For several years now, foreign media has been selling the regime in Ethiopia branding it as “Africa’s growing economy.” The narrative is backed by numbers from multilateral institutions like the World Bank and IMF. Problem is that stats and numbers does not tell all the stories and realities in the ground.
Monstrous level of poverty that is crushing millions to the ground,and the reference is not just to millions of Ethiopians that are in the streets – homeless and starved- but brutal poverty that lurks in households affecting those living in shanty houses with meager income who are unable to provide a survival meal to their kids, has been missing from narratives of “Africa’s growing economy.” Worse, devastating famine that is consuming well over ten million people, some put the figure to fifteen million, is not adequately highlighted in the story of “economic growth.”
Similarly, narratives as it relate to politics by mainstream media in the west, sometimes in Africa too, exhibit fundamental problems, not just cases of inaccuracies. Some tend to paint the regime in Ethiopia as “stable.” Others draw comparison with Ethiopia’s past in a way implying that the ruling government is “better”, at least better than colonel Mengistu’s government – a story that no serious Ethiopian would buy now.
Clearly, all these narratives are fundamentally problematic, misleading , ill-informed and possibly malicious projected with some kind of intent in pursuit of “national interest” by western countries – be it cultural interest, future economic investment or something else.
And there are some that even turn a blind eye when it comes to reporting on violent repressions by the regime in power. Report in the latest edition of The Economist magazine is a very good example. Last weekend alone, more than 150 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded when forces deployed by the regime used live ammunition against protesters who demanded what could be described as demands for equity and justice (some in fact describe the demands as a matter of survival issues.) Subsequently, the regime mounted crackdown and mass arrest in most parts of Ethiopia where there was a popular uprising. Yet, The Economist ‘s focus in its report about Ethiopia was what it thought is spending priorities for the regime. Only two lines were used to highlight political tension in the country and the it was inaccurate and concealed mass killings.
Impacts of the narrative
Irresponsible,I would say, narratives by mainstream media seem to have at least two negative impacts.
For one thing, apologetic looking coverage by western mainstream media is accompanied by either silence or equivocally lame statements from Western governments. That coupled with the fact that donations and aids trickling from Western countries to exchequer of the ruling party seem to have inflated the regime and perhaps perceived it acceptance to mayhem it has been indulging in for decades now ( and is is getting worse by the way).
For the other thing, consumption of the narratives from western media by emerging well-to-do class, and it takes political loyalty – not to mention ethnic identity – to be a member of this emerging class, which is close to the men in power in one way or another is reduced indifference and cynicism. And the tendency is wrapped in notions of “neutrality” ,”no taste for politics” , “change is a process” “Opposition is unfair to government” “stability is better” and what not. Consequently, messages from this class is usually ambiguous and equivocal, thereby adding pain to Ethiopians. When it is very clear as to which party is exercising military, political and economic power, they do not even dare to admit that Ethiopia is in the grips of TPLF as things stand now. For them, Ethiopia is “stable and growing.” Resistance of Ethiopians not to be decimated by the ruling ethnic minority regime is perceived as a danger to “stability and development.” While it is a case of entirely missing the point as to what constitute danger to Ethiopia, the view is basically akin to the narratives that is projected by media in the west.
Before writing this commentary, I was watching online a panel discussion about “current affairs” on state television ( Ethiopian Broadcasting corporation). Three panelists talked about “Chauvinism” and “narrow nationalism” and what they think is impending danger to Ethiopia if scenario is not changed. Ironically, focus of the panel rather emphasized on framing the popular uprising across the country for further violent attack by TPLF government by way of misplacing allegations of Chauvinism and narrow nationalism. Truth is the ruling party, Tigray People’s Liberation Front, combined excessive proportions of both to build a country where TPLF and its ethnic affiliates get ways with all sorts of crimes ranging from corruption to mass killings innocent civilians to taking away lands from other Ethiopian regions and even attempt to impose identity.
To begin with, I think it is important to bring this to the attention of those who are not too familiar with Ethiopian politics, the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front declared enmity against Amharic speaking Ethiopians at the time of its formation forty plus years ago. Initially, its political objective was to separate Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia and form an ethnic based republic of Tigray. When the military balance was tilting in their favour towards the end of the former military government due to combinations of internal and external factors, TPLF wanted to go ( with advise from their western and Arab backers apparently) along the direction of controlling the the entire country without dropping neither its ethnic based political identity nor their political agenda. They rather formulated a coalition of ethnic based political parties,many of whom are literally creations of TPLF, under the cover of Ethiopian People Democratic Front (EPRDF).
As creations of TPLF, the problem with members of the coalition has been that they proved to be too weak to check outright chauvinism and narrow nationalism of TPLF which manifested itself in the form of apartheid like ethnic supremacy policies economically,politically and militarily.Parallel to that, TPLF under Meles Zenawi designed a policy of deepening ethnic based divisions by way of intensifying hate propaganda against Amharic speaking Ethiopians and also nurturing radical ethnic sentiment among the Oromos. The aim was to develop a substitute for legitimacy problem by consolidating power through, among other means, sapping the energy of the country by exploiting imagined and some minor differences by different ethnic groups. Main targets were Amhara and Oromo. Concomitantly, Meles Zenawi’s TPLF party expanded the geography of its ethnic base Tigay by incorporating areas to the West, East and South of Tigray. One would even wonder whether TPLF was thinking in terms of Tigray within in weak, divided and disintegrated Ethiopia in the horn of Africa as was the original political goal of TPLF before taking power in Ethiopia.
Whatever the intent is, the policy came to be increasingly unpopular. Now ethnic politics is backfiring against TPLF. Unlike the intended plan of TPLF, two of Ethiopia’s most intermingled and largest language speaking groups (Amhara and Oromo) are somewhat living solidarity rather than enmity when it becomes clear, through time, that both are in fact victims of TPLf. Many other language speaking groups in Ethiopia have their fair share, or perhaps more grievances and experiences of atrocity including genocide like experience, in the hands of TPLF.
Now Ethiopians in all corners of the country swung to the stand that enough is enough. TPLF which represents only six percent of the country’s population does not seem to have a chance to further unleash killings and out right violent repression against Ethiopians and get away with it while building its own military and economic power.
Recklessly portraying the growing resistance against TPLF violent repression as a danger posed on the “stability and development” of Ethiopia is disservice and even malicious.
In extreme cases, the movement is depicted as if it is a danger posed against the existence of Tigray and Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians. This narrative is created and distributed by TPLF, affiliates and surrogates. Critically speaking, Ethiopia has never been stable under TPLF. And the movement is not against Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians. It is against TPLF chauvinism, narrow nationalism and all other evils of the administration.
Solution is resolve to check TPLF power and its tyrannical administration. Demands being raised by Ethiopians in the ongoing uprising should be considered as constructive with a potential to fix decades old political and social problems created by TPLF. And the movement is even in the interest of Tigre speaking Ethiopians for that matter. Once the demands are addressed positively, it will be easier to have dialogue about transition.
Anything less and a trick to maintain a hold on uncontrolled power by TPLF unquestionably constitutes danger. TPLF and the people it claims to represent will not benefit from it. Again, Tyranny as a condition of “peace” and a cost of keeping “stability” and “Africa’s growing economy” is not acceptable to Ethiopians.
The writer is based in Toronto and could be reached on twitter : @dimetros