Shift and Puzzle Waltenegus Dargie
Oh! What a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive
Marmion. Sir Walter Scott
C.S. Lewis’s last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, begins with these memorable words: “In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine.”
His name was Shift and had only one “friend”, a donkey named Puzzle. In this friendship the Ape did the thinking while the donkey carried out the hard and exhausting labours of everyday life without questioning or grumbles. One morning early in the year the pair of them were out walking along the shore of the dangerous waterfall when the Ape observed a lion’s skin floating on the churning waters. With an adventure that nearly cost his life, Puzzle fetched the skin and gave it to the Ape.
This seemingly innocent episode led to the ultimate destruction of Beautiful Narnia, for the Ape dressed the donkey the lion’s skin and presented him to the Narnians as their Great Lion, Aslan, the true King of Narnia. Henceforth, the Ape appointed himself as the mouthpiece of the imposter and began to prophesy in his name. His hideous and ultimate aim was to admit the most vicious enemies of Narnia, the Calormenes, into the Land and to subject the free and talking animals into eternal slavery and speechlessness. This eventually led to the Last Battle between the Narnians and the Calormenes.
The central theme of The Last Battle is that in the final battle between Right and Wrong deception plays a central role.
The allegory of presenting the Dead as a Living to perpetuate ignorance through deception aptly describes the present circumstances surrounding the Ethiopian Prime Minster. Even though the man is a paid public servant and his health expenses are covered by the public funding, neither his health condition nor his whereabouts is disclosed to the public for nearly two months. In an attempt that amounts to a deliberate attempt to confuse, various news portals, both local and international, keep on publishing contradictory accounts.
Remarkably, some of these outlets are known to be closer to the government and claim to have credible sources. Yet some of them tell us that the Prime Minster is in town (i.e., in Addis Ababa) while others claim that he is abroad taking rest. Some of them report that he will be away for a long time while others insist that he will be returning soon. Some imply that a peaceful power transition is taking place while others vehemently deny such a move. And so on…
None of them are able to produce a single image, a single video clip, or a piece of a speech from the Prime Minster that can put our minds at rest…
What is still more puzzling is that not only do these government affiliated news portals (outlets) contradict each other but also capitally contradict the statements given by the government’s spokesman whose own accounts are marked by persistent contradictions. Moreover, each portal claims obtaining the news from a “credible” source as if to imply that the spokesman’s accounts or the official accounts of those politicians who are second to none in closeness to the Prime Minster are not credible or credible enough.
As if to add some more confusion to the game, the UK Financial Times published on August 11, 2012 its own account:
“An African Union official said Mr Meles had been in regular contact with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president and AU envoy to Sudan, during recent negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. He has told AU officials he will be back next month to play a more hands-on role in the next leg of negotiations.”
The British media have been partial to Prime Minster Meles Zenawi for the past 21 years and they are displaying a concerted partiality even in his disappearance, with their words as well as with their silence. But the account I quoted above requires a closer scrutiny.
If this account were not published in a respected journal, it wouldn’t be worth our investigation. But the weight of the label on the journal obliges us to carefully examine three fuzzy expressions and to learn the extent of deception contemporary journalism can exert to misinform…
The first fuzzy expression in the article is “An African Official”. The credibility of this official is vital to the credibility of the news, but the Journal forgets to tell us some vital specifics: what position does the “official” assume? What is his citizenship? Does the person play any role in the alleged negotiation? Where does he get the information?
The second fuzzy expression is the word “recent”. It can mean anything. This may mean April, June, July, or last week. What time span does this term “recent” precisely imply? Without having any idea about the time scale, the paragraph by itself can say anything or nothing.
The third fuzzy expression is the term “he has told… he will be back”. Like the word “recent” this term is incomprehensible without being associated to some context. The first part of the expression essentially requires a time context. The lack of meaning in the word “recent” necessarily renders this part meaningless. If the Prime Minster told the officials in April, then this knowledge does not help us to understand his current health condition. If, on the other hand, he told them last week, then, of course, it says much about his health. If I understand the expression correctly, the second part of the expression makes sense if only we are talking about someone who had been at some place and who would like to return there once again. How else should we understand the term “come back” unless he had already been there? In which case, this expression refers to a setting before May or April, before the Prime Minster was in good condition.
Even if we were to believe what the Financial Times wants us to believe, we would be in great danger. Think of what the paragraph implies. The entire nation is under an agony of suspense because of the disappearance of the most important person in the country, and yet, this same person is enjoying secrete political dialogues quite unmindful of the agony of the nation he is leading! What a diabolical cunning.
In The Last Battle, the Narnians finally come to their sense (after much destruction) and start to question the authenticity of the lion and demand to closely inspect him. The Dead cannot imitate the Living forever. When the Ape realises that he can no longer ignore their request, he disown the donkey and publicly accuses him of misleading the multitude.
When in the end the truth comes to light, it will be inevitable that those who purposely misinform us will point fingers on each other and accuse and disown each other. But it will be for nothing.