Monday, December 11, 2017

Voice of Oromo Liberation Radio

The Oromo Liberation Front was founded in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to promote self-determination for their people. The Oromo people are an ethnic group that are mostly found in Ethiopia but also parts of Kenya and Somalia. This is no splinter group. There are 35 million Oromo people in Ethiopia alone, constituting that nations largest ethnic group.  The OLF operates a shortwave radio station, SBO (Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromoo) or VOL (Voice of Oromo Liberation), in Berlin.
Let's talk a little history. The nation of Ethiopia grew out of lands controlled at different times by the the Kingdom of Aksum, the Aussa Sultanate, Zagwe dynasty, Mudaito Dynasty, the Yejju Oromo dynasty, and the Giyorgis II Empire all before 1890. Europeans looked at the whole horn of African and called it Abyssinia starting around 600 ACE. This becomes more of a problem later.

It was Emperor Dagmawi Menelik II that formed a country resembling modern Ethiopia starting around 1889. Menelik was of Oromo ancestry as was Gugsa of Yejju. Menelik did much in the way of modernization. He was big on road construction, electricity and education and a system of central taxation. He also founded their new capital of Addis Ababa, the new capital of Abyssinia. Abyssinia?  Yes, Menelik advertised that he was Abyssinian, and descended directly from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (This is despite the fact that there is no historical evidence for a Queen of Sheba existing contemporary to Solomon.) For more information check out A History of Ethiopia by Harold G. Marcus.

This is probably the key point of understanding as to why this radio station exists. The OLF do not consider the Oromo to be Abyssinian. The OLF believe the Oromo are the original inhabitants of "Oromia" and that the Abyssinians are colonialists no different than Italy was in WWII. Despite the historical accounts they believe Yohannes and Menilek were also Abyssinians. The OLF claim, dubious as it is, sets the stage for the Oromo and the Abyssinians to be defined as separate ethnic groups. With that in mind, lets fast forward to the 1900s.

Haile Selassie I, who ruled starting in 1916 didn't squelch this conflict. Selassie was also Oromo and under his reign the Italian colonialists returned.  But Selassie did found the nations first radio station in 1941. He broadcast from Addis Ababa in 1935 looking for help with those aforementioned Italian fascists. The British fought alongside Ethiopians and drove Franco back to his boot-shaped peninsula. Selassie's station returned to the air as Radio Addis Abeba in 1941 using an EIAR (Ente Italiano Audizioni Radiofoniche) transmitter on 9620 kc with regular broadcasts in Arabic, Amharic and English. Radio Guide magazine recorded that they signed on May 9th, 1938 which is later than most accounts. In the 1950s the Imperial guard began broadcasting as well.

Ethiopia didn't exit WWII well. Across the border in Eritrea, the Italians built a transmitter called Kagnew station and the Americans took it in 1942, they renamed it Radio Marina. The USA supplied more transmitters in the 1960s, installing one in Harrar, another on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, and a 50 kW 40 miles south of Asmara actually inside Eritrea.  That Asmara transmitter had to operate at low power to avoid interference with Kagnew station. At this time AFRTS was transmitting from Kagnew.

In 1943, Radio Mogadishu was built in Somalia at the same time as Radio Djibouti, both broadcasting in Somali. They both became pro-independence outlets when Ethiopia invaded Somalia. Russia instigated some of this selectively sending aid to pro-communist governments in the region. The Derg, a Communist military junta governed Ethiopia, from 1977 to 1987. The Oromo liked The Derg even less than Selassie. The Derg was replaced by the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, which was overthrown in 1991 by the EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front,) which has been the ruling political coalition ever since.

In Modern Ethiopia there are four political parties one of which is the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization. But the The EPRDF opposes liberal democracy, liberalism in general, and views free market capitalism as decadent. The party still owes much to the ideologies of Mao which were not media-friendly. So while having some Oromo membership, the OLF feels understandably unsatisfied. The Ethiopian government considers them a terrorist group. Nonetheless, the OLF has offices in Washington, D.C. and Berlin and is a member of the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization.)

In Ethiopia there are presently ten radio broadcast stations, eight AM and two shortwave. The most popular of these are Radio Ethiopia, Radio Fana, Radio Voice of One Free Ethiopia, and the Voice of the Revolution of Tigray. None of these stations broadcast in Oromo language. The OLF began operating a shortwave radio station, SBO (Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromoo) or VOL (Voice of Oromo Liberation), in Berlin in 1996.  SBO is on the air six days a week on 9,485 KHz.