Spotlight: Broadcasting from Tanzania’s biggest refugee camp (NRC)

February 12, 2018
Une traduction pour cet article est disponible en Français

When Jonathan first arrived in Tanzania’s Nyarugusu refugee camp in 1997 from Democratic Republic of Congo, he was wary. There was little information available about issues that were affecting the camp´s residents.

Nyarugusu is located about 150 kilometres from Lake Tanganyika, near Tanzania’s borders with the DRC and Burundi. It is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
As it turned out, things were happening, but nobody knew about them.

Jonathan decided that the lack of information had to change. So he located a loudspeaker and a small transmitter. During the day, he visited different aid agencies, collecting information. In the evenings, he announced what he had learned. It wasn’t long before crowds began to gather around the loudspeaker to catch up on Jonathan’s news.

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 more than 120,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees have sought safety from the violence in their home countries. After broadcasting for nearly 20 years, the station now reaches a global audience stretching from the US to Norway.

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

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

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. Maria has been living in Tanzania as a Congolese refugee since 2001. Volunteering at Radio Umoja has given both of them purpose.

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

Maria works as one of Radio Umoja’s field reporters and also presents programs from the studio. For her, it’s 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.

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

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

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

But these challenges don’t deter them. In fact, Radio Umoja’s ambitions are growing. The team is running broadcast courses for young refugees who are interested in journalism. In that way, the next generation can take over.

This story was adapted from an article titled “Broadcasting from Tanzania’s largest refugee camp” published by the Norwegian Refugee Council. To read the original article, please see:

You can listen to Radio Umoja online at

Photo: Radio Umoja. Credit: Ingrid Prestetun / NRC