Asmarino Fundraising: Because There Is So Much More to Be Done!

Eritrea: That Day! 18th of September 2001

That Day!

Solomon Abera; a long time friend of Asmarino, passed away on Nov 30, 2011
due to natural causes.

A journalist has the obligation to conduct proper research, expose hidden material and provide their findings to the wider public.  Whatever happens to them becomes part of history and here is what happened to me on ‘That Day!’

Having the spent the weekend covering sports’ events, my broadcast goes on air on Monday in that Echo Sport programme which I feel is part of my own life, I still have to go back work on Tuesday to present my usual broadcast only to take the afternoon off to compensate for time spent working over the weekend.  From Wednesday to Friday, I endure the preparation of media material for the ‘Voices of the Masses’ programme.  Occasionally, I used to work on Saturday morning as well.  It all amounts to more than 80 hours per week and without any sense of gratification.  It was accompanied by unprofessional style of intervention with a cringing reaction to the way things were done over the years.  I still remember the alarm clock that used to wake me up at half past four in the morning while trying to  recover from my deep exhaustion.
It was the 18th of September 2001 – the third consecutive Tuesday I had to do my shift as the news reader.  I got up early.  Myself and other members of staff were all picked up from our places by company transport service van and driven to the news centre (endazena) based at Forto (Tsetserat). 

There were just minutes left to 06:30 AM.  I was almost ready with all the Tigrigna material handed to me for broadcasting and waiting for on-air sign and the countdown to begin. 

The phone rang.

My colleague on the other side of office – a double-glazed glass compartment – picked up the phone and seconds later gave me a hand-sign to get out of the studio and talk to someone on the phone line. .  “This is crazy!” I thought and wasn’t happy at all.

It was the 18th of September 2001 – the third consecutive Tuesday I had to do my shift as the news reader.  I got up early.  Myself and other members of staff were all picked up from our places by company transport service van and driven to the news centre (endazena) based at Forto (Tsetserat). 

There were just minutes left to 06:30 AM.  I was almost ready with all the Tigrigna material handed to me for broadcasting and waiting for on-air sign and the countdown to begin. 

The phone rang.

My colleague on the other side of office – a double-glazed glass compartment – picked up the phone and seconds later gave me a hand-sign to get out of the studio and talk to someone on the phone line. .  “This is crazy!” I thought and wasn’t happy at all.

It was the 18th of September 2001 – the third consecutive Tuesday I had to do my shift as the news reader.  I got up early.  Myself and other members of staff were all picked up from our places by company transport service van and driven to the news centre (endazena) based at Forto (Tsetserat). 

There were just minutes left to 06:30 AM.  I was almost ready with all the Tigrigna material handed to me for broadcasting and waiting for on-air sign and the countdown to begin. 

The phone rang.

My colleague on the other side of office – a double-glazed glass compartment – picked up the phone and seconds later gave me a hand-sign to get out of the studio and talk to someone on the phone line. .  “This is crazy!” I thought and wasn’t happy at all.

Why should I go out the studio when I had only seconds left?  She again gave me a sign to go out and pick up the phone.  I could read that she wasn’t happy at all.  “What sort of emergency is this?” I remember thinking.  I am supposed to feel calm and contained before starting the broadcast and didn’t at ease to go out.  I was on duty during the dark days in February of 1999 and May 2000 – days of the 2nd and 3rd major military conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia – and said to myself, “What has happened now?”

I realized I had to go out of the studio and talk to the person on the other side of the phone line.  I went out and picked up the phone.

“Hello… Who am I talking to?” I ask.

“I am Naizghi… Who are you?” he asks with a very unfriendly tone.

Naizghi?  I thought.

He was Naizghi Kiflu.  We knew he was the new Minster of Information but had not yet called a conference to introduce himself and his plans to all staff.  It was before I saw his face (as a Minister) that I heard his voice first and, just when I was about to gather my thoughts, he asks,

“Listen! Who are you?”

“It’s me Solomon.”

“Are you the news reader on duty?”

“Yes.”

“Come to the Ministry head office as soon as possible…”

The introductory bit of music on Voice of the Masses was coming to an end and what am I supposed to do?  What if I was asked why I left on zero hour?

“But Mr. Naizghi… on-air time is approaching and …”  I couldn’t even finish…

“Just come here!” 

“But it would be better if I could at least open the broadcast and do the headlines…” I say.

“Are you stupid?” he says, “…there is no bigger news other than what I am giving you.  So, come now!”

There was nothing I could do.  I just informed the duty technician to put some instrumental music on-air and told here that I was in a hurry.  From there – the old studio of Voice of the Masses in building no.1 on third floor – I rushed down (no lift there) and up to the third floor in building no.2 in where there used to be an office for Beraki Ghebresellasie earlier and Zemhret Yohannes later. 

I just couldn’t even think while rushing all the way.

Oh my God! Has another border conflict erupted? But they did sign the peace agreement and we have the peace keepers now.  Could it be another war?  It can’t be!  What is going on then?  There was the public statement made by the G – 15 (a group of 15 high government officials and members of parliament) and distributed to independent papers.  There was also an incident in Shamrock Bar where Naizghi had been attacked or may be there was an attempt to overthrow the government. 

I had no idea whatever was happening out there!

There was Naizghi Kiflu – then the director or TV Department – and, Ali Abdu – the current and temporary Minister of Information Ali Abdu – in the office and writing on paper. 

In all the turmoil of that early and fateful morning, the rest of the department heads and members of staff of the Ministry of Information were all at home and just because they had no idea what was going on within the Mininisty, all they could do was only ask the technician why music and  where is the duty news reader?

Naizghi never met me before and after he scanned me from head to toe, he asks,

“Are you the news reader on duty?”

“Yes,” I said.

May be I was too small for his eyes.  He didn’t look convinced.

“You listen now! The paper I am giving you is very important and you will have to read it with forceful voice!” he said and I felt as if he was telling me that I wasn’t capable of presenting it in the way he wanted it. 

“You have to read it properly!” he said – again reminding me to put force in my voice.

“OK,” I replied while wondering about contents of the paper.  I was more interested in that and almost lost my patience when, passing the piece of paper, he said, “Let me hear how you are going to read it!”

The anger I felt must have shown on my face.  I was being treated like a beginner by a man who happened to be a new comer who had no clue or experience in the business of media.  Fortunately, Ali Abdu came to the rescue and said, “May be you don’t him but he is one of the most experienced journalists around.” 

“Is he?” asked Naizghi while scanning my person from head to toe.  I took the piece of paper and left the office. 

I was so impatient to read the contents of the paper that I was reading and running at the same time.  I was so shocked and asked myself, “And all for this… should one sweat for this?” 

I could see that, on top of silencing peoples’ voices, it was about shutting down independent newspapers and, indirectly, blocking the material on PFDJ activities being exposed by those members of parliament.  It was difficult to go on-air soon after I arrived in the studio.  I had to calm down and collect myself.

They (Naizghi Kiflu and Ali Abdu) must have panicked when the broadcast was late.  They probably thought I disappeared with that piece of paper.  They made a phone call to the studio and I explained why I need to calm down before I go on-air.  I delivered my Tigrinya by 7:30 am and went down to the coffee room at 8:00 am.  Almost all staff members were there.  They couldn’t go in and work in their offices and they just sat there talking to each other in small groups.

One of them whispered, “Selie, while you were making the announcement about the shutting down of private papers, they were picking up people”.

“Like who?” I asked.

“Those members of parliament who signed a request for Isayas to hold a party congress,” he replied.

There was nothing to be done.  As far as the government is concerned, we were not any better than those imprisoned and it sent a clear message to all of us. 

“You too will get it – if you say anything!”

All was quite.  Independent papers were shut down.  Voices were silenced and hearts were disheartened.  The whole situation just got from bad to worse.

We were not created to be silenced and imprisoned!

We will work for the rights of free press

May God help our nation and our people!

Solomon Aberra
September 18th 2009

EDITOR' Note:
Solomon Abera; a long time friend of Asmarino, passed away on Nov 30, 2011 due to natural causes.

 
BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS