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Have Ethiopia’s Airwaves Found Peace?

Exiled radio programs make their way back into the country as new prime minister modifies political stance

ADDIS ABABA, Ethi­o­pia — Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been on a whirlwind peace offensive since taking office in April. He’s just signed a peace agreement with Eritrea, a long-time enemy of Ethiopia. In late June, Ahmed removed three rebel movements from Ethiopia’s list of terrorist groups.

A number of exile radio programs are beamed to Ethiopia on shortwave. The programmers purchase airtime on various transmitters in Europe. Ethiopia not only jammed these transmissions, but also jammed some Western broadcasters such as Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. Ethiopia used its own AM and shortwave transmitters to carry opposition group programs beamed to Eritrea. Given Prime Minister Ahmed’s political overtures, has anything changed in the broadcasting scene?

The Oromo Liberation Front is one of the rebel movements formerly considered to be a terrorist group. Its leaders returned from exile in Eritrea to Ethiopia on Sept. 15. Two shortwave programs supporting the Oromos cause are beamed to Ethiopia. Voice of Oromo Liberation has been on the air for more than 30 years and was jammed by Ethiopia. It remains on the air, but is no longer interfered with. The situation is the same with the other program, Radio Voice of Independent Oromia.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is another rebel movement once listed as terrorist. It declared a ceasefire in August. Radio Xoriyo is a program supporting the ONLF. It also remains on the air and its transmissions are no longer jammed.

[Read: Radio Reaches Blocked Countries]

Patriotic Ginbot 7 is the third rebel group. They recently suspended resistance against the government and its leaders returned to Ethiopia from exile in Eritrea. They once had an AM and shortwave radio program via Eritrean transmitters that is no longer heard. It is hard to ascertain exactly when the program ended, but Ethiopia jamming against the shortwave frequency ended in July.

Ethiopia is no longer jamming any opposition groups. The same is also true of Western broadcasters.

Ethiopia also transmitted a number of programs via its own radio facilities directed to Eritrea. These transmissions are difficult to monitor as there are frequent transmitter breakdowns. They were once active on both AM and shortwave, but have not been heard as of late.

Prime Minister Ahmed’s peace efforts have clearly manifested themselves on the radio dial. These recent developments are just a few in what will — hopefully — be a long string of positive changes for the radio broadcasting landscape in a region where turmoil has been the norm for far too long.