On December 9, security agents of the Rwandan-supported Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) closed down the radio station for an indefinite period of time and arrested several staff of the radio, including the director, Kizito Mushizi, and head of operations, Omba Kamengele. They were detained at the office of the Direction of Security and Intelligence (DSR) in Bukavu for two days, but have since been released.
“Radio Maendelo plays a key role in providing independent information about politics and human rights issues,” said Juliane Kippenberg of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “Radio Maendelo is a space where citizens can express their views about the peace process in DRC. To shut it down means to exclude ordinary people further from the peace process.”
The official RCD statement explained the suspension on the basis that Radio Maendeleo is not supposed to broadcast stories with political content. However, Radio Maendeleo staff told Human Rights Watch that RCD authorities reacted angrily in response to a program by Radio Maendeleo on the recent introduction of RCD license plates for cars, which are recognized by Rwanda but not by the DRC government.
The eastern parts of DRC are currently administered by the RCD. Until recently, the area was occupied by the Rwandan army, the RCD’s foreign ally. Since October, following the signing of a peace agreement between the Rwandan and Congolese governments, Rwanda has withdrawn most of its troops, but continues to exert influence via the RCD and local officials.
The radio program interviewed many local residents who said they rejected the new license plates as a symbol of continued Rwandan presence.
Radio Maendeleo is one of the few independent radio stations in eastern DRC, and has been closed down by the RCD before, from July 1999 to August 2001.