Radio Okapi was launched in 2002 and is the benchmark national media outlet in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the one with the biggest audience and the first one to which political, economic, cultural and grassroots leaders turn when they have something to say. It is also one of the rare national institutions that really fulfils its mandate in the service of the population, of peace, democracy, good governance and development.
Radio Okapi is built on an original model, namely a partnership between Fondation Hirondelle and the United Nations peace building mission in the DRC, which provides infrastructure, some human resources, and the physical and political protection necessary to such a project.
The radio station talks about all the things that affect the Congolese on a daily basis, including the most sensitive. Radio Okapi has paid a heavy price for press freedom, with two of its best known journalists assassinated in the eastern town of Bukavu, Serge Maheshe in 2007 and Didace Namujimbo in 2008. “Radio Okapi is a shining example, not only for media in other conflict or post-conflict areas, but for radio stations around the world,” according toAlison Bethel Mc Kenzie, American journalist and director of the International Press Institute, the world’s oldest press freedom organization, which gave its 2010 Free Media Pioneer Award to Radio Okapi (http://www.freemedia.at/singleview/5134/).
Radio Okapi is the only Congolese media outlet with real national coverage. It has an estimated audience of 14 million daily listeners, and approx. 21 million regular listeners (once a week at least), representating a third of the total population. The latest audience surveys carried out by independent specialists (SOFRES, IMMAR) in 2010 found that Radio Okapi is the leading radio station by far in Kinshasa and in the main towns of the DRC. Its website www.radiookapi.net is the leading site for news and information about the DRC. The number of visitors to this site continues to rise, reaching more than 400,000 per month at the beginning of 2011. Thanks to online streaming, its programmes also have a strong following in the Congolese diaspora, estimated at 2 million people mainly in Europe and North America. Radio Okapi broadcasts in five languages: French, Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo.
Radio Okapi also opens doors for other media thanks to a network of 28 partner radio stations. Through these stations, Radio Okapi is able to broadcast some of its programmes in the most isolated parts of the country, while the radio partners receive training and technical support from Fondation Hirondelle.
In 2009, Fondation Hirondelle launched Hirondelle Communication, an innovative structure in the Congolese context whose aim is to generate revenue for the radio partners and ensure their long term viability.