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The studio space for Oromia 11 is expansive. This new Oromo media network occupies a newly renovated space in downtown Minneapolis and contemporary art, African beadwork, and lush couches fill the reception space and lobby area. You pass through another, larger open room as you walk toward the studios in the back of the building.
Fatuma Nuro Bedhaso, a public relations specialist who hosts a show about political and social affairs, recently greeted Sahan Journal for a tour. She’d also invited the nonprofit’s board chair and leading backer, Tashitaa Tufaa, an Oromo philanthropist who is also CEO of Metropolitan Transportation Network Inc., which operates school buses across the Twin Cities.
Oromia 11 hopes to highlight issues relevant to the Oromo community: news, culture, politics, and social issues. The station’s debut content is currently available on YouTube and Facebook, and on its website. But after developing a slate of programming, Oromia 11 hopes to make the jump to satellite TV.
Much of this material will come from a newly renovated building in the Gateway district near the river. The facilities include a black-painted studio, an editing lab, and the news desk studio, decked with Oromia 11 blue-and-white branding.
There’s even a green-screen studio, which includes an original portrait of assassinated Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa, painted by local artist Biniyam Raba. Fatuma interviewed the artist in the first installment of her show, after unveiling the painting at the station’s media launch.
Fatuma said that in the interview, conducted and broadcast in Oromo, she asked Biniyam about the message he was trying to send. “He talked about how this painting was different from his other art because he’s emotionally invested,” she said. Hachalu, she added, “is someone that we all looked up to and who was a friend. So we talked about that, and we talked about the importance of nurturing art and our community.”
Born in Ethiopia, Fatuma has spent most of her life in the Twin Cities and describes herself as very active in the Oromo community. For her show, she aims to take on taboo issues, such as child marriages and women’s concerns.
“I’m covering topics that aren’t mainstream, just to open this dialogue at home and in our communities that these things are happening,” she said. “It’s political, it’s social, it’s art, it’s everything.”
Young people help guide the network
Minnesota holds one of the largest Ethiopian populations in the United States. Estimates for the size of the Oromo community range widely from 10,000 to almost 40,000. Last summer, a wave of Oromo activism emerged across the Twin Cities with several large, high-profile protests.
According to Tashitaa, Oromia 11 will focus on highlighting youth voices and sharing Oromo culture with young Oromo people living in Minnesota.
While most of the shows aired so far have been in Oromo, the network plans to air shows in English as well, according to general manager Safi Geleto.
So far, the organization is small, but they hope to grow the operation as they apply for grants. “We are just starting out,” Safi said in a phone interview from Toronto. He describes his role as a kind of executive director, but he was not able to travel to Minneapolis for the launch because of COVID-19 restrictions.
According to Mati Irre, Oromia 11’s technical director, the station plans to host three or four programs per week. Besides the weekly shows, Mati said there also will be a satirical show airing three episodes a week. In the first of these, comedian Abdii Roobaa “interviewed” an actor playing Ethiopian military chief Birhanu Jula Gelalcha in a sketch that made fun of the authoritarian Ethiopian government.
“We have writers on our team, we have producers on the team, we have content creators,” Mati said. “It’s pretty much being driven by young people, and of course with the advice of our elders in the community, to bring new ideas to the entertainment world and media.”
Oromia 11 hopes to reach the large Oromo community in the Twin Cities area—while also thinking of other Oromo hubs in Colorado and Oregon. At the same time, the programmers point to shared experiences among many East Africans immigrants in Minnesota.
“I know what the community needs and are lacking in terms of media in terms of voices,” Mati said. “This group of people that are involved with Oromia 11 want to fill in the gap where other medias are lacking.”