Pokola — A community radio station broadcasting from Pokola, 800km north of the Congolese capital Brazzville, is helping to foster understanding between the Bantu majority and the indigenous Pygmy minority.
Radio Biso na Biso (meaning 'between us" in Lingala), launched in 2008 by anthropologist Jerome Lewis and The Forest Trust, aims to smooth relations between Bantu people and autochthonous Pygmy forest-dwellers.
Funded by Fondation Chirac, the station broadcasts in 12 dialects and promotes endangered cultures and languages.
"We have programmes which promote the autochthonous people and explain the public benefit of bringing Bantus and Pygmies together," director Lydia Koungou told IRIN. "The conflict has virtually disappeared... Today there are Bantus who live in the same neighbourhoods as the indigenes."
"The indigenous people are Congolese like us. If we distance ourselves from them, what example are we giving to those who follow us abroad," she added.
The radio employs about 10 staff - six Bantus and four Pygmies - who broadcast in their own languages.
"Thanks to the radio, I have become someone. I speak into the same microphone, I operate the same mixing console as the Bantus," said Gaston Dambo, 39. "In my broadcasts, I ask parents to take their children to school so they will be useful to society tomorrow. I also make appeals related to the conservation of our sacred sites."
Biso na Biso broadcasts to about 50,000 people within a 100km radius, covering the departments of Sangha (northeast) and Likouala (extreme north).
"Biso na Biso is the voice of the forest. This is where the native is: this station teaches him the virtues and value of his traditions," mayor of Pokola Disso Bakonga told IRIN.
The station also raises awareness about the sustainable management of natural resources.
Pokola has about 13,000 inhabitants, 10 percent of whom are indigenous, according to local officials. The UN Population Fund says indigenous people are threatened with extinction and make up 2 percent of Congo's population of 3.6 million.
In 2011, the Republic of Congo became the first country in Africa to have specific legal protection for its indigenous peoples. The new law aims to counter their chronic marginalization, manifested in their exclusion from the education system and high levels of illiteracy, and lack of access to state services such as health facilities.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]