EAST AFRICAN REPORT

BY CHRIS GREENWAY

ARTICLE FROM COMMUNICATION - EDITION 154 -  SEPTEMBER 1987

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CLANDESTINE BROADCASTING UPDATE

 

In the May edition of “Communication” I explained how the poor relations between Sudan and Ethiopia had led to a “radio war” between the two countries, albeit a one-sided one, with the Ethiopians putting facilities at the disposal of the highly-professional “Radio SPLA” (the station of the rebels fighting in Southern Sudan) but with the Sudanese authorities seemingly unwilling or unable to mount an effective reply. However, although the official Sudanese radio in Omdurman remains a poor match for Radio SPLA, both in propaganda and technical terms (its main MF transmitter on 1296 kHz is frequently off the air for several days at a time), it appears that a clandestine radio organisation (possibly linked to the Sudanese armed forces) is attempting to hit back at Ethiopia.

 

The story began last September when Radio SPLA started to suffer deliberate interference from a rival, indeed opposing, station which broadcast anti-SPLA programmes at the same time and on the same frequencies. The normal result was that listeners could hear neither station clearly. The new station seemed to be experimental as the exact times for each broadcast changed daily; some days there were no broadcasts, and indeed the programmes were not heard for weeks on end. In fact it seems that, perhaps to support its credentials as an unofficial operation, the anti-SPLA broadcasts deliberately operate for just a month or so at a time, followed by a period of dormancy. This “on-off” approach has been used by other clandestine broadcasters, such as some of those targeted by the Soviet Union against China.

 

In its latest period of operations the station has changed its original tactics; instead of jamming Radio SPLA it broadcasts immediately before and after the rebel station, but still on the same frequency. To add to listeners’ confusion, it uses the same signature tune as Radio SPLA. Although these tactics display a certain degree of cleverness, the anti-SPLA station’s propaganda message is equally as crude as its opponents. Even to the casual listener it is clear that the station is putting forward an official viewpoint; in fact, although it does not use a station name as such, it announces that its programmes are aimed specifically at the Sudanese armed forces. Its propaganda is also weakened by only being in Arabic, whilst most of the southern Sudanese who support the SPLA speak English or a tribal language and regard Arabic as the language of the oppressor.

 

Up to a few years ago, in fact until the overthrow of President Numayri in 1985, Sudan was a centre for clandestine broadcasting in the region. The Numayri Government was supported by the USA and so not surprisingly two stations active at that time and based in Sudan were aimed at anti-US regimes - Colonel Qadhafi’s Libya and the Soviet-allied South Yemen. “Voice of the Libyan People” operated on 15040 and 11640 kHz; on one occasion Qadhafi even sent the Libyan air force to try and bomb it off the air (the attempt failed). “Voice of the Free Sons of the Yemeni South” (VFSYS) used the unusual frequency of 11180 kHz. Although VFSYS was not heard after Numayri’s downfall, 11180 kHz continued to be used sporadically for a while for relays of the official Sudanese radio.

 

And now 11180 kHz has reappeared with another operation. In July a new anti-Ethiopian station took to the air. “Radio Voice of Ethiopian Unity” (RVEU) uncompromisingly attacks the Marxist Government in Addis Ababa; this is hardly surprising as it is run by the main right-wing group of Ethiopian dissidents, the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Alliance, which is based in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and is rumoured to be subsidised by the US Government to the tune of half-a-million dollars a year. At first, RVEU used frequencies in the crowded 31 and 41 metre bands. Now it has shifted to the out-of-band channels of 9430 and our old friend 11180 kHz. Reception here in Nairobi is excellent; so far the Ethiopians do not appear to be jamming RVEU, as they do another opposition station, “Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea”.

 

The Sudanese Government strongly denies supporting RVEU and the station itself claims to be broadcasting from somewhere near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. My own belief is that RVEU is using the same facilities as the anti-SPLA station, probably located near Khartoum, or its sister city, Omdurman.

 

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Updated: 6 Nov 2001