Straight Talk on Strathink

By the Strathink Editorial Team

Strathink would like to address head on the comments made on certain websites that Strathink is a “mouthpiece for the EPRDF” and even more often a “mouthpiece for the TPLF.” We are not. We began as a platform for news about the Horn of Africa but over the last few years began to focus more on Ethiopia and Eritrea. Although we sometimes post news or articles that we think are an important contribution to public discourse about current events in Ethiopia and Eritrea, we also shifted to publishing analysis and commentary in our editorial feature, Opinion Roundup. To be clear, not one of editors are members of any political parties or from Tigray. That is the truth.

Our Opinion Roundup feature comments on both the positive and negative of EPRDF governance and we are unapologetic about the successes of EPRDF that we write about on our website. This is an especially important contribution to the political discourse because most articles written in the past 27 years—by both domestic and international writers—are negative. And although it is easier and more interesting to write about negatives, it is important to acknowledge what is right about a government. Ethiopian writer and surgeon Abraham Verghese wrote in his book, Cutting for Stone, “Not only are our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

And so we begin our commentary today by again pointing out a positive of the EPRDF. In today’s climate of transition—an unsettling period of uncertainty about Ethiopia’s future directions—it is easy cast blame on the EPRDF for all problems related to Ethiopia. It is easy to forget that the peaceful transition of power from Prime Minister Hailemariam to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was achieved within the same party that is excoriated daily for every problem in Ethiopia. We would like to remind our readers of this fact—it seems to be lost in the current narrative.

Our readers will have noticed a lag in our editorials. It has been several months since we have published an editorial for Opinion Matters. Frankly, the speed at which events have unfolded and the number of new political actors on the scene have created a very fluid and uncertain situation with few discernible benchmarks for rigorous analysis. And so we took some time to read, to think and to discuss. Today we write.

Our editorial today reflects the concerns we share about Ethiopia’s direction—both in the immediate future and the longer-term future. We raise these questions in service of the new Prime Minister. Much of what is being written today about current Ethiopian politics by the media is very positive and we are pleased that journalists are moving away from the prevailing dystopian narrative.

At the same time, there are major challenges being confronted by this new administration that, despite their significance, are being ignored by the newly articulated “feeling good about Africa today” narrative. Here are some of our concerns.

Number one on our list of concerns is the increasing hate speech among political groups that has seeped its way into political discourse and popular sentiment. This is perhaps the biggest problem Ethiopia faces today. Why? The genocide of the Jewish people began with hate speech; the genocide of the Armenian people began with hate speech; and the genocide of the Tutsis began with hate speech. Hate speech, left unchecked, creates animosity and fear of “the other.” It becomes the rationalization and justification for violence against groups and individuals.

Hate speech is an especially powerful as a motivator for violence in the age of social media, given the speed and reach of its platform. Twitter and Facebook, in particular, provide easily accessible platforms for spreading fake news and hate-spewed diatribes across the internet. The widespread availability and accessibility of mobile phones in the hands of a younger generation who are unfamiliar with the devastation of war and violent conflict combined with the naked ambition of smartphone warriors is lethal.

It is unfortunate, and unconscionable, that much of this hate speech targets the TPLF and the people of Tigray. The very fact that there was a peaceful transition of power within the EPRDF in a very significant way underscores a significant contribution of the TPLF to Ethiopia’s democracy. The very fact that the government underwent a fundamental change without a bullet fired and government institutions continued to function normally following the shift was a testament to a system put in place by the EPRDF—of which the TPLF has played a major role.

While the country may need some time to reflect on the role of the TPLF in advancing economic growth and democracy, in the meantime leadership from the Prime Minister’s office down to the kebele chairman should urgently address the hate speech that is contributing to violence, fear and uncertainty among the people. This should be primary on everyone’s agenda. While the new leadership has showered kudos on former enemies such as Ginbot 7, Eritrea, the ONLF and the OLF, the new administration, in the interests of peace and fairness, should call out those who  purvey hate speech.

2. Number two on our list of concerns is the rising tide of internally displaced persons (IDPs)—one of the consequences of hate speech. There are almost 2.5 million IDPs in Ethiopia, according to the United Nations, and despite the alarming number, the government has yet to come up with a solution to address this growing humanitarian problem. The government may not have the answers yet to address the crisis—reintegrating two and a half million people into fragile local economies in an atmosphere of ethnic tension is not easy.

The breakdown of government institutions at the local level combined with vigilante justice and the ensuing humanitarian crisis needs attention to both provide assistance to IDPs and a longer-term resolution of ethnic tensions. IDPs should only return voluntarily to their homes when they can be assured of their security. Until then, they should be able to live where they feel safe.

Number three on our list is loyalty to the Ethiopian Constitution. Adherence to rule of law will make or break the current reform movement. There are many ideas being discussed (eg. Ethnic federalism, borders, secession and self-determination, elections, economic reform, language policy) that are legitimate items on the government agenda. However, any changes to take place must be done through the constitutional process. The new administration must uphold the constitution at all costs. The Prime Minister has made it clear to formerly exiled opposition parties that the current government is not a transitional government. For example, calls have been made to postpone election elections because the opposition does not feel it has enough time to compete fairly. That is well and good but Ethiopia’s electoral law requires elections every five years. Without changing the law, there cannot be a postponement of election. Two years is not a lot of time to mobilize a base constituency and develop alternative policy options on the big questions of the day. It is no one’s fault—just a matter of timing.

A fourth area of concern is the high levels of unemployment and underemployment of Ethiopia’s youth. What sparked the crisis several years has not abated—too many young men and young women marginalized by an economy that cannot absorb them. Young Ethiopians have an unemployment rate of 24%–no access to land, jobs or credit to start businesses. These young people are vulnerable to those who seek power through lawlessness and violence. We don’t have an answer on how to integrate the healthiest and most well-educated young people in Ethiopian history into Ethiopia’s economy, but it should be a priority for the government.

It is unfortunate that during this time of heightened ethnic tensions, university students are attending schools in their own regions, rather than across Ethiopia. The original idea for using Ethiopian universities was to provide a platform for students at a very critical age to learn about, mingle with and form attachments to Ethiopians from across ethnic groups. This would create generations of students connected both literally and figuratively to multi-ethnicity. In the wake of today’s ethnic violence, however, it has become a dangerous proposition to encourage students of one region to attend a university in a region located in another. Another the number of students murdered in the name of ethnic tension is relatively low, one student murdered is one too many.

Ethiopia’s youth is on the front lines of the current crisis but are subordinated to serve as pawns for a narcissistic opposition leadership. While Jawar was lucky enough to live peacefully in the United States and attend a university, those young people he seems to control (qeero) enjoy no such privilege. No one is even sure what this generation wants in concrete terms as their mouthpieces are elites with far fewer resources and different experiences. What will happen to this generation of Ethiopian youth while their leaders fight it out for power? What can be done to create a sense of Ethiopian nationalism that will carry the nation past this transitional period of reform?

Our last area to address today is the relationship between the media and the government. It has never been a good relationship. The government did not trust the media and a great number of media platforms served as political party organs rather than legitimate media. The English-language press seemed to have more latitude in expressing criticism of the government but, in part because of the lack of professionalism and blatant partisanship, many non-English publications bore the brunt of the government’s hostility. The Strathink Editorial team, through conversations with journalists based in Addis, detects self-censorship within the journalistic community. The period of goodwill and support of the Prime Minister is still fresh so there might be a sense of giving the new administration a “honeymoon period”. At the same time, there is also an element of fear among journalists that the public and/or advertisers may punish an outlet that criticizes the Prime Minister or his government. Neither situation is healthy for the country.

The country desperately needs training for journalists in order for the press to play its appropriate role as public watchdog over the government. This is the role of media in a democracy. There should be an emphasis on investigative reporting as a means of addressing the abysmal gossip, rumor and innuendo dominating political discourse. Ethiopia’s political culture must be strengthened in such a way that facts and evidence drown out the noise that makes up so much of the discourse.

Conclusion

We want to thank our readers for their patience in waiting for strathink.net to begin publishing again. The rapidly changing fluidity of the situation has required us, as a team, to take more time to read, to think and and discuss current events in Ethiopia. We know that we have not been alone in this pause.

Strathink doesn’t have the answers for the challenges facing this new Prime Minister and his government. The problems are many and are formidable. We will continue, however, to do our part as a member of the fourth estate—pressing ahead to frame the political issues of the day for our readers and, hopefully, for Ethiopia’s leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Twitter @Strathinknet

  • RT @TomGardner18: Astonishing stat from W Guji intelligence officer: 197/200 kebeles (councils) in the zone are currently under OLF control…
    about 9 hours ago
  • Stop #hatespeech. This kind of remark is dangerous and destructive for #Ethiopia. Make sense, Make a useful contrib… https://t.co/VRwOAvjtk9
    about 2 days ago
  • Both Kiir and Machar must go. #South Sudan #IGAD https://t.co/cvRKmdyZpT
    about 3 days ago
  • RT @Omedla: “There will be statues, streets and schools named after PM Meles, but perhaps his best memorial will be the future millions of…
    about 3 days ago
  • .@strathinknet is back! Read "Straight Talk on Strathink" here https://t.co/rnE2rRJTKd and catch up on what we hav… https://t.co/OO0vln8SJV
    about 3 days ago
  • Stop #hatespeech. This kind of remark is dangerous and destructive for #Ethiopia. Make sense, Make a useful contrib… https://t.co/VRwOAvjtk9
    about 2 days ago