Tuesday, April 16, 2024
HomeOpinionSilenced by PM Abiy: Will Ethiopian Institutions Also Stifle Constructive Criticism?

Silenced by PM Abiy: Will Ethiopian Institutions Also Stifle Constructive Criticism?

Ethiopian PM _ blocks
The author provided the graphic work

By LJDemissie

Introduction

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital communication, social media platforms have emerged as powerful tools for diplomats, politicians, and public figures to engage with the world. Yet, the use of personal accounts for official business can be a double-edged sword. This is exemplified by the government of Ethiopia, including its new Foreign Minister, Taye Atske Selassie. Shortly after his appointment as Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Taye Atske Selassie blocked a number of Ethiopians on his personal social media accounts, which he uses to disseminate official information related to the institution he leads. This action raises questions about the policy regarding who might be blocked from accessing a government institution’s official social media account.

The Ethiopian Context

For over three years, I have consistently struggled to locate the social media accounts of some of the Ethiopian government’s officials, including governmental institutions, ministers and embassies. After watching a segment of EBC’s news on its YouTube Channel about the Ethiopian embassy in the US promoting tourism in Ethiopia on March 12, 2024, I searched for the Embassy’s Twitter account but could not find it. I then remembered that the Ethiopian Ambassador in the US uses his personal Twitter account to share information and activities of the embassy. However, I couldn’t remember his name and stopped searching for it.

My reason for seeking his Twitter account was to find out how the embassy’s promotion of Ethiopian tourism is integrated with and supported by the digital information on the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Ethiopia’s (MCTE’s) website and social media accounts, which are incomplete and not kept current. How did the embassy equip its attendees to promote Ethiopian tourism among their coworkers, friends, and family members? Did the embassy share the MCTE’s website and social media accounts with the attendees? These questions led me to think that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia’s (MFAE’s) embassies across the world might also have outdated websites and social media accounts.

Personal Twitter Accounts in Government: A Double-Edged Sword

My research found that the MFAE’s Minister, Taye Atske Selassie (@TayeAtske), the Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to the USA, Dr. Eng. Seleshi Bekele (@seleshi_b_a), and the Ambassador of Ethiopia to Canada, Fitsum Arega (@fitsumaregaa), all use their personal Twitter accounts for the MFAE and its embassies’ business. The Minister of MCTE, Amb Nasise Chali, has an outdated Twitter account which was last updated two years ago in 2022. It was used to share information about her tenure as an ambassador of Ethiopia. Her Twitter account appears to serve more to promote her than the institutions she has served. The Office of the Prime Minister – Press Secretary, Billene ቢልለኔ Aster Seyoum (@BilleneSeyoum) uses her personal Twitter account for activities related to her role as the Press Secretary of Ethiopia.

Also, let’s not forget the Minister of Social Affairs, Daniel Kibret (@danielkibret), who has been dubbed as PM Abiy’s personal ‘cyberbully’. Daniel’s use of his personal Twitter account has raised eyebrows. Instead of fostering a civil discourse, he has been known to post harsh messages on social media against critics of PM Abiy and those who oppose the government. This behavior, far from cementing Abiy’s legacy, seems to be damaging his goodwill and alienating him from Ethiopians. It’s almost as if he’s single-handedly creating a divide rather than a bridge. And the best part? He’s doing it all while keeping his critics on their toes, metaphorically barbecuing them with his words. But let’s be honest, history might just remember the fact that he used his cyber prowess not to engage in constructive criticism, but to deter critics by bullying, including unsuspecting authors such as myself. Convenient? Perhaps. Controversial? Absolutely. But it sure does make you wonder about the policies governing who gets the ‘block’ hammer in the Federal Government of Ethiopia institutions’ official social media accounts.

Personal Experience

In a personal context, I find myself barred from accessing the Twitter account of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali (@AbiyAhmedAli). This situation raises a question that strikes at the heart of digital diplomacy. Is this merely his personal Twitter account, a platform where he can exercise his discretion to block anyone? Or does this account belong to the Federal Government of Ethiopia, an entity that should uphold the principles of transparency, accountability, freedom of speech, and monitor the social media accounts operating under its name? The distinction is crucial, as it speaks to the very essence of public service and democratic engagement.

Ethiopia’s Twitter Dilemma

Taye Atske Selassie, also known as @TayeAtske, wears multiple hats. As the former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, he actively used his personal Twitter account to share updates during his tenure at the UN. Now, in his new role as Foreign Minister, he continues to communicate through the same account, resulting in a mixed bag of information that spans both diplomatic realms. My internet search couldn’t find the Twitter account of his replacement, Mr. Tesfaye Yilma Sabo, the new Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations in New York City. 

Dr. Eng. Seleshi Bekele, also known as @seleshi_b_a, is another public figure who wears multiple hats. He serves as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the USA, Chief Negotiator and Advisor on Transboundary Rivers and GERD of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and is the former Minister of the Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Electricity of Ethiopia. His diverse roles are reflected in the content of his personal Twitter account, which he uses, including for official purposes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia (MFAE) the Abay River’s waters sharing negotiations. Also, Ambassador of Ethiopia to Canada, Fitsum Arega, whose Twitter handle is @fitsumaregaa, uses his personal Twitter account for the MFAE, its embassies’ business and his personal matters

The Pros and Cons

The use of personal Twitter accounts for official business presents both advantages and challenges. On one hand, it provides a direct line of communication between these officials and the public, offering authenticity, engagement, and flexibility. On the other hand, it can lead to a conflation of personal and professional content, potentially causing confusion for followers. This raises questions about the transparency and accountability of these accounts. For instance, who has control and access to these accounts? What happens to the information shared on these accounts when the individual leaves their position? These are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed to ensure the responsible use of social media in official capacities.

The U.S. Embassy Model

The U.S. Department of State maintains a consistent Twitter handle, @StateDept, regardless of who the Secretary of State is. The current 71st Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, uses @SecBlinken, which appears to be his personal account, for some Department of State business, most likely for his own historical record. The official Twitter account of the State Department Spokesperson, serving under the leadership of Blinken, is Matthew Miller (@StateDeptSpox). When Miller gets replaced by John Doe, the new State Department Spokesperson’s Twitter account would be John Doe (@StateDeptSpox). Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield uses @USAmbUN. 

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa maintains a dedicated official account: @USEmbassyAddis. Regardless of ambassadorial transitions, the account remains consistent, providing a reliable source for embassy-related updates. Ambassador Ervin Massinga, the current U.S. ambassador in Ethiopia, does not use his personal Twitter account for the embassy’s business. Instead, he uses the dedicated official account, @USEmbassyAddis.

The use of generic Twitter handles by the U.S. government that can be easily controlled, maintained, and transferred to new governmental officials has several benefits for the public:

  1. Consistency: The public can always know where to find official information, regardless of who currently holds a specific governmental position.
  2. Reliability: The use of official handles helps to ensure that the information shared is reliable and comes from a trusted source.
  3. Accessibility: It allows the public to easily follow the activities and updates of governmental offices and officials.
  4. Historical Record: These accounts often serve as a public record of statements and policies, providing a historical timeline that can be referenced.
  5. Engagement: It provides a platform for the public to engage with government officials, ask questions, and express their views.
  6. Transparency: It promotes transparency in government communication.

Blocked by PM Abiy for Constructive Criticism: Will the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Follow Suit?

In a digital age where tweets wield influence and hashtags ignite debates, Ethiopia’s government and its institutions, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia (MFAE), face an intriguing paradox. The author, driven by conviction, dared to critique PM Abiy Ahmed on Ethiopian Easter Day. The consequence? A swift block on social media—a digital iron curtain erected seconds after the tweet was posted. Now, my Twitter profile proudly says: “Banned by PM Abiy Ahmed for wishing him a Happy Easter, despite admiring his heart of gold and his failure to defend the Amhara people from slaughter!”

But wait, there’s a twist. The same author is now sharing one of his research studies, along with constructive criticism and suggestions that could be implemented for nearly all the institutions of PM Abiy Ahmed’s government, including the MFAE and its current Foreign Minister, Taye Atske Selassie (@TayeAtske). This also includes a couple of the Ministry’s ambassadors who use their personal Twitter accounts for the official business of the ministry. Twitter accounts related to the foreign ministry are a mixed bag of UN diplomacy, ministerial updates, negotiations related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and activities from the Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Electricity of Ethiopia. In short, the MFAE’s social media accounts present a complex jigsaw puzzle of diplomatic, dam-related, water, irrigation, and electricity issues that may be challenging to decipher.

From the gut feelings of frustration, the author hopes for a different outcome this time. Will the PM Abiy’s government and its Foreign Minister embrace transparency, preserve continuity, and avoid the dreaded “block” button? Only time—and a few well-crafted tweets—will tell.

Despite the challenges posed by the Federal Government of Ethiopia’s inadequate and inefficient internal control systems, rampant corruption and lack of accountability that have persisted for over three decades since the TPLF’s warlords took power by force, Ethiopia continues to thrive. This is thanks to her vigilant children who consistently monitor her wellbeing without aspiring for any official position or fame. Their dedication ensures that the nation’s interests are always represented. Viva Ethiopia!

Conclusion

For ease of identification, including efficient maintenance, transferability, continuity, and archiving, the Ethiopian government, led by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali, might consider articulating an internal policy and procedure for social media accounts that its employees use for the government’s business and activities. The government faces a delicate balancing act. While personal accounts offer authenticity, the government should prioritize transparency, consistency, and continuity. Let’s learn from best practices, including how the governments of the USA, China, United Kingdom and Russia handle official social media accounts their employees use for official purposes.

On a related note, I recently tweeted and penned several articles on Ethiopian tourism, including one titled “A Wake-Up Call for the Sleeping Giant: An Open Letter to Ambassador Nasise Chali” I shared the link to this article on Twitter, targeting Ethiopian government officials who I believed would be interested in the findings of my research. Regrettably, I have yet to receive a response or even a simple acknowledgment of my efforts. This lack of engagement is disheartening, considering the time and effort invested in the research.

The writer, LJDemissie, who received assistance from AI technology developed by OpenAI, can be reached at LJDemissie@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @LJDEmissie.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I appreciate your inquiry about the extent of the assistance I received from AI in my writing process.

    AI cannot replace my writing skills and experience. However, the assistance I received from an AI is invaluable. Prior to utilizing the AI model, I would have my writings proofread repeatedly by friends, who have limited knowledge about the subject matter, at no cost. This is no longer the case. During my writing process, I no longer worry about the numerous typos and grammatical errors that used to plague my work.

    I have a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of English grammar, various writing techniques, and styles. I also have extensive writing experience. I always have a clear vision of what I want to convey verbally and/or in my articles and how I want to articulate it. Despite possessing these skills for years, presenting my writing to a media outlet had always been a challenging and time-consuming task for me. This is a problem that AI has effectively solved for me.

    The content of my article is a combination of several skills besides writing skills. Writing about this subject matter of my article requires knowledge that business students learn at school and practice during their career. To explain, I attended a business school. I wrote about the Ethiopian Federal Government’s internal controls. In other words, I audited the Ethiopian government’s social media accounts’ internal control systems. My audit, or one could say research, found out that the government does not have internal control systems for its social media data. That is a shame and an “F” for failure. In audit language, Ethiopia has been failing since her officials started using social media. If Ethiopia had to pay me for my article, it would cost her dearly because the work is highly specialized, very expensive, and well researched.

    Consider any sports activity, such as soccer or tennis. To play these sports at a higher level, one needs to love the sport, have a great coach, and practice for decades every day for hours. One must endure soreness every day and remain injury-free. While AI cannot assist with the physical practice, it can provide valuable information on how to practice effectively. This analogy aptly illustrates the role of AI in my writing process. It does not write for me, but it significantly enhances my writing process by providing timely and effective assistance.

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