted. It is a radio operation
enabling the people of the Congo to communicate
with their compatriots. It is a radio station intended
to work hand-in-hand with the peace process. Radio
Okapi is a network of radio stations designed to
cover this immense country of 2.4 million square
kilometers, providing services for approximately
45 million inhabitants. The network center is in
the capital, Kinshasa. There are six regional studios
with plans for four other regional studios to be
located in four political and military hotspots.
The network is served by satellite, shortwave and
FM transmitters and by the Internet.
Okapi is a service aimed at a population suffering
from years of military conflict and economic stagnation
resulting in almost one million refugees and over
two million displaced people. Three million people
rely on daily food programs while about 300 thousand
people are treated for malnutrition. The school
attendance rate tumbled to 43% in 1999 from 70%
in 1993. Programs are designed to contain non-partisan,
credible information broadcast throughout the country.
Programs are devoted to themes relating to health,
education, human rights, culture and music. The
first year's budget is nearly US$2 million. This
should be less in succeeding years once the initial
start up costs have been made. The operation will
be run by around 100 journalists, presenters and
staff, the majority of whom will be Congolese.
The project involves close co-operation
between the United Nations and the Hirondelle Foundation
with the aim of making a lasting contribution to
peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It
also involves co-operation with the existing media
in the DRC, mainly with other radios in the fields
of production and training. The project is a network
of stations designed to continue into the post-MONUC
Radio Okapi offers programs,
which include news bulletins, magazines and music
to everybody in the DRC, whether they are the parties
to the conflict or the international community.
All broadcasts fall under the authority of the MONUC,
the United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo. Radio Okapi broadcasts those
programs that are prepared under the supervision
of the Hirondelle Foundation.
Radio Okapi antennas in
Apart from news, these broadcasts
focus on such topics as humanitarian aid with the
main goal being the promotion of a peaceful solution
to the conflict in the DRC. The programs produced
by Radio Okapi are distributed free of charge to
local radio under an agreement specifying the terms
and conditions of their use and their rebroadcast.
Radio Okapi pays particular attention
to the situation of the victims of the violence
and war, refugees, displaced persons and those who
are destitute and especially vulnerable. In its
information and magazine programs, Radio Okapi provides
specific information on the activities of the United
Nations and its specialized agencies, as well as
about the MONUC mission, its priorities, the problems
it is facing and the peace process. Radio Okapi
provides detailed coverage to the process of dialogue
among the various political and military groups
in the DRC.
The programs are produced and
broadcast mainly in French, Lingala, Swahili, but
also in Chiluba and in other local languages as
well as English for members of the international
community. Radio Okapi provides local, regional
and international news. It produces magazines and
interviews done on the spot.
The capital, Kinshasa, the headquarters
of MONUC, has a central studio coordinating the
national program. The shortwave broadcasting system
based in Kinshasa covers the entire country. Each
regional studio receives the program from Kinshasa
and broadcasts it locally. A medium-powered FM transmitter
adapted to the local topography provides FM quality
reception in its area. The main program is also
broadcast via the Internet and the latest news as
well as specific programs are available on the Internet.
Head of technical services,
Georges Schleger, next to Radio Okapi shortwave
transmitters in Kinshasa.
In February 2002, the first morning
programs on Radio Okapi commenced on FM in Kinshasa
and on shortwave, consisting of one to two hours
a day of news broadcasts and magazine features.
The station's head of technical services, Georges
Schleger, says the station broadcasts on shortwave
using 6030 kHz, 9550 kHz and 11690 kHz with a 10-kilowatt
transmitter using a Marconi exciter and amplifier.
The antenna is a yagi three element pointed to the
east 80 degrees from Kinshasa. The 11690 kHz outlet
his has competition from Radio Africa International
in French from 0600 to 0800 UTC so a listener needs
to be careful logging Radio Okapi.
Several governments have shown
an interest in the Radio Okapi project and have
been asked to contribute over the long term to the
financing of the operation. Three countries contributed
to cover the budget for the first year: Great Britain,
Switzerland and the United States.
The station appears that it will
be an excellent verifier of listener reception reports.
Electronic reports can be sent direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through this route I have heard from Dominque Jaccard,
Desk Officer in a speedy 4 minutes and 33 seconds
and from Georges Schleger / VE2EK, Communications
Officer, Head of Technical Services Radio Okapi,
MONUC in only one day. A postal report will take
a little longer and is answered with a nice QSL
card. Written reception reports with return postage
can be sent to:
c/o Fondation Hirondelle
3, Rue Traversière
from the World DX Club, published on
DXing.info on April 12, 2003)