40 Years, DIMTSI HAFASH, THE RADIO OF THE PEOPLE

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Youthful memories of one of its earliest members from 35 years back

Dimtsi Hafash Eritrea (Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea), celebrates its 40th anniversary this first week of January. The radio broadcasting service began its operations in 1979 from the fields during the armed struggle for Eritrea’s independence. From small mobile tents in Sahel, Dimtsi Hafash’s role in disseminating information from the fields and in mobilizing the Eritrean people in the country and abroad makes it one of the great legacies of the struggle for liberation. Forty years later, today, Dmtsi Hafash continues to be one of the most popular local radio stations. 

In his career as a journalist, Mr. Asfaha Teklamariam worked as Head of different media departments including the news agency, television and radio. Currently working as Haddas Eritrea’s Chief Editor, Mr. Asfaha Teklamarim was one of the pioneers who worked at Dimtsi Hafash as a young enthusiast. He is Q&A’s guest on the commemoration day of the radio of the people.

  • -We will take time, today, to look back at your early days as a journalist in Dimtsi Hafash. You joined the team five years after Dimtsi Hafash began to air. How did you join the armed struggle? And how did you make your way in to the radio station?

I joined the armed struggle in 1975 when I was twenty two years old. On the second half of 1983 I was appointed to work with Dimtsi Hafash. Dimtsi Hafash, the radio station, functioned in ways that went beyond the dissemination of information about the war serving as a link between the freedom fighters in the fields and the Eritrean community. It served far more than an information dissemination station.

Dimtsi Hafash became one of the Front’s most efficient political and social tools. Therefore, the broadcasting station was one thing but there were other departments functioning under its umbrella. For example, there were units in different parts of the Front. Every brigade had a journalist and a photojournalist. Dimtsi Hafash was also primarily established to assist the printed media of the Front. Moreover, the network of the radio station was intense. Any clandestine missions would be disclosed in the Radio almost in real time. Anything that happened outside the front would be transmitted right away. The team’s ability in gathering and broadcasting information was exceedingly swift. Local news was molded in prolific manners that made Dimtsi Hafash the rarest of its kind.

I was first appointed to work in the International News Monitoring Department. The branches in this specific department were categorized by language. The department’s main task was to keep an eye on what international media said about Eritrea to eventually fix the distorted narratives about the Eritrean struggle for independence. I was assigned to the Tigrigna and Amharic branch. We monitored foreign news.

  • -What do you remember about your time working as a journalist in Dimtsi Hafash?

I run out of words to explain what Dimtsi Hafash was and what it really meant to us journalists working there and to the people of Eritrea. Its contribution towards building national identity and intensifying relations between the freedom fighters and the people was extraordinary. Moreover, it played crucial roles in raising political awareness and knowledge about social and national issues. Dimtsi Hafash was and still is broadcasted in several ethnic languages promoting the nation’s identity at all levels.

The expertise might have been there but the materials we had were basic. The enthusiasm, passion and dedication of the people working there was the real power driving Dimtsi Hafash ahead. Above all, the Eritrean people made Dimtsi Hafash its own voice. There is a lot more to be said about the legacy of Dimtsi Hafash. But, in few words, I would define it as a demonstration of how advanced and just the Eritrean struggle was.

  • -What would be a memory you would like to share with our readers from back then?

My favorite program. I was, in due course, reassigned in Dimtsi Hafash’s Studio. I was making radio programs and going on air covering news, editorials, other programs and more. My favorite program was called ‘Ethiopia with its Veil’. I worked on it with great enthusiasm and luckily the program was assigned to me. Ethiopia was generally described by many as one great and flawless African nation. In my program we worked to investigate the myth behind this narrative. As I had already gained some experience in the international News monitoring department it was easier for me to deliver good coverage. The program was aired until 1986.

  • -After Independence you still kept working with Dimtsi Hafash, but it was obviously not the same as it was in the field.

Organizational changes were implemented and the radio station started assuming standard calibration to match international standard. The station grew and new radio stations also emerged. From humble beginnings Dimtsi Hafash has gotten bigger in many ways including personal, equipment, and sophistication. Now, Dimtsi Hafash covers more hours, more programs, more languages and areas. It has a global rate connecting Eritreans in the world. Dimtsi Hafash is not what it used to be. However, that being said, it continues to be a cherished broadcaster of the people.

Even if I don’t work in radio anymore it gives me pleasure to see Dimtsi Hafash doing great. Most of the journalists now are young and devoted to keep its legacy. I would like to remind them to learn and understand the deep roots Dimtsi Hafash sent in the hearts of the Eritrean people. I am really proud of them and I applaud them with respect.

  • -Like you said, you no longer work there. Your profession has extended in different areas of specialization in mass media and communication. You were head of news agency and had some responsibilities on television. Currently you are the chief editor of Hadas Eritrea. What do you have to say as the Chief editor of the Tigrigna quotidian with the highest circulation in Eritrea?

Haddas Eritrea is a newspaper that has more than 30 columns. Every day it hosts eight columns alongside daily local and international news. The readership of the newspaper is encouraging as there is a wide coverage of topics that interest different kinds of people of different ages. Topical issues, culture, sports, development, women’s issues, social rights…. The list of topics covered in the newspaper is quite long. Our journalists are devoted to meet the readers’ expectations. I would like to commend them for it.

  • -At the end, Mr. Asfaha, would you like to pass on your greetings both on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Dimtsi Hafash and the festive season of the New Year?

Dimtsi Hafash has a special place in my memories. I congratulate every member of the radio broadcasting service for making its 40th anniversary so laudable. Hello to all of my colleagues from then. Also, let me pass my kind regards to my children. And my best wishes to the Eritrean people for the New Year.