DRC’s Radio Okapi (Case Study)
Despite the area remaining war-ravaged after over twenty years of deadly civil conflict, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is but a blip in the global media periphery. Close to six million lives have been lost in this sprawling, resource-abundant Central African nation, as neighbouring countries battle over control of its vast mineral wealth (Gettleman, 2012).
Since the 1990s, DRC has been home to one of the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping operations, MONUSCO, and in 2002 – in partnership with independent Swiss media service Hirondelle Fondation – the UN radio station Radio Okapi was launched to accompany the peace process (MONUSCO, 2016).
With its rich oral tradition and highly collectivistic culture, hand-in-hand with low literacy rates and poor infrastructure, radio has thrived as the communication medium of choice in the DRC (Betz, 2004, Jacob, 2015). Subsequently, radio has proven to be a powerful diplomatic tool, used strategically by governments and NGOs to reach thousands of citizens (Betz, 2004). Radio Okapi is integral to the UN’s information intervention strategy and is pivoted on an outspoken commitment to plurality and strict anti-discrimination sentiment (Radio Okapi, 2014). Historically, radio in the DRC has been utilised to disseminate propaganda, particularly by Rwandan militant groups instigating violence, recruiting the disenfranchised and perpetuating war (Betz, 2004). In contrast, Radio Okapi sees itself as changing the role of radio in the DRC to one of reconciliation and peace-building (Radio Okapi, 2014).
Radio Okapi – the only network in the DRC with nation-wide reach across both government and rebel-held territory (Freedom House, 2015) – broadcasts in five major languages and offers a wide range of programs, from entertainment to current affairs. Yet, despite its altruistic intentions as an agent for positive change in the DRC, and the wide-ranging global support for its ongoing operation, Radio Okapi has faced both international and local backlash. On the global stage, it has been criticised as a medium with unmeasurable levels of success in the peace-building process and therefore may not warrant the yearly budget of over US$10 million in maintenance costs (a budget which far outweighs that of its counterparts, such as UNOCI FM) (eds Hoffman, Hawkins, 2015, p. 173). It has also been suggested that the intentions of the network oversimplify and homogenise the complex ‘epistemic narratives’ of the Congolese people (Jacobs, 2014), which may in turn deepen longstanding cultural rifts.
Coinciding with these allegations, on the domestic front the backlash has been far more vitriolic. Two Radio Okapi journalists were murdered between 2007 and 2008, and reporters are continually threatened and assaulted due to the sensitive; often viewed as ‘impudent’ nature of their investigations despite the broadcaster’s impartial standing (Reporters Without Borders, 2016).
Contrary to the fallout, Radio Okapi is fundamentally a successful grassroots intervention, offering hope and empowerment to the Congolese people. Instead of attempts to introduce new forms of technology in a bid to revolutionise media communication in the DRC, the UN’s MONASCO and Radio Okapi have worked with pre-established, sound and stable technologies in a country that is anything but.
(Read about the DRC’s controversial mining industry in my blog ‘Loi Obama’ and the Blood Mineral)
À propos 2014, Radio Okapi, viewed 10 August 2016, http://www.radiookapi.net/page/propos
Betz, M 2004, ‘Radio as Peacebuilder: a Case Study of Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, The Great Lakes Research Journal, vol. 1, pp. 38-50.
Bukavu, murder city: investigation report into murders of journalists in the capital of Sud-Kivu 2009, Reporters without Borders, viewed 10 August, https://rsf.org/en/reports/bukavu-murder-city-investigation-report-murders-journalists-capital-sud-kivu
Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) 2015, Freedom House, viewed 10 August 2016, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/congo-democratic-republic-kinshasa
Gettleman, J 2012, ‘The World’s Worst War’, The New York Times, 15 December, viewed 10 August 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/sunday-review/congos-never-ending-war.html?_r=0
Hoffman, J & Hawkins, V 2015, Communication and Peace: Mapping an emerging field, Routledge, London.
Jacob, U 2014, ‘Transforming Conflict with Information: Impacts of UN Peace Radio Programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo’, War and Society, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 283-301.
Jacob, U 2016, ‘Target Gutahuka: The UN’s Strategic Information Intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo’ Media and Communication, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 104-119.
Radio Okapi 2016, MONUSCO – United Nations Peacekeeping, viewed 10 August 2016, http://monusco.unmissions.org/en/radio-okapi
 Mission de l’Organisation des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo, also known as United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 With ‘The Frequency of Peace’ as its slogan, UNOCI FM operated as a pirate radio station until it gained UN backing.