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ESAT erred. Why it should not have issued a statement.

ESAT should in no way be manipulated by ethno-nationalists

January 27,2017

ESAT issued an apologetic like statement. It’s shard on Facebook timeline yesterday and has got well over 83,000 views in less than 24 hours. Presumably, many more thousands viewed it on other platforms including on its website. But, how did many Ethiopians who happened to view the video felt about it? Outraged.

Context and content of the statement need to be highlighted before remarks on why Ethiopians are rather outraged by it. ESAT interviewed Professor Haile Larebo, Ethiopian Historian who teaches at Morehouse College in Atlanta,Georgia, this month.

Professor Haile Larebo used two descriptive terminologies -“galla” and “eregana”- in the course of the interview at a point where he was making a reference to Oromo in Ethiopian history. “Galla” is now politicized as a derogatory term and is no longer in use. However, the reference was made in a historical context and for purposes of elaborating topic that was in discussion. Unfortunately, radical ethno-nationalist activists politicized the interview. Many activists wrote an ultimatum like status updates,blog posts and what not, and called for an apology. Consequently, professor Haile Larebo was contacted for clarification about those terms. He clarified the intent and usage of the expression with additional biblical references. That was not enough apparently,for the radical Oromo ethno-nationalist activists.

A statement had to be issued. The statement says that it is issued on grounds of “complaints from many Ethiopians” about contents of the interview with professor Haile Larebo. It, rightly, stated that views and opinions expressed in the interview do not reflect ESAT’s stand. But again it went on to state that stands and expressions used in the interview with Professor Haile Larebo “offended the dignity of Ethiopians.” Clearly, the statement is tantamount to apology.That is where it erred.

Two reasons,at least. First, it amounts to discounting the entire interview with Professor Haile Larebo, even questioning his profession. At the same time, it let the interview fall within the framework of current ethnic politics which already wrecked havoc to Ethiopia as a country. Secondly, it amounts to patting the back of belligerent,now, radical Oromo ethno-nationalists whose modus operandi is playing the sensitivity and emotions of Oromo youth. These radical groups are already dictating what a conversation on Ethiopian politics should look like.

Why ESAT decided to issue the statement? Perhaps, there are reasons beyond “complaints from many Ethiopians.” ESAT, as a new media, has its own survival struggles and may be it did not want to lose any audience. It could also be sort of an administrative decision in light of ESAT Oromiffa program staff who are rumored to be under constant pressure from the radical groups for working in ESAT. In fact, how well ESAT Oromiffa program is impacting Oromo youth,a manipulable support base for radical Oromo ethno-nationalists, is a question in itself.

What ever the reason is , no question that ESAT erred. However, Ethiopians need to see this matter only as a mistake and should not overreact. It is rather important to think in terms of how to make ESAT better by way of providing feedback or all other necessary support. Abandoning ESAT is not a better option seen from the trajectory of the interest of Ethiopia.

ESAT on its part needs to stick to principles of journalism and, more so,to the interest of Ethiopia. ESAT is a media that prides itself as “an eye and ear of Ethiopians.” True, it has become relevant at least in terms of sharing information which is otherwise stifled in Ethiopia. It is for that reason that Ethiopians have been supporting it financially or otherwise. Most Ethiopians who use ESAT as a source of information have made financial contributions at least once -not to mention other forms of support. The media is still relevant given the political situation and repression of free press in Ethiopia. That is why Ethiopians need to think about how to make ESAT more relevant for Ethiopia in all its forms. It is the better option.

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