The integrity of public writing – By Ephrem Madebo
The recent land mark program change decision by one of the OLF factions has created a political wave that rocked political actors, civic society leaders and everyday Ethiopians from San Francesco to London, from Norway to Down Under and in all localities of Ethiopia. As important and as bold the decision was, the seemingly seismic waves it created should never be a surprise. In fact, the shocking surprise would have been if it didn’t. The news of the event was reported and repeatedly sliced and diced by radio stations, writers, paltlak rooms, bloggers, websites and social media within the Ethiopian community.
The purpose of this article is not to add on what has already been said. The focus of this paper is to have a closer look at Jawar Mohamed’s most recent article – Much ado about nothing – and to emphasize that, as important as writing is in any society, it is equally rather more important that writers check and cross check their facts and hold themselves accountable for every fact that they feed the public. Jawar concluded his article with the following Amharic proverb: “alebabsew biyarsu barem yimelsu”. Well, please allow me to start mine with another proverb: “Be afe yetefu belefelefu”
Before I go deep into Jawar’s recent hearsay article, I want to set the stage and refresh the reader’s memory by re-stating some of the public speeches of Jawar Mohamed. In one of the Question and answer sessions of the 2010 Oromo Studies Association [OSA] annual conference in Washington DC, Jawar framed the following baseless and offensive words in his question addressed to one of the panel members: “Ginbot 7 is a ‘right wing Amhara extremist party”. In the same question, Jawar made a remark that accuses Ginbot 7 as a reactionary party that plots to detract the gains made by the Oromo people. To be more specific, Jawar polished Ginbot 7 as a party working hard to deny the Oromo people the opportunity of learning in their native language. Jawar’s right to speak his mind is protected by the First Amendment, but when the outcome of his mind spills over on others and infringes the rights of others, Jawar has the obligation to explain his discourse or rescind his public statements. Based on the public records of Ginbot 7, I urge Jawar to explain why and how he came to the following two conclusions: a) Ginbot 7 is a ‘right wing Amhara extremist party” b) Ginbot 7 is a detractor of the gains or victory of the Oromo people.
Though I really don’t know what Jawar is opposed to [the new political program of the OLF or how the program was adopted], obviously, Jawar disagrees with the decision of one of the OLF factions’ that adopted a new political program. Here is what he said when he ridiculed the announcement of the new program: “First, federalism, even if more of a facade, is now a two-decade-old experiment in Ethiopia; hence, it’s not clear what this ‘new federalism’ entails. Second, this is hardly a change, as OLF not only accepted federalism during the 1991 transition but was also its leading architect”
“Paradoxically, it is Ginbot 7 and affiliates, who are adamantly opposed to federalism, that need to accept it — not the other way around”
According to his first statement, Jawar seems to be happy with the status quo of federalism in Ethiopia, and most importantly, he seems to be a prisoner of his own doing. First, he says federalism in Ethiopia is more of a facade- which is absolutely true. In the few face-to-face encounters that I had with Jawar, we both agreed that Ethiopia is a unitary state with a mask of federalism. However, when one of the factions of OLF [ the faction that Jawar disagrees with] vows to change Ethiopia’s ‘facade’ federalism, Jawar disagrees and says “this is hardly a change.
I am sure Jawar knows very well that if the OLF-engineered federalism was good enough to accommodate all Ethiopians equally, the OLF would have been at the helm of leadership in Addis Ababa instead of being forced into exile. Besides, if replacing Zenawi’s false federal arrangement with a new federalism is not a change, then what is a change?
Here I see Jawar bending facts to fit his hypothesis, and it is here where the analysis-paralysis of Jawar Mohamed becomes more visible. In just one paragraph, Jawar says federalism in Ethiopia is more of a façade; and then when he wants to defend his position against the General Kemal Gelchu group; he forgets his words above and says replacing TPLF’s federalism is meaningless. I have no problem if Jawar disagrees with the process how the General Kemal Gelchu group changed the long time OLF political program. But, Jawar’s fiery wrath was not aimed at the process. It was aimed at the outcome of the process which is the new OLF political program. Surprisingly, his repeated calls for the Oromos to take center field in Ethiopian politics and his daily reminders for a change in OLF’s political program are the trademarks of Jawar Mohamed ever since he became a public figure.
In his second statement above, Jawar boldly claims that “Ginbot 7 is adamantly opposed to federalism”. Just for the record, I’m a passionate supporter of federalism and I call myself a federalist. By the way, Ginbot 7’s strong determination to build federal structure in Ethiopia is the most important factor that attracted me to join the Movement. Mr. Jawar, unless you consider yourself more Catholic that the pope, please substantiate your claim and convince your readers why you think Ginbot 7 is opposed to federalism.
In one of the most disrespectful and self- humiliating statements of his article, Jawar Mohamed compares the negotiation between one of the OLF factions and Ginbot 7 to the creation of OPDO by the TPLF. Unless he proves himself otherwise, whenever an alliance is created between the Oromos and the non-Oromos, Jawar for some odd reason thinks that the Oromos are always manipulated by the non-Oromos. Is this an output of Jawar’s professional political analysis or just his subjective judgment? Whichever it is, the public is eagerly waiting to hear it from Jawar.
At the beginning of his article, Jawar clearly implies that there are several OLF factions; then somewhere in the middle of his article, he classifies the factions into “core leadership”, “Intellectuals” and “Splinter cadres”. Here we can clearly see Jawar immersing himself deep into the issue discussed forgetting his role as a political analyst. In fact, it is here where Jawar himself becomes a defacto cadre or spokesperson to one of the factions.
I’m sure Jawar knows that present day Ethiopia is the product of the marriage of the TPLF and OLF. Thanks to the OLF leaders, the inconvenient marriage was over before it went too far, and the OLF was forced into exile. Well, it may have taken them a while, but this is exactly what General Kemal Gelchu and General Hailu Gonfa did. They ended their relationship with the TPLF and joined the genuine Oromo struggle- so why do you treat them differently and call them cadres?
In my opinion, this is self- belittling and/or disrespect to the Oromo people. I do understand the OLF is a vanguard Oromo political organization. But, this does not mean that any Oromo that opposes the political program of OLF is OPDO, or the existence of independent Oromo political entity needs the approval of the OLF.
When he explains his ‘OPDO’ hypothesis, Jawar bakes a tasteless political pie that he himself would not dare to eat. First, though I don’t know how he measured the pulse of Oromo activists, Jawar says “Oromo activists are likening this development to the formation of a new OPDO” Then he goes further and says “unlike the prisoners of war that made up the original OPDO, leaders and cadres of this OLF faction, even if seemingly novice ideologues, are hardcore nationalists who cannot be reduced to a subservient role”. Finally, he says “Like their predecessors, Ginbot 7 leaders seem to have taken the goodwill of the Oromo for naivety.
This is Jawar’s yet another superfluous reference of Ginbot 7. I have great respect for Jawar, but I also expect him to produce a well thought-out and refined product that matches his eminence and the respect I have to him. First of all, Jawar’s comment implies that the Oromos are caring and benevolent while others, or to use Jawar’s own words, Ginbot 7 leaders and their predecessors, are two-faced schemers. Secondly, according to Jawar, regardless of whom they negotiate with, the Oromos are always at the losing end of the negotiation due to their own goodwill. I think this is a very poor abstraction that lacks objectivity. Some of Jawar’s misguided sentences such as “Ginbot 7 leaders seem to have taken the goodwill of the Oromo for naivety” denotes that the benevolence of the Oromo people is the source of their own suffering.
Last week when I read Jawar’s unsupported claim on Ginbot 7, I felt indebted to provide this positively oriented suggestion for maintaining the integrity of article writing in our community. Writing with integrity not only satisfies a higher moral code of informing the public, it also helps us create an informed society that is easy to lead, but difficult drive. Fabrication and dissemination of of reports, statements, accounts or speeches is a serious form of misconduct that degrades our collective knowledgebase. I believe it is the primary responsibility of columnists, bloggers, or free lancers to avoid fabricating statements about individuals or organizations. One of the serious problems in our society is that we tend to highly depend on word of mouth information and we almost always fail to check and cross-check facts. As enlightened as he is, I expect Jawar to correct these types of crucial mistakes of our past, or at least not repeat them. Whenever he makes assertive public statements, Jawar must know that like any enlightened person, he has an intellectual obligation of validating his assertions or claims with factual evidences. Jawar must write about our political parties and political culture, and this is what I always encourage him to do. But when he makes claims and tells us factual information, he must substantiate those facts. This and this only is the sole purpose of this paper.
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