Dutch-based Radio Dabanga 'gives Sudanese a voice'

File: A journalist at Radio Dabanga, Gaafer Monro, listens to a call from Darfur in the studio of the radio based in the central Dutch city of Hilversum. AFP/Anoek De Groot

AMSTERDAM - Twice a day a catchy jingle comes on air, carrying the voice of democracy to more than two million Sudanese listeners in the restive northeast African country, hit this week by a military coup.

"Radio Dabanga, Radio Dabanga, Radio Dabangaaaa!," a male voice sings as the station starts its broadcast -- not from Sudan's capital Khartoum, but from the heart of Amsterdam.

Then, the soothing voice of 60-year-old veteran journalist Ibrahim Jadelkarim welcomes listeners to the station's latest edition of local political, economic and social news.

For most Sudanese tuning in, the exiled Radio Dabanga is their only independent link to the outside world -- even more so now after Monday's military coup derailed the nation's fragile transition to democracy.

"The situation is severe, it's a militant coup. Normal people, civilians are shot in the streets, tortured and jailed," said a worried Jadelkarim.

"Of course I'm very worried about the safety of my family," most of them still in Sudan, he told AFP at Radio Dabanga's studio in the Dutch capital.

- 'Concerned, annoyed' -

Jadelkarim is no stranger to oppression: he fled Sudan in 1989 after now-former ruler Omar al-Bashir grabbed power in a military coup.

"I'm concerned, annoyed, because the military and the police and rabid supporters just fire wildly in the streets," said Jadelkarim, adding "a lot of people are dead and injured."

At least eight protesters have been killed and some 170 people have been wounded as people -- angry at Burhan's move to dissolve the civilian-led government and arrest its leaders -- took to the streets.

Security forces and demonstrators clashed again on Thursday, as US President Joe Biden joined an international chorus of condemnation against the takeover.

- 'Phone keeps ringing' -

Radio Dabanga -- which broadcasts via satellite, online and Short Wave -- found a home in the Netherlands in 2008 as the conflict raged in the southwest Darfur region.

It has since expanded to cover the whole of the vast country and today some 10 journalists work at the station, which for security reasons doesn't give out its exact address in Amsterdam.

Their funding comes from non-governmental organisations and international governmental bodies such as the Dutch foreign affairs ministry, said Jadelkarim.

The name "dabanga" refers to a large pot-like container -- made from clay and grass -- used in Sudanese homes to prevent crops like maize from spoiling in storage, with money and other valuables sometimes kept at the bottom.

On its website, Radio Dabanga states that it works for "a democratic Sudan, where freedom, peace and justice reign, and where human rights are enshrined, in particular the right to freedom of expression and access to information".

Radio is sometimes the only way to reach people -- according to United Nations figures, literacy rates hover around 60 percent in Sudan.

This is particularly the case in the country's vast remote regions and refugee camps in Darfur, estimated by the UN to be home to some 2.5 million internally displaced people.

But the channel is expanding and now has its own network of freelance reporters, called stringers, to verify information from a multitude of callers.

Right now, Jadelkarim said, "the phone keeps on ringing. Everyone has something to tell".


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