In December 2020, the Voice of America (VOA) launched new FM stations serving refugees living in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. The Kakuma office commenced operations on December 18, 2020 duringInternational Migrant Day. The new 99.9 FM station will serve both refugee and host communities with news, music, and educational content in English, Swahili and Somali.
VOA is the only international broadcaster in Kakuma and is expected to develop the media landscape and reshape narratives in both camps.Previously, broadcasting was controlled by aid agencies. The arrival of VOA maynot be good news for those who had been controlling media narratives.
“I have listened to VOA since I was very young and I know that VOA is an independent media station. If it operates in Kakuma,I hope it can give a better platform to air out real events in camp,” a Zonal Leader in Kakuma told KANERE.
Since the inception of refugee camps, media industries have been interested in reporting on camps around the world. In 2017, VOA began broadcasting in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a camp consisting of mostly Rohingya refugees. Rohingya refugees have been denied the use of the Internet, including mobile phones, and by their host country, Bangladesh. VOA provides an important service in light of these restrictions.
“VOA is committed to providing vital news and information to underserved populations worldwide, including refugees and other forcibly displaced persons,” said VOA Director Robert Reilly, in a statement circulated for inauguration of both offices on December 18, 2020.
After 30 years, thanks to donor funding, a community radio was launched at the new settlement. However, community access to radio became limited due to dominance of NGO productions, especially after the outbreak of COVID-19. Since NGO support was essential to keep the station running sustainably, the station had no choice but to report according to their funder’s interests.
“What I know is that REF FM Kakuma Radio is ironically called a refugee owned community radio station, but it’s officially owned by an NGO and refugees don’t have a voice to make any decision, “A village leader at the new settlement told KANERE.
Journalism student conducing interviews around Kakuma
Since 2020, the German state-owned international broadcaster, Deutsche Well Academia (DW), in partnership with GIZ office and Film Aid, has been training men and women of different nationalities from Kakuma and the new settlement in media and journalism.
For almost three decades, the only trusted sources of information about Kakuma for the outside world were aid agencies working alongside refugees. Most stories produced by aid agencies present a single point of view and focus on funding and branding.
In addition to providing refugees with information, VOA will play a watchdog role regarding accountability and good governance within refugees’ camps.
In places like Kakuma, a refugee camp with few civil societies, having independent media like VOA will create participatory communication between aid agencies and their beneficiaries. In addition to serving as a bridge, refugees see VOA as an institution thatserves public interest rather than private economic gain.
“We believe in the power of journalism as a tool to empower and engage well-informed citizens, and we believe that our mix of news, cultural, and educational content can enrich the lives of our new listeners in Kakuma,” said VOA Spokesperson, Anna Morris.
VOA, which is funded by the U.S.Congress, delivers programs on multiple platforms, including the radio, television, internet, and mobile via a network of more than 3500 media outlets worldwide.