With a Human Development Index of 0.239, DRC now ranks 171 out of 172 rated countries. The DRC population is estimated at 68 million (UNDP projection for 2010) with 46% living in rural areas and 53% in urban areas. Women and girls represent about 51% of the population. In 2009, almost 71% of the inhabitants were living with less than one US Dollar per day. In spite of some positive economic results obtained these last years due to the progression of political stability and the conduct of economic reforms, the social situation remains critical. The widespread insecurity, high rate of unemployment and low job opportunities, human rights abuses, the breaking up of families and other solidarity networks, the collapse of the health, education (primary education is neither free nor universal) and transport system, sexual violence and more are a daily reality for many Congolese. In fact, many Congolese communities are still striving to free themselves from the spiral of poverty. According to the UN System in DRC, women and girls have been disproportionately affected by violence and poverty and their numbers among the poor have increased. It is even believed that about 16 million people have “critical” food needs, and the vast majority of the population consumes less than two thirds of the daily calories needed to maintain good health.
ICTs in the country
ICT is in constant and rapid development in DRC since the end of war. The government is still working towards the deployment of a national backbone and connection to the Africa submarine cable. Due to poor deployment and obsolete equipments of public telecommunication infrastructures, landlines are hardly available in many parts of the country. Nevertheless, the country has a high level of GSM signal coverage particularly in far West, South-East and North-East regions of DRC. In fact, since 2006, 65% of the population lives within coverage range of GSM signal. Mobile phone is not just a pervasive communication medium; it is also, for many people, the unique affordable tool to have access to Internet. In 2007 there were about 4.5 million GSM subscribers. Despite a low number of Internet users, in comparison to population size, the liberalization of the telecommunication sector has given opportunity to the burgeoning of private operators. About 15 Internet Service Providers are now providing Internet access at reasonable cost in major cities (and suburbs) through satellite, WiMAX, CDMA or EDGE technologies. While possessing a personal computer is still out of the reach of many, cyber-cafés found in almost all major cities are an alternative for ICT access.
Local radios in the country
In 2005 a survey for the mapping of radio stations operating within the country (11 provinces) resulted with the identification of almost 223 radio stations among which 123 are community, rural, commercial or religious radios. Though most of the statistics about DRC are far from being accurate, today, it is believed that there are more than 450 radio stations in DRC which can be classified as associative, commercial, community, international, religious, rural, or public. There are about nine regional radio networks over the country. ARCO (Association des Radios Communautaires du Congo - Association of Local radios in Congo) is one of the main national local radios network. In general, local radio stations are member of at least one of the many media networks or associations.
While the figures related to the existence of radio stations demonstrate a high degree of pluralism in the country, this should not overshadow the fact that these media, particularly local radios with a focus on the community, operate under precarious conditions. They work without any network of news correspondents and rely on the community to provide for their functioning cost, whereas community members live with less than a US Dollar per day. With such limited resources, the content quality is severely affected – not only because of lack of well trained personnel, but also because the equipment is hardly ever renewed.
The trend towards digitization could be an opportunity for local radios in terms of reduced operational costs, possibility of daily content production and management improvement, etc. However, the migration cost is still beyond the reach of most of them.
Importance of support to local radios
Due to the low literacy rate in DRC (52% for women against 80% for men), a great majority of the population, particularly in rural areas, still use one of the 400 spoken local languages. Major media and public media broadcast only in one or more of the four national languages (Lingala, Swahili, Kikongo and Tshiluba). Therefore, local radios have the merit of being the only media that can answer to the information needs of the marginalized populations by producing content in local languages. For example, local radios have been involved in the construction of peace through special programming and support from specialized NGOs.