For more than a century, the extraction of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by poor governance. Congolese journalist Daniel Makasi is trying to change this history with a podcast that shines a light on the sector’s impacts. Here he outlines the support he has received from NRGI, and how his podcast is amplifying marginalized voices.
In Swahili, tetea means defend and mazingira means environment. It’s a fitting title for the podcast that Daniel Makasi launched in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in September 2022.
In its relatively short lifespan, the Tetea Mazingira podcast has featured women who work in the extractive sector (a group disproportionately impacted by mining); highlighted the harsh reality facing children living near mines; and shown how logging companies operating without proper consent have ignored the rights of Indigenous Pygmy communities. In short, it has provided in-depth, expert analysis of the DRC’s mining, forestry and hydrocarbon industries, and broadcast testimony from those directly affected by extraction.
A platform for amplifying peoples’ voices and exposing the harm they face from the extractive industries was sorely needed.
As in many resource-rich countries, foreign and domestic actors in the DRC have denied the majority of the population the social and economic benefits of the nation’s abundant natural wealth. And the public service that Tetea Mazingira offers will remain critical, given that the DRC holds vast quantities of the minerals needed for a clean energy transition.
“We have a great duty to communicate about the sustainable management of our resources,” says Makasi. “At the moment, it’s about the energy transition. Who exploits where, why and who wins what. In the DRC we have the strategic minerals to help the world make this energy transition, but what will the Congolese people gain while their minerals are being exploited? This transition has to be fair, equitable and inclusive.”
Makasi was born and still lives in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The city is home to around two million people.
“We live with many threats,” says Makasi. “We are still learning to be resilient despite all the difficulties we face–security challenges, but also the presence here of toxic gas [which is released because of volcanic activity and which kills many people every year].”
Fifteen miles from Goma is also Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes that spews the planet’s fastest flowing lava. In May 2021, the volcano erupted, forcing 400,000 people from their homes and leaving at least 32 dead.
These are just some of the many social and environmental challenges faced by the people of North Kivu province: from foreign mining companies that encroach on community land without consultation or contribution to local development programs, to a population forced to use firewood because they lack electricity (thereby contributing to the deforestation ravaging the DRC’s tropical forests)—all against the backdrop of dire threats to their security from armed conflict.
Makasi’s desire to play his part in overcoming these problems set him on his current path.
He initially studied accounting, but changed direction because of his passion for the environment, and subsequently gained a degree in environment and sustainable development. Makasi started working in radio in 2015, before he’d even finished his degree–and was soon focusing on environmental stories.
“As an environmentalist, part of my motivation is to give a voice to people who are affected by environmental problems, and also approach experts to share their experience with us, to share the results of their research.”
“As an environmentalist, part of my motivation is to give a voice to people who are affected by environmental problems, and also approach experts to share their experience with us, to share the results of their research,” he says.
In 2019, Makasi received a grant from the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) to attend a summer school course on the governance of extractive industries at Bisson Catholic University of Central Africa campus in Cameroon, where he learned to interpret mining revenues data published via the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. He says that NRGI resources are “among my key tools when designing and producing my podcasts. I regularly consult NRGI news and blog posts to feed my inspiration.”
Makasi’s switch from radio broadcasting to podcasting follows a global trend–there are an estimated three million podcasts across the world–and came after he undertook research which showed podcasting could greatly expand his audience. Podcasts are downloadable anywhere in the world, and have a reach far beyond the limits of the FM radio frequency on which he previously relied. “Now my shows can be heard far away from Goma, far away from the DRC,” he says.
In fact, people listen to Tetea Mazingira in more than 50 countries; these include other Francophone African nations such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Madagascar, Niger, Republic of Congo and Senegal.
“With the tools that are in place, it’s easy to map where the podcasts are being listened to and how many downloads they have, unlike the radio, where we don’t know who’s listening. We’ve even recently started to broadcast via YouTube’s new tool, YouTube Podcast,” says Makasi.
“We’ve interviewed people who defend the rights of minorities and discussed the regulation that’s meant to make their voices heard. We’ve also covered the problems surrounding the exploitation of methane gas in our region’s lakes, and the stories of the fishermen enduring the pollution because of it. When we cover these issues, we also have to approach the communities that are at risk, and not ignore that it’s also a business opportunity for people who can be employed in companies to exploit methane gas,” he adds.
Makasi also draws inspiration from interacting with listeners, who share their questions and ideas for programs, helping shape the podcast’s direction, making it truly inclusive and reflecting their concerns.
Podcasts can also be broadcast on the radio, which remains an important channel in the DRC. Five radio stations in North Kivu province now include Tetea Mazingira in their schedules. Among them is the Tayna Community Radio, which broadcasts Tetea Mazingira twice a week on the FM band, and has a listenership of about two million listeners, according to January 2021 estimates by Radio Tayna's management.
Some local authorities, Agence Congolaise de la Presse ACP/Nord-Kivu (a national news agency in the Democratic Republic of Congo), and a network of reporters who write on biodiversity, are interested in producing other podcast episodes on natural resource governance, climate change and natural disaster issues in North Kivu province and DRC. With such collaborations Tetea Mazingira’s reach could continue to grow.
“We want to make the voices of our communities and experts heard through our podcasts so that those who are far from the DRC know the challenges we face,” says Makasi.
Tetea Mazingira will continue to raise awareness of the challenges posed by natural resource extraction in the DRC–and equip the public with the vital information needed to tackle them.