EAST AFRICAN REPORT

BY CHRIS GREENWAY

ARTICLE FROM COMMUNICATION - EDITION 150 -  MAY 1987

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CLANDESTINE BROADCASTING

 

There are five countries bordering Kenya and in four of them armed guerrillas are in rebellion against central government, so it is not surprising that this is a fertile region for clandestine broadcasting. Most of this is connected with Ethiopia, either as the originator or target of various stations

 

Ethiopia contains a number of ethnic groups and the minority ones are unhappy with the domination of the country by the ruling Amhars. In Eritrea, in the north of the country, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and similar groups have been fighting for regional autonomy since the early 1960’s and unlike most guerrilla armies they have managed to wrest permanent control of substantial territory from the Addis Ababa government. It is from this “liberated territory” that the EPLF operates its radio station, “Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea”. By its choice of frequencies, all outside normal broadcast bands, it seems likely that VOBME is using a modified amateur radio transmitter, although it transmits on AM rather than SSB. Programmes in five languages of the area are broadcast in three transmission blocks a day - at 0400-0600, 1430-1630 and 1800-2000 GMT. Several frequencies (all highly variable) are used for each broadcast: 14320 (or thereabouts) seems to have been the most consistent over the years. I believe that the station has been heard in the UK, although its low power, variable frequencies and Ethiopian jamming make it a formidable challenge.

 

The Eritreans receive support from a number of countries, including, or so it is widely suspected, neighbouring Sudan. Naturally this displeases the Ethiopian government and so it is partly as a counterweight that Ethiopia gives military and other support to the rebel Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which is fighting an extensive guerrilla war in southern Sudan. As part of this aid, the government-controlled Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia puts its facilities at the disposal of “Radio SPLA” for two hour-long broadcasts a day in several tribal languages of southern Sudan, as well as English and Arabic. Radio SPLA is the most professional clandestine station I have heard; its programmes are skilfully produced and presented and in propaganda terms it leaves the dull output of the official radio in Omdurman far behind. The English broadcast is at 1300-1330 on 9550 and 11710 kHz, which should make it possible to hear in the UK during the winter.

 

In addition to its quarrel with Sudan, Ethiopia has a long-standing border dispute with Somalia in which radio plays a role. VORE allows its facilities to be used by two dissident Somali groups - the Somali National Movement and the Democratic Front for the Salvation of Somalia - operate “Radio Halgan” (“Struggle Radio”) and use it to broadcast military claims and other propaganda daily in Somali at 1700-1800 on 9590 and 7265 kHz.

 

Somalia’s answer to Radio Halgan is “Voice of the Western Somali and Somali Abo Liberation Fronts” which broadcasts to the Somali community living in eastern Ethiopia (or “western Somalia” as Mogadishu prefers to describe the area). VOWSSALF uses Radio Mogadishu’s external service transmitter on 6095 kHz for its daily 0930-1000 broadcast. The chances of hearing this one outside the east African region must be very thin as even here in Nairobi the signal is very weak.

 

Neither Radio SPLA nor Radio Halgan admit that they are coming from Ethiopia. However, two stations broadcasting to southern Africa are quite happy to say that they are using the VORE’s facilities. These are “Voice of Namibia”, which is operated by the South West Africa People’s Organisation, and the African National Congress’s “Radio Freedom”, both of which broadcast mainly in English daily at 1900-1930 and 1930-2000 respectively on 9595 kHz. Both of them, but particularly Radio Freedom, are well run and make use of revolutionary music to enliven the propaganda message; furthermore, the commentaries are not just long tirades but include carefully chosen and edited recordings of remarks by various leaders of the ANC and SWAPO. Radio Freedom and Voice of Namibia also use radio facilities in several other African countries. The broadcasts from Ethiopia have been heard in the UK.

 

(c) Copyright British DX Club

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Updated: 6 Nov 2001