Ethiopian radio host Meaza Biru says that she never had a career in radio in mind when she was a child. She never particularly liked being in the spotlight and had little confidence in her talent for writing or speaking. After working in various journalistic contexts for different institutions and after having founded a PR company, she is now the host of the popular and successful radio station Sheger – and thus the third woman to be introduced to you as part of the article series “Ten Inspiring Ethiopian Women”.
Meaza Biru was born in Addis Ababa in 1958, but grew up in the small town of Hirna which she describes as a “wonderfully diverse community”. Because her parents worked as successful entrepreneurs, Meaza describes the family as rather wealthy. She remembers how her father, who was a reading-enthusiast, used to bring home newspapers to encourage her to read and to let her feel that he had high hopes for her. “Even though he died when I was in high school, his belief in me kept me going even when I doubted myself,” Meaza recalls. When she had to leave home after elementary school to attend a Catholic boarding school for girls, she entered a difficult period, but one in which reading was a “constant companion”. She planned with two to three books for each weekend, and read newspapers such as Addis Zemen and Yezariyitu – „an unusual habit for a girl at the time”.
In 1978, at a time when Ethiopia´s political situation was particularly frightening to students, with Derg regime´s “Red Terror” campaign claiming hundreds of thousands of lives, Meaza Biru graduated from high school and enrolled at Addis Ababa University, although she did not yet know exactly what she wanted to work towards. So she lived one day at a time, not finding much to like about university, but staying enrolled for the literature classes. In her senior year, she came into contact with radio for the first time by pure chance as theatre students wanted to pick up her dorm mate to record a radio play. She was not there, so they persuaded Meaza to record the part and the starting signal for Meaza’s journalistic career was given. After graduating, she initially worked for government-related media, as a sports reporter, the editor-in-chief of the magazine of the National Bank of Ethiopia, and the press officer of the new government´s foreign ministry. Along the way, she freelanced for the Radio Ethiopian Ehud program, the only station at the time that was dedicated to entertainment and not solely to military-revolutionary government propaganda.
After a few more stops, Meaza’s husband got the opportunity to start his own radio program, which he seized together with Meaza and other colleagues. The resulting Chewata program later became Sheger FM, Meaza and her husband’s own station, on 3 October 2007. “Sheger had tostart from scratch. It was an exciting energizing and draining experience, full of highs and lows,” Meaza describes. At first, it was not difficult to stand out from other broadcasters because there were only two alternatives to Radio Ethiopia. Today, however, Meaza says Sheger always has to be current and creative because other stations are copying the format. “We want Sheger to offer the public something they have never heard before, something they can learn from, and something that entertains them and makes them laugh.” Sheger also provides a platform for the hearing community, giving a voice to all those who are otherwise rarely heard.
„Being a woman in Ethiopia brings extra challenges. I believe that Ethiopian women are greatly underrated. I urge girls and young women to educate themselves, whether through school, their own reading, or teaching each other. They shouldn’t accept standards and boundaries set by culture, tradition, religion or society in general. They shouldn’t create boundaries for themselves either. They should listen to their hearts and understand that what they want will take time. Not everything happens right away.“