Read caption Gabriel, one of Umoja Radio 92.3 FM's hosts in Nyarugusu camp, broadcasts live to millions of listeners around the globe. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Broadcasting from Tanzania’s largest refugee camp

Nashon Todo, Ingvild Vetrhus and Codi Trigger|Published 22. Aug 2017
Journalists are often harassed and arrested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. That didn’t stop Jonathan from starting his own radio station.

When Jonathan from DR Congo first arrived in Tanzania’s Nyarugusu refugee camp in 1997, he was wary. There was little information circulating about issues affecting the camp´s residents. In Nyarugusu, one of the largest refugee camps in the world, things were happening. But nobody knew about them.

Something had to change. Jonathan located a loudspeaker and a small transmitter. During the day he went around to aid agencies, collecting information. In the evenings, he announced what he had learned. It wasn’t long before a crowd would gather around the loudspeaker to catch up on Jonathan’s latest news.

A global audience

Jonathan is no longer sitting outside with his loudspeaker. He’s in a proper studio. Radio Umoja 92.3 FM is now a popular radio station in Nyarugusu refugee camp, where over 120,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees have sought safety from the violence in their home countries. And after broadcasting for nearly two decades, the station now reaches global audiences stretching from the US to Norway.

“Through the internet, we are able to reach millions,” Jonathan explains. Listeners regularly send their greetings from as far as South Africa, the Netherlands and Australia.

“Radio Umoja is independent and belongs to the refugees,” he declares. Judging by the size of his audience, they seem to agree.

The Norwegian Refugee Council in Tanzania

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) started activities in Kigoma region of Tanzania in 2016 to assist Burundian refugees with education, shelter, water and sanitation and hygiene.

Through our education activities, we provide catch-up programmes to children and youth who have lost out on education, train teachers and build schools.

We construct transitional shelters.

In Nyarugusu, NRC organise the management of the camp and provide clean water to the residents through maintenance of borehole generators and pumps and extension and rehabilitation of water pipeline systems. We build latrines, distribute soap and other hygiene items and construct water tap stands.

Read more about the Norwegian Refugee Council's work in Tanzania.

Radio Umoja is independent and belongs to the refugees.

Refugees and journalists

Gabriel and Maria are two of Jonathan’s colleagues. They volunteer as radio hosts to help keep residents in Nyarugusu up-to-date with the latest news.

Gabriel has been forced to flee his native Burundi several times, and Maria has been living in Tanzania as a Congolese refugee since 2001. Volunteering at Radio Umoja has given them purpose.

“This has been a dream since my childhood,” Gabriel says. “I have always wanted to become a journalist.”

Maria works as one of Radio Umoja’s field reporters and also reports from the studio. For her, it’s also important to inspire young girls. As a child she enjoyed listening to the radio in the evening. As an adult and single mother, she sees herself as a role model.

“People always want to speak to me on the streets and children come up to greet me,” she says.

Read caption Jonathan, centre, works with Gabriel and Maria on a show for Radio Umoja. The station broadcasts from early morning through the evening. Photo: Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

Operational challenges

Although rewarding, it’s not easy to run a radio station in a refugee camp. Jonathan, Gabriel and Maria broadcast from early morning to late in the evening, despite their lack of funding.

To subsidise running costs, they sometimes sell greeting cards and on-air advertisements.

“Listeners are not happy when we shorten the radio hours,” says Jonathan. But they don’t have much choice. They’re already working as unpaid volunteers.

These setbacks, however, don’t deter them. In fact, Radio Umoja’s ambitions are growing. The team is running broadcast courses for young refugees interested in journalism. That way, the next generation can take over.

You can listen to Radio Umoja online at www.umojaradio.nl

Nyarugusu refugee camp
  • With around 132,000 refugees, Nyarugusu is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
  • Located in the western province of Kigoma, in Tanzania, UNHCR and the Tanzanian government opened the camp in 1996 after thousands of Congolese refugees arrived in Tanzania to escape civil war.
  • In 2015, violence broke out after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to sit a third term, sending thousands of Burundian refugees to Tanzania. Over 65,000 Burundians seek safety in Nyarugusu.
  • The Norwegian Refugee Council coordinates refugee accommodation and welfare issues in Nyarugusu.