Saturday, 2 February 2019

From my archive: Clandestine radio in East Africa in 1987

I wrote the article below in 1987 when I was living in Kenya. It was published in the May 1987 edition of Communication, the journal of the British DX Club (an association of radio enthusiasts and hobbyists).

Some brief explanations may be useful for the modern reader:

In 1987, Eritrea was still part of the communist-run state of Ethiopia. The communist government would be defeated by insurgents in 1991, bringing de facto independence to Eritrea, which was formalised in 1993. The Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea station described below had been launched in 1979. After independence it became the state broadcaster of the new country of Eritrea.

Also mentioned is the territory of South West Africa. In 1987 this was under the control of South Africa (then still in the apartheid era). South West Africa would become independent as the new country of Namibia in 1990.

The clandestine radio stations mentioned in the article were all broadcasting in the shortwave bands, then widely used by listeners across Africa. As the article was written for radio enthusiasts mainly living in the UK it included details of the frequencies  given in kilohertz (kHz)  that the stations might be heard on.

If you find this article interesting, have a look at two others I wrote at the time: 
Sudanese clandestine radio activity in 1987 
Clandestine radio activity in East Africa hots up in 1988

The 1987 article:

There are five countries bordering Kenya and in four of them guerrillas are in rebellion against the 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: Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea

Ethiopia contains a number of ethnic groups and some of them are unhappy with the domination of the country by the ruling Amharas. 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 1960s. 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 modified amateur radio transmitters. 

Programmes in five languages of the area are broadcast in three transmission blocks each day: at 0400-0600, 1430-1630 and 1800-2000 GMT. Several frequencies (all highly variable) are used for each broadcast: 14320 kHz (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. 

Sudan: Radio SPLA

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 Sudan 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 skillfully 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 for it to be heard in the UK during the winter. 

Broadcasts to/from Somalia: Radio HalganVoice of the Western Somali and Somali Abo Liberation Fronts

In addition to its quarrel with Sudan, Ethiopia has a long-standing border dispute with Somalia in which radio plays a role.

Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia allows its facilities to be used by two dissident Somali groups - the Somali National Movement and the Democratic Front for the Salvation of Somalia - which operate Radio Halgan (“Struggle Radio”) and use it to broadcast military claims and other propaganda daily in Somali at 1700-1800 GMT 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 describes the area). This uses Radio Mogadishu’s external service transmitter on 6095 kHz for its daily 0930-1000 GMT broadcast. The chances of hearing this one outside the east African region must be thin as even here in Nairobi the signal is very weak. 

Beaming to southern Africa: Radio Freedom & Voice of Namibia

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 Ethiopian state radio's facilities. 

They are Voice of Namibia, which is operated by the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), and the African National Congress’s Radio Freedom, both of which broadcast mainly in English daily at 1900-1930 and 1930-2000 GMT 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.

© 1987 and 2019. Material may be reproduced if attributed to Chris Greenway and the British DX Club.

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