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Radio Agatashya Rwanda - eastern Zaire

Radio Agatashya (August 1994 - October 1996) was at the origin of Fondation Hirondelle’s creation. This radio was set up by the Swiss section of Reporters Without Borders in Bukavu, on the Congolese border (when Congo was called Zaire) with Rwanda, to help all the victims of the 1994 genocide and massacres in Rwanda. The idea for this independent radio station was presented in May 1994 at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva in order to offer an alternative to the hate media in Rwanda, especially Radio des Milles Collines, and to combat propaganda. Initial funding was provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Steps taken to obtain a broadcasting licence in Rwanda and Burundi were not successful.

The broadcasts began on 4 August 1994: three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, in Kinyarwanda, French, and on 13 August in Swahili. The initial humanitarian vocation was soon complemented by strictly factual news, without comment, which gradually formed the basis of the radio’s editorial line. Supervised by Swiss journalists, the staff were Rwandan and Zairian. In September 1994, Radio Agatashya obtained permission from the Rwandan government to open a correspondent office in Kigali, but, pending a new press law, it did not get authorization to broadcast from the Rwandan capital. In the spring of 1995, Reporters Without Borders withdrew from the project.

It was taken over in April 1995 by Fondation Hirondelle, which was created by Swiss journalists Philippe Dahinden, Jean-Marie Etter and François Gross, originators of Radio Agatashya. The broadcasting network was being expanded, with a re-broadcasting station in Goma and another in Uvira. The potential audience of Radio Agatashya at this time was more than four million listeners. A partnership agreement with UNHCR led the radio to participate in a mass information campaign for Rwandan refugees. A fruitful collaboration was established with the Studio Ijambo, set up by American NGO Search for Common Ground in Burundi. In November 1995, Radio Agatashya became a regional radio station for the Kivus, Rwanda and Burundi (accessible all the way to Bujumbura). In September 1996, the first heavy artillery fire marked the beginning of fighting between Laurent-Désiré Kabila's men, supported by the Rwandan army, and the Zairian army. Fighting took place around the main transmitter on October 27, 1996. The broadcasts were suspended, and did not resume.