United Nations colleagues are mourning the death of Serge Maheshe, a journalist for Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who was shot last week while entering a UN car.
Sebastien Lapierre, a former Radio Okapi colleague, recalled the victim as “one of the best journalists on our team” dedicated to covering breaking news events.
“Given his extensive contacts in South Kivu, Serge always had his finger on the pulse of this volatile region and was often at the forefront of breaking news,” said Mr. Lapierre, who now serves as a Team Leader in the Peacekeeping Best Practices Section of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations.
Mr. Maheshe contributed to both news and analysis stories, often acting as the Bukavu correspondent for Dialogue Entre Congolais, Radio Okapi's flagship political analysis programme. “The fact that he had recently taken on additional responsibilities as the local head of the radio station is an indication of the confidence of the management in his abilities and professionalism,” Mr. Lapierre told the UN News Service.
The slain journalist was remembered for his commitment to peace in the DRC, where in 2004, during a crisis in Bukavu, he helped bring threatened civilian families to the safety of the UN compound while at the same time gathering information for news coverage of the events.
“Above all, Serge was a friend. He was very sociable, and loved music,” Mr. Lapierre said. “We will miss him dearly, and our thoughts are with his family in these difficult times.”
The 31-year old, who had worked for Radio Okapi since 2003, was shot dead on 13 June by two men on a street in Bukavu, in eastern DRC, as he and two friends were about to enter a UN-marked vehicle. He left behind his wife and two children.
Jean-Jacques Simon, who met Mr. Maheshe when he headed Radio Okapi in South Kivu, recalled how he had learned a great deal in a short period of time. Once he was hired full-time, he “instilled a completely different dynamic” in the newsroom, said Mr. Simon, “first by his good mood and then by his energy.”
Mr. Maheshe’s timely reports earned him the nickname, “quick intervention journalist,” Mr. Simon, who now works as Head of Outreach & Advocacy in the Public Information Office of the UN Assistance Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), told the UN News Service.
Mr. Simon also shared an enduring personal bond with Mr. Maheshe’s. “I will always have for Serge a deep friendship. His kindness, his respect for those around him, his intelligence and his expansive courage as a journalist will remain forever engraved in my memory.”
At a tribute ceremony in honour of Mr. Maheshe on Monday, the senior UN envoy to the DRC, who had condemned the murder, called for strict measures to ensure the safety of journalists in the country.
“It is high time, it is urgent that strict measures are taken to protect journalists and guarantee freedom of expression,” he said.
Mr. Maheshe’s death also prompted a statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose spokesman on 15 June called it “a great loss for the United Nations and the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as they continue their efforts to build a sustainable peace in their country.”
The Secretary-General said the UN “will do everything possible to support the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to identify the perpetrators of this crime and bring them to justice.”
Adding his voice to those of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) in speaking out against the murder of Mr. Maheshe, who worked at the country’s most popular radio station, Radio Okapi, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said that “a famous voice in the DRC has been silenced.”
Calling on Congolese authorities to do everything possible to find and punish those responsible for the murder of the 31-year-old, Mr. Matsuura said, “it is essential that media professionals, the true pillars of democracy, are protected and that crimes against them do not go unpunished.”
Radio Okapi is a partnership between MONUC and the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss non-governmental organization (NGO).
According to UNESCO – tasked with defending press freedom worldwide – Mr. Maheshe is the third Congolese journalist to be murdered since November 2005. Bapuwa Mwamba, from daily newspaper Le Phare, was killed at his home by three armed men in July 2006. Franck Kangundu, a journalist for La Référence Plus, was killed with his wife in November 2005.