Radio Agatashya (August 1994 – October 1996) was set up by the Swiss section of Reporters without Borders in Bukavu, on the Congolese (then Zairean) border with Rwanda, to assist all the victims of the 1994 genocide and massacres in Rwanda. The idea for this radio station had been presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in May, with the aim of offering an alternative to hate media in Rwanda – especially Radio des Mille Collines – and combatting their propaganda. Initial funding was provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Attempts to get permission to broadcast in Rwanda and Burundi had not been successful.
Broadcasting started on August 4, 1994, with three hours of programmes in the morning and in the afternoon in Kinyarwanda and French, and also in Swahili from August 13. The initial focus on humanitarian information was soon complemented by a news service based strictly on facts, without commentary, which would gradually form the basis of the radio’s editorial policy. Rwandan and Zairean journalists worked under the guidance of Swiss journalists. In September 1994, Radio Agatashya obtained permission from the Rwandan government to open a correspondents’ office in Kigali but did not obtain a licence to broadcast from the Rwandan capital, pending a new media law. In spring 1995, Reporters without Borders withdrew from the project. Radio Agatashya was taken over in April 1995 by Fondation Hirondelle, which had just been created. The broadcast network was expanded through FM relays in Goma and Uvira. Radio Agatashya’s potential audience at that time was more than 4 million. It participated in a mass information campaign for Rwandan refugees in partnership with the UNHCR. It also entered a frutiful partnership with Studio Ijambo, an initiative of American NGO Search for Common Ground in Burundi. As of November 1995, Radio Agatashya thus became a regional radio station for the Kivus in eastern Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi (reaching as far as Bujumbura). In September 1996, heavy artillery fire signalled the outbreak of fighting between forces of Laurent-Désiré Kabila, backed by the Rwandan army, and Zairean troops. On October 27,1996, fighting broke out around the radio’s main transmitter and broadcasts were suspended. They were not able to resume.