The absent media

By Mikael Deribe / March 15, 2008
I am among the thousands of Ethiopians who were astonished after reading an article entitled “33 years of TPLF and 32 years of Meles Zenawi: Suppression in the name of Liberation” posted on Ethiopian on February 27, 2008 co-authored by Tesfay Atsbeha, and Kahsay Berhe who regret to have been members of TPLF before it was taken over by anti-Ethiopian elements. These two genuine Ethiopians have once again exposed the mobsters who have so far gotten away working in the name of Tigrayans, all out against the rest of the Ethiopian people. This well written and astounding article has hopefully re-stimulated our senses to the nature and daily actions of the clique in power.

However, I also hope that we now realize that it is few of us Ethiopians in the Diaspora, who are privileged to have access to information such as the ones contained in this article. We must express our gratefulness to the authors of this seminal article for opening our eyes to see the nakedness of the current regime’s art of keeping the populace in the darkness of ignorance to the benefit of the regime’s Machiavellian iron clad hold of power.

Living in a world where the flow of information is at its optimal, the more we read and hear about the oppressive regime of EPRDF, we realize, how much we do not know, and how our intelligence is being bombarded by ignorance every single day. The co-authored article sent painful shockwaves through my brain that stimulated me to imagine the darkness, literally, the darkness in which our poor people are forced to live. It led me to wonder what percentage of the supporters of this regime would still support it if they become truly aware of the evil deeds of its anti Ethiopian leaders, and the way they are being fooled by deliberate misinformation.

I am now assured that, although we Ethiopians in the Diaspora have achieved a lot, there are essential elements our peaceful struggle have so far failed to set up. One such essential element is our inability to counteract the suppression of the flow of information to Ethiopia by establishing a powerful media - perhaps from a foreign nation - that would educate and facilitate the needs of the peaceful struggle in its homeland. This lacuna is one that continues to distress me.

Upon the release of the leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, in a press conference with “government journalists,” in a response to a question about the June and November 2005 disturbances, Mr. Zenawi said “We had formed an impartial inquiry commission, they have done their research independently and they have affirmed that the government did not use excessive force!” Throughout the press conference, Mr Zenawi attempted very hard to convince our people that CUD leaders have apologized to the government and the people of Ethiopia. The government media also worked relentlessly to make sure Mr. Zenawi’s misinformation is spread throughout our nation.

Now, there is absolutely no need to disclaim Mr.Zenawi’s ridiculous statement as most of us in the Diaspora know the real findings of the inquiry commission that was formed to investigate the June 7th and November 1st, 2005 disturbances and that CUD leaders had nothing to apologize for. But when Mr. Zenawi uttered one of his many blunt and obvious lies, he has targeted a bamboozled audience. The defenseless victims of pure propaganda are the Ethiopian people who live in a closed society where an alternative information media is almost inexistent.

Not long before Mr. Zenawi ordered the arrest of opposition leaders and unleashed his private soldiers on our people, he criminalized private press, and took over most public media outlets in an effort to conceal the apparent political truth from the millions of people his party claims to govern. Through the government- controlled Ethiopian telecommunication center, even cell phone text-messaging was blocked or disabled in a move to cut off people’s means of communication during the popular civil disobedience that shook EPRDF’s government from its ground. The motto was blocking any counter information that exposes the tactics of deception, by any means necessary.

At the time, Mr. Zenawi had surely figured out that media is more important to the CUD than it was to the government as the only source of power the opposition has is the support of the Ethiopian people and without a means of mobilizing its support, it is destined to be ineffective in its march to a genuine Ethiopian democracy. Therefore, to prolong his hold of power, Mr. Zenawi made independent media inaccessible in Ethiopia. After imprisoning the editors and publishers of most independent newspapers and magazines, Mr. Zenwai’s government then blocked Ethiopian websites that made independent news available to the few people in the country that have access to the internet. Recently, the government exerted its effort to deafen our people by jamming VOA and Dutch Welle Amharic and Oromigna broadcast to Ethiopia for a period of time.

In spite of the regime’s concerted efforts to block all the media, I admit the work of few media outlets such as VOA and Dutch Welle German radio, which, by the way, are broadcasted to Ethiopia in Ethiopian language for the sole purpose of advancing the respective nations’ foreign policy in that area of the world,

As one of the top dictators in the world, Mr. Zenawi has done his job perfectly – to keep our people in the dark and conquer as long as the worsening political atmosphere permits.

The absence of Media and its visible shortcomings

Given that the heart of the struggle is in Ethiopia, how much was the struggle affected due to our apathy to keep true information flowing to our people? Our indifference is manifested in the following visible shortcomings of our disorganized politics.

  1. The opposition’s unconcern to attentively respond to government misinformation is evident in the prime minister’s arrogance and confidence when making obscene false statements on the government-controlled media and the fact that Ethiopians (including the regime’s supporters) have not so far fully realized the potential of the danger EPRDF poses to our nation manifested in the history of this criminal organization.
  2. Our people in the Ogaden region are still being torechered, killed, publicly hanged, and raped. In its quest to duplicate its crimes in Gambella (kill the masses away from the eyes of the international community,) the regime ordered foreign aid workers and journalists to leave the area to conceal the horrifying atrocities committed there. At this time, I am certain that our people there need our solidarity and re-assurance that their misery is not caused by the simple fact that they are Ethiopians or it is not perpetrated by the people of one whole ethnic group, but by few thugs who managed to control our nation. Sadly, we were unable to converse with our people due to the absence of an alternative media which would have the potential of changing the direction our nation which is driven by the cruel clique in power.
  3. The 74 million Ethiopians whose nation’s faith is decided by few unelected dictators were also in the dark about the Ethiopian land that was recently handed to Sudan. Yes, our people were never told that Mr. Zenawi has handed a piece of our land to Sudan right before his meeting with Sudan’s president Mr. Omar Albeshir when he promised the “return” of more land to Sudanese farmers. Few Ethiopians in the Diaspora were informed about this treasonous act of Mr. Zenawi through a media out of Sudan. Our people cannot be more disadvantaged due to the absence of media than to be in a position they are unable to know about their land being reduced slowly but surely!!
  4. On December 11th, 2007, when Engineer Hailu Shawel released his controversial press release in which he suspended five of the CUD party’s high level delegates to the United States, the spokesman of the party Dr. Hailu Araya and other officials wanted to put out a response press statement in Addis Ababa, however, the government warned hotels that they will be punished if they offer a venue for the CUD officials to talk to journalists. When the leaders proceeded to talk to the press on the streets, they were told by the police that they were not a legal entity and not eligible to communicate any information to the press. Thus, the absence of a means to communicate with our people had made CUD unable to at least communicate the truth behind its internal conflicts let alone waging a full scale peaceful struggle utilizing the people’s power.
  5. Recently, the regime that tried to preach to our people that Ethiopia is a nation that is only a hundred years old and a prime minister who tried to portray our flag as “just a piece of cloth,” a government that clings to power by inciting ethnic and religious hatred among our people, and a government that gives away our land to foreign nations as it wishes shamelessly and suddenly presents itself as the preserver of Ethiopian sovereignty, of Ethiopian history and legacy and of Ethiopian freedom in a desperate attempt to misinform our people and quell the popularity and true aspiration of HR2003. The regime tried to use what is dear to Ethiopians (their long history of independence) in an effort to deceive our people in to denouncing HR2003 – The Ethiopian Human Rights and Accountability Act of 2007 unanimously passed by the United States congress. Unfortunately, the opposition had no means to prove the facts and communicate the truth to our people. We utterly failed to combat this information with viable counter information, in the conspicuous absence of a powerful media.

These astonishing facts point to one direction, the establishment of a media committed to truth and unafraid to share it with the Ethiopian people as Niccolo Machiavelli taught us “one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”

Some may say that broadcasting a radio program from outside of Ethiopia is expensive and hence unaffordable by the Ethiopian Diaspora. If this is true, I would be deeply ashamed to say that the descendants of a people who have maintained their independence for more than three thousand years have evolved into a lethargic society who can not even pay the least sacrifice to have a voice of their own. If we have evolved into a people who cannot meet the expense of telling the truth to the imprisoned mass of Ethiopians, we sure have become a society not only unable to free itself but also one that does not deserve the privileges of liberty. However, the root of the problem is not that transmitting a radio show to Ethiopia is unachievable; the real problem is that our struggle is not coordinated and dedicated action strategists are inexistent.

It is high time that we realize that “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” 2 If we are to change the status quo that is disastrous for the people and advantageous to the few cruel elites of a third world nation such as ours, we must realize that whenever the illusionists twist the minds of our people, we should be ready to untwist their frame of mind. Whenever our great history is devalued, we should retell the legends of the Axumite Kingdom and the legacy of king Lalibela, the bravery of Emperor Minilik and Atse Theodros as well as the sacrifice of Atse Yohanis to protect the sovereignty of our nation. Whenever they attempt to derail the pride and confidence of our people, we must stand ready to restore it right back and even build it tougher. We must realize “the one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not.” We need to preach civilized politics to our people and propagate the use of the spirit that Kinijit has instilled in our people- the spirit of change, the spirit of democracy, and above all, the sprite of unity.

The Ethiopian people deserve a media that speaks truth to power. Without media, we have been declared defeated when we were victorious, we have been labeled killers when we were in fact victims, we have allowed them to tell us earth is flat and could not reason but listen, and our history was insulted yet we remained silent. Generally, our conscience was held hostage because we allowed it!!!

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