Originally posted on May 10, 2012
Awramba Times (AT) is back! This time it is not the 24 pages tabloid, but an online journal that is just joining the ever growing Ethiopian blogosphere. Awramba is not completely new to the online world though. Its print edition used to be available on some other sites in what is known as PDF format. They were even contemplating the sell of electronics copy of the paper through email subscription. Unfortunately that idea never took off.
AT was established in March 2008 after the release of its editor-in-chief Dawit Kebede from the Kaliti prison where he spent 21 months. His crime was to be a publisher of another defunct tabloid called Hadar. The charges were the all too well known clichés of genocide and outrage against the constitution.
Awramba was becoming popular and the circulation grew quickly averaging 7,000 copies which is a big deal for an Ethiopian private press. However, the issues entertained in the paper were unsettling for the revolutionary democrats at the Menelik Palace. As a result, the Amharic weekly became a regular subject of smear campaign by government and other ruling party affiliated media. The paper’s deputy editor-in-chief Woubshet Taye was arrested on terrorism charges in June 2011 and sentenced to 14 years in prison and ETB 33,000 fine. In November 2011, Dawit Kebede had to flee the country, effectively shutting down the paper.
Awramba’s and Dawit’s fate has a striking similarity to the other once popular Amharic weekly Addis Neger and its editors who had to flee en masse in December 2009 after a repeated threat of persecution from ruling party henchmen. Bizarre as it may sound, two years after they had fled the country some of them were charged with terrorism.
Hitting it online…
Awrambatimes.com was officially launched over the weekend. The bilingual page has all the features a modern day website can boast of; text, pictures, video and the likes. The page shows how the editors put an enormous amount of effort to bring that to fruition.
True to their newspaper background, the website looks more of an online magazine with news, politics, business, sports, entertainment and other columns.
With already established Ethiopian news websites on both ends of the political spectrum, AT has a lot to do to convince readers why they should visit their site. They already have a name recognition on their side which gives them a head start in comparison to dozens of obscure websites whose URL (the www address) can easily be misspelled and lost in the process. Nevertheless, the name recognition can also have unintended consequences. With the success of their print edition back in the days, the audience have built certain expectations of Awramba and meeting them is an ardent task.
Probably the key to that is the originality of their stories. Because the site is based in Washington, DC, it will have to rely on correspondents from Ethiopia.
As the government censors have intensified their web filtering this past couple of weeks, AT will be lucky to escape the prying eyes of the Big Brother at the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) whose sole visible activity is censoring websites of those who beg to differ from the ideology of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).
While there are a number of websites that have been launched over the last couple of years, consistency and perseverance have not always been the hallmark of them. Without sounding cynic, the case of Addis Neger can be a vivid example. Addis Neger with its bloggers both at home and abroad had a very promising start. However, two years after its remarkable launch the story is completely different.
So Awramba will have to sift its way through these hurdles. Nevertheless, the sheer challenges should not discourage them from attaining what they set for themselves.
At last, the launch of Awramba on line should be welcomed in that it adds to the platforms where news and views are shared. It is also a symbol of defiance that the recipient of the 2010 CPJ International Press Freedom Award is throwing into the table. He is refusing to be silenced.
Wish them luck!