There are moments when emotion exceeds its cause: this was not one of them. An audience comprised of the most experienced and integral UK journalists, hearts pressing up at their ribs, spontaneously rose and applauded. One physically diminutive young man had seized command of a communal consciousness and brought its owners to their feet.
Richard Pituwa had flown from the Congo to receive the One World Broadcasting Trust’s Special Award. The highlight of a series of prizes aimed at commending and encouraging quality UK coverage of the developing world, The Special Award asks that the more privileged of us take responsibility for the globe which is our home. By giving recognition and support to an invaluable community media project somewhere in the developing world, the award acknowledges world interdependency and the responsibility of the advantaged. ‘We feel very small in the face of this very big thing,’ were Richard’s humble words on receiving the prestigious award.
It is hard to imagine an achievement which could have better warranted this support than Radio Canal Revelation. Based in a ramshackle office in war-torn Bunia, in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the radio station which Richard founded has been essential psychic nutrition to a community shattered by among the most horrifying violence occurring anywhere in the world. The original African ‘Heart of Darkness’ is now the infamous country where cannibalism as well as rape is used as a power-weapon, and the UN and NGOs have in the past admitted the disorder of local factionalism is so pervasive that they cannot properly understand the political situation.
The rife chaos under which Congolese people suffer – not only from the physical and psychological aftermaths of each others’ brutality, but from widespread AIDS, malnutrition and infrastructural failure – is the surviving and continual effect and evidence of a trajectory of violence enforced externally upon them. From the mass-people-theft of slavery to the unrecognized holocaust of colonization (in 30 years of Belgian occupation in the late 19th century the population of the Congo was reduced from 20 to 8 million) to the present plundering of Congolese land for uranium for the US to produce its weapons of mass destruction, to the trade protections that prevent a unified and prosperous globalised economic interaction for the Congo and its neighbours, to the hidden political psychic trope of African barbarity, the Congo has been subjected to the most extreme forms of socio-economic, cultural, and mass psychological violence in history. It is astonishing that the developed world, the originator of the violence the Congolese have internalised, compensates so lamely.
Richard’s humble, smiling speech at this year’s One World Media Awards was an epiphany in the possibility of recovery and transcendence. The role he and a few friends played in his community was recognised even by local fighters, who in a period of fighting in Bunia left RCR equipment and workers intact in recognition of their communal significance. For people all across this stricken city in the north-east Ituri province, still being able to hear RCR was hope itself. The station – its equipment hand-made from scrap metal – continued to broadcast even after one of its founders went missing.
Radio is not only the most durable form of media in conflict situations – it is an essential tool in carving creative, expressive and dialogic cultural spaces. The stellar rise of Dizzee Rascal, Estelle, Shystie (and keep and eye on Kano) are attestation to the empowerment of fluid, localised uses of community (including pirate) radio. With figures like these now embedded in our popular consciousness, local heroes are opening up socially equalising expressive economies even here in the UK. Imagine what such spaces can be in worse afflicted contexts.