They chased me out, and now are chasing my idea – By Bahir Kemal
Edmund Burke, the 18 century Irish statesman and philosopher, once said “there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all;” Burke was referring to Journalism or what we currently call the media. In Britain, the three branches (estates) of government referenced here are; parliament (House of Commons and House of Lords), the executive (the governing party) and the judiciary. This is the same to all democratic states.
Speech, symbols, cave paintings, petroglyphs (caving into a rock surface), pictograms or pictographs (symbols representing concepts), ideograms (graphical symbols representing ideas), these prehistoric words where as books, newspapers, magazine, and records, radio, movies, television and the internets are modern human communication mediums or mass media. The fourth Estate Burke mentioned in 18th century and that was limited to the parliament gallery, the free media, is now everywhere, using all the above medium, not limited by time and space, to communicate with the mass.
Today in the 21st century dictators everywhere are trying to block this free Media that was invaluable in the 18th century democratic society, and still considered as a part of governing body and still is one of government watchdogs for the check and balance.
As free media is as an anathema to any dictator as it is crucial to shaping a healthy society. It is the backbone of a democracy.
Free media needs education, training and law; not draconian law one that blocks free flow of information or used as a pretax to put journalists behind bar; but law that protects them from any harm; free media also needs sustainability and media literacy. However, these will be achieved by creating suitable environments, not by prosecuting, jailing or chasing journalists out of their country or chasing their idea through proxy.
My focus here is not to explain what mass media is; rather, how sad and shame it is when all these mediums controlled by a single organization as of EPRDF/TPLF where no freedom of expression allowed and mass media lost it’s simple meaning , it becomes just government propaganda machine. Our people have been bombarded and are being bombarded by empty rhetoric for the past 20 years. Members of the Ethiopian Diaspora community also are not immune from this lies thanks to Satellite TV which broadcast “ETV” program funded by poor Ethiopian tax payers.
Access to information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation (propaganda of their government). Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them. Pre 2005 Ethiopian general election, there was a relatively better opportunity to achieve the above function. Unfortunately, immediately after the election, the clock turned back to where EPRDF/TPLF begun 20 years ago. In fact it has got worse. What makes the situation worse is that the TPLF/EPRDF regime is acting even beyond the territorial boundary of the country and trying to silence the voice of the voiceless through proxy; the VOA censorship issue is one of the means the regime trying to use to fulfill its ambition to silence the members of Diaspora who are critical of the regime.
Most Ethiopian find out through VOA and DW radio what is happening at their backyard. If VOA and other international media broadcasting to Ethiopia are going to be twisted by the regime the population will be in darker situation than ever. This is not the first time when the TPLF regime is trying to twist VOA’s arms, they brought charges against some VOA journalists after the controversial 2005 election; five VOA employees, Ethiopian-born Americans who have been with the service for several years were among the over 131 political leaders of CDU, activists, journalists who were accused of inciting genocide and attempting to overthrow the TPLF government by force. Later the charges were dropped due to the pressure imposed by the US government on the TPLF regime.
Even though it is obvious that the probability for opposition messages to reach the Ethiopian population is very slim due to lack of free press and freedom of expression, EPRDF/TPFL government worry about opposition influence on the western donors to loosen or eventually cuts the life support of the regime. Without the support of western donor the existence of the EPRDF regime even for a single day is unthinkable. That is why the regime intensifies “officially” to chase the idea of people, who were chased from their country of origin by the same regime.
Western governments worry about the present relation with the current government in Ethiopia which will affect their immediate interest if they are engaged in activities that will annoy the EPRDF/TPLF government. They worry is not for the future; in the future they can deal with any government, democratic or otherwise, until it is willing to cooperate with their interest, as was illustrated by the North African and the Mideast revolutions. That is why we shouldn’t blame western governments for everything. We, the people of Ethiopia, are responsible for our destiny; we have to take the matter into our own hand & show them how we are strong. It is only then that they will come to us.
Still the western governments shouldn’t abandon their core democratic values when it comes to developing countries especially Africa. As Martin Luther King once said ‘no one is free, until everyone is free’. So we have to voice our concern regarding VOA’s move to accommodate the regime with any means, from where ever we are. Our own activist, the executive director of Solidarity movement for New Ethiopia, Mr. Obang Metho, also time and again repeats King’s message.
As many people have written previously, some members of the Ethiopian Diaspora really think or believe that everything is OK back home due to lack of being exposed to unbalanced information. Although we all care about what is going on back home in Ethiopia, due to our exposure only to TPLF propaganda machine, “ETV” which preaches double digit of economy growth, some of us tend to ignore the estimated 5 million people who are in need of urgent food aid at this time. The number was 2.5 million three months ago, it has got 5 million in July and there is no reason that it won’t get more in the days ahead.
Life abroad is not easy to take care of our family here and back home; time is the main issue. That is why most of us are exposed only to “ETV”. It is easy to operate remote control than going online to access online journals, face book, tweeter, Google, etc when you are tired coming back from work. Also there is a tendency among some members of the Ethiopian Diaspora of being indifferent about what is happening back home; in some there is a tendency of giving up because we are already settled here and our kids’ chance to go back is very minimal. In some of the cases, as long as we secure a plot of land for retirement or “business” we do not care much about the rest.
In fact that is what the TPLF government wants us to do; ignore Ethiopia and politics. The VOA censorship is part of this big project by the TPLF/EPRDF to detach us from our people. We should not surrender to that plot. If this is the case we are making a big mistake, we have been raised and educated by those poor people; we owe them wherever we are and whatever condition we are living in. So we have to update each others by exchanging information between us, especially those of us who have chance to have more time than others in the form of phone call, email, family & friends gathering etc. We owe Ethiopia people no matter where we are or what condition we are living in. It is also vital to create and encourage public meeting of political and civic organization to discuss the issue & to exchange information.
We need to avoid suspicion between us; we should discuss the issue at stake by tackling the assignment given us by TPLF for the past 20 years, divide and rule policy. Ethiopian people never surrendered in the past, neither in the present nor will in the future for this policy. Dividing the people by ethnicity, religious, political and social status (DERGIST, NEFTEGNA, and GENTAY) never worked in the past, nor will work in the future. We have a lot of things that unite us as Ethiopians than things that divide us as Dr. Birhanu Nega clearly put it in his address on the historic meeting by Ginbot 7, Alliance Liberty, Equality, and Justice in Ethiopia (ALEJE) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) on Sunday, July 10, 2011 Arlington, VA which is sign of progress of forming strong alliance which can lead to creating government in exile with all stakeholders.
Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. Henry Ford
God the Almighty Bless Ethiopia
The writer can be reached at email@example.com