Time for VOA Amharic to Upgrade Its U.S. Election Coverage (Alula M. Abate)

VOA Amharic - US Election

Alula M. Abate
March 9,

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had a memorable Super Tuesday last week (March 3, 2020) with a stunning come-from-behind victory in ten states  in the biggest election day of the Democratic Primary competition. In the delegate rich state of Texas, which is home to tens of thousands of Ethiopian Americans, Biden won 60% of the black vote. Historically, the results on Super Tuesday are considered a powerful barometer of the high probability of the ultimate nominee of each political party. In addition to Texas Biden captured 69 % of the black vote in Virginia, which is also home to a sizable concentration of Ethiopian American voters and an incredible 72 percent in Alabama.

“In recent decades, old-style kingmakers faded from American politics. This year, though, there are hundreds of thousands of them: the African American voters across the South who gave Joe Biden a lead in the race for the Democratic nomination,” stated the Washington post. “There appeared to be some regional and generational differences in which candidates black voters prefer. Biden won the African American vote by considerably smaller margins in California, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Exit polls suggested that, in keeping with his strength among young voters, Sanders likely beat Biden among black voters under 30. But Biden won the overall black vote everywhere. Black America, it would seem, has made up its mind.”

Indeed, historians and political scientists  point out that the “interracial, interethnic and intergenerational collaboration that elected Obama and Biden in 2008 and 2012 remains a force to be reckoned with in 2020.

Be that as it may, the question remains where exactly is America headed under the current administration?

Traditionally during an election year the media plays an indispensable part in providing answers while shaping the public conversation and debate, which is the hallmark of a mature democratic system. Regrettably, however, VOA Amharic is failing when it comes to its redundant, superfluous and one-sided Ethiopian diaspora punditry that has remained virtually unchanged for the past three presidential election cycles. One of the major ways the media such as VOA  contributes to the health of this  participatory civic experience is by selecting which commentators to feature when and why. Voters depend on credible information to make reasonable choices, not mulish puffery and agitprop.

Joe Biden’s resurgent victory may or may not be a harbinger of things to come in the general election, but what’s clear is that the sentiments of the democratic party’s silent majority is no longer in doubt. When all is said and done it’s the job of good journalism to help separate the wheat from the chaff and the spin from the propaganda. The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, which is the world’s largest online community and repository of electoral knowledge, illustrates that ”media’s role as a public educator is in essence a combination of media’s other roles (including as “watchdogs,” and “forums for debate”].  ACE specifies that “media as a campaign platform ensures the public is educated in political agendas of all participating parties and candidates equally. “

For starters, the tax-payer funded channel should diversify its Ethiopian-American portfolio in order to present a more balanced election coverage in 2020. Ethiopian American viewpoints are not chiseled out of a single stone. To the contrary, they are as diverse as Ethiopia itself holding very divergent perspectives on various matters both local and international informed by their own individual experiences. The instability of the stock market, the unfolding health crisis, worries about an imminent economic downturn and other local kitchen-table issues as well as foreign policy developments are all driving factors behind the average Ethiopian voter.

On foreign policy, for example, most Ethiopians have become disappointed to say the least by the Trump administration’s recent undiplomatic maneuvers in favor of Egypt in connection with Ethiopia’s five billion dollars Grand Renaissance Dam project on the Nile (Abay) river. The whole backhanded scheme blew up in the face of the Trump administration and Egypt when Ethiopia withdrew from the latest talks being held in the U.S. capital and lambasted America for its insensitive and tactless handling of the negotiations. The Egypt-Ethiopia fiasco follows Trump’s bizarre public taunting of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed two months ago for winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Abiy Ahmed received the distinguished international accolade for making his own deal with Eritrea that ended the longest running border conflict in Africa. Moreover, it was extremely improper that Trump in conspiracy with his head of the Department of the Treasury Steven Terner Mnuchin and  the World Bank reportedly exerted (unsuccessfully) undue financial pressure on Ethiopia to accept a rushed agreement that jeopardized its national security. Regardless, the fundamentals of U.S.-Ethiopia relations remain normal, both countries assure the world, as U.S. insists that its 5 billion cash promise is intended to help Ethiopia’s political reform not influence the Abay decision. Given Trump’s habit of playing fast and loose with the truth, it’s hard to believe what his administration is saying about anything. Some Ethiopians are even urging Prime Minister Abiy to release all documents and communications about the dam discussions to the public in defense of Ethiopia. As Bob Marly says ‘Time will tell.’

In the final analysis, all things considered, it would be a win-win for VOA’s Amharic program and its international audience to expand the networker’s domestic political space beyond current levels and incorporate the overlooked younger voters, as well as activists in the diaspora including volunteers for Biden, Sanders and even Trump (if there are any at this point). Surely there is no shortage of talent among Ethiopian Americans.  It’s time for VOA Amharic to upgrade its U.S. election coverage.

God bless America and Ethiopia!

You can contact Alula M. Abate at abatealula1@gmail.com



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