URJII was first launched as a weekly monolingual news paper in March 1994; and later became bilingual by including a biweekly English publication. The name “URJII”, which is from Oromo Language, and is the equivalent of the English phrase “The Star”, was chosen at least for two reasons. One is the natural implication that stars shed light of their own on darkness; and that information is as illuminating as the light from the stars. The second reason was strategic. We wanted to take advantage of the then existing vacuum of media, due to what were believed to be historical and political reasons, by associating ourselves with and attract the readership of the Oromo Nation, which was the biggest in size but hardly represented in the media. Our strategy was, indeed, very effective.
Nevertheless, this strategy never impacted on URJII’s professional performance. URJII served all societies, nations and nationalities of Ethiopia absolutely equally. As a result, URJII became one of the most popular newspapers in the country within a very short time. And, this popularity won URJII the opportunity to participate in what was termed as “International Visitors Programme” organized by USIA (United States Information Agency), and brought together twenty-five journalists from twenty-five different countries in the world, seven of whom were from Africa. URJII was the only independent media from Ethiopia to be chosen and invited to participate in the Programme. The month-long workshop and seminar on “Civic Journalism” took the participants to eight different states in the United States where they toured various media organizations and shared experiences with journalists working in those media.
URJII was also able to attract in a very short time the attentions and interests of various national, regional and international media, human rights, humanitarian and development agencies as well as diplomatic communities.
Unfortunately, this popularity, which is indeed a blessing, happened to be a curse to URJII. It also attracted the attention of EPRDF/TPLF’s authoritarian regime, and made it become very heavy-handed. Right from the outset, the Government launched a multi-faceted and uninterrupted campaign of intimidations and harassments against the Newspaper. The intimidations and harassments included frequent arrests and detentions of editors and managers, continuous charges and trials, impositions of huge fines and deposits for bail, restrictions of distribution lines, harassments of local correspondents and distributor agents, etc. Not satisfied with these, in October 1997, the Government apprehended all editors, management officers, and even shareholder; and sent them to prison, where they were held for almost four years; only to eventually be told that they were innocent. With that gross and severe action of the EPRDF/TPLF government, URJII Newspaper went out of publication.
A journalist named George Parker (name might be misspelled) visited URJII in 1996. He was from New York. After about three-hour off-the-record conversation with the editor-in-chief of URJII, said, “When I heard about you being in New York, I thought that I would find you in one of the biggest and well-equipped buildings when I come to Ethiopia. I am surprised to learn that you do such an enormous job in such a small, poorly facilitated office.”
Life has never been comfortable to URJII, its publishers and journalists. But, the tough and rough life never prevented them from doing effective jobs. Once again, after years of disappearance, URJII has re-emerged online and resumed its job of representing the voiceless. We hope that its effectiveness and popularity as well would come back.