Missing seasoned commentators like Demssie Damte from the Ethiopian media is a significant setback for sports fans, many of whom seem to have been first inspired by Demissie and others like Fikru Kidane, Solomon Tessema, Nega Wolde Selassie, Gorfineh Yimer, Yimberberu Mitikie, Girma Negash, Solomon G. Egziabher, Tsega Kumelachew, and Alemu Mekonnen, but to mention a few of the electronic media reporters.
The 60 years old Demissie Damte has been in the business of reporting ever since he was only 13 years of age. Solomon Tessema, the renowned journalist, had once been to Dire Dawa on duty travel. Demissie was one of those who was on hand to receive him.
Demissie was too shy to introduce himself as he was too young to be involved in such protocol. He helped Solomon Tessema carry luggage to Ras Hotel, whereupon Solomon Tessema tipped him two Birr.
Later in the day, Solomon Tessema met Demissie at the sports headquarters and asked him why he was following him. “Was it because the tip was too small?”
Demissie was shy, while Solomon Tessema felt embarrassed when the same boy was introduced to him as “Demissie Damte” whom he only knew by phone!
Demissie, young as he was, already had a rich exposure to football, after all. The Dire Dawa Cement Factory, Dire Dawa Textile Factory, Ethio-Djibouti Railway Company and other organizations had highly structured and organised football teams capable of producing players who were playing for the national team.
His style of reporting was reminiscent of the style Solomon Tessema had adopted. He soon made a name for himself and become a public figure to be reckoned with in the sporting world. Replacing Nega Wolde Selassie, the sports newsman who had allegedly defected to Eritrea, did not come as a surprise.
Demissie became one of the young sports journalists working in Radio Ethiopia on an equal footing with Solomon Tessema. Demissie learned a lot from Yidnekachew Tessema and other personalities and soon proved to be a full-fledged reporter and online commentator. Live transmission is a duty that demands optimum ocular power, which Demissie was endowed with, until recently.
Demissie is known for a series of acclamations, not to mention financial and other awards. He has been to Athens, Atlanta and Beijing on missions to report on Olympic events, in general, and the Ethiopian fate, in particular.
Once he was so mesmerised by the achievements of our athletes that he got up from his seat and ran wild, overwhelmed by his emotions, and joined the celebrating athletes. Demissie more often than not loses his self-restraint while reporting live particularly when the national football team approaches the penalty box or when a striker makes a useful cross from a flank, not to mention when they score a goal. He yells and screams at the top of his lungs, expressing his excitement and catching his listeners by surprise with his epitome of joy and thrill.
At other times, an anticlimax culminates in a shaky voice of great disappointment and regret. One of Demissie’s sentimental commentaries that proved to be legendary took place during the final match of the 15th East and Central African Cup final match between Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. The Ethiopian side was one goal down until almost the final whistle. Many fans had already started leaving the stadium out of desperation.
As if by a miracle, Mulualem Regasaa crossed the ball from the right flank, which was headed home by Gebre Medhin and deflected by a Zimbabwe defender to make the equaliser! Penalty kicks were given to determine the winner. The suspense was breathtakingly intense. Ethiopia’s fate of losing or winning fell on the foot of Dagnachew.
By some coincidence or historical irony, Dagnachew was also a striker from Dire Dawa from where Demissie had come. The whole nation waited in suspense standing on its toes. Demissie was broadcasting every movement sensationally.
“Dagnu (nickname for Dagnachew) is about to kick and end it,” he yelled as if it was a matter of life and death.
He could not control his personal emotions, as a journalist should do professionally. Demissie was deeply involved.
When Dagnachew scored the winning goal, Demissie yelled “Dagnu, Dagnu, Dagnu gelagelen…!” Meaning “Dagnu relieve us…!”
He was gasping for air. That legendary sound bite has been heard time and again, ever since.
Demissie has been a dedicated reporter who has done everything in his power to dispatch the news to his listeners as early as possible. A case in point is the breaking news of Derartu Tulu wining the 10,000-metre gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. He walked all the way from his home, located near the Germany Embassy, up to his office in the middle of the night, oblivious of what he might encounter, to do so.
Once he was awarded prizes by the Arsi Zone Administration of the Oromia Regional State. Their sports fans were excited by his exhilarating reports and commentaries.
Demissie did not pocket the 5,000 Br he received in recognition of his service. Demissie’s favourite food is raw meat, and he invited everybody in the compound for a lunch of raw meat at Jimma Bar.
(The detail Demissei Damte’s story is taken from Addis Fortune newspaper, issues in 2010)