Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Radio Spreads Words of Peace to News-Starved Refugees 'GOOD MORNING, ZAIRE'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Radio Spreads Words of Peace to News-Starved Refugees 'GOOD MORNING, ZAIRE'

Article excerpt

DURING the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the infamous Radio des Mille Collines (Radio of the Thousand Hills) was used by Hutu extremists to broadcast encouragement to the death squads killing Tutsis.

Now radio broadcasts are being used for a peaceful purpose: Since the middle of last year, the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss charity, has been supporting "Radio Agatashya," a station based on the concept that it is essential for Hutu refugees in Zairean camps to receive accurate information about their camps and life in their home country.

Among the more than a million Rwandan Hutu refugees in the camps are extremists who participated in a four-month genocide that killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. When the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front advanced, Hutus fled to Zaire.

The refugees, who have been in the camps in Goma and Bukavu in eastern Zaire for almost two years, spend their days collecting wood for cooking fires and water for washing their clothes. But most important, they reserve a part of the day to listen to their radio. The station broadcasts every weekday - morning and afternoon - sending out signals from Goma and Bukavu. The jaunty signature tune preceding the hourly Agatashya news bulletins crackles out of battered radios, cherished possessions of refugees who struggle to maintain their links with the outside world.

Ernest Nduguyemo, a preacher who lives in Mugunga camp on the edge of Goma town, is an avid listener who has grown to trust the Radio Agatashya broadcasts. "Every evening I go to my neighbor's shelter. We all listen because we know that Radio Agatashya tells the truth."

The director of Radio Agatashya, Swiss journalist Philippe Dahinden, manages a budget of more than $1 million a year and coordinates the activities of 70 staff members based in eastern Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi.

One year after the first broadcasts to the refugees, he is convinced that the station is serving a useful purpose. …

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