Ethiopia: the business of telling it like it is not

The recent deceit masterminded by Ethiopian foreign ministry on a non-existent 20 million Australian dollar didn’t go that far before it was exposed as a blatant lie. While building schools in any part of the country is a noble undertaking, putting well meaning young people in the line of propaganda will only go that far. The Minister of Foreign Affairs who was “very busy in talks over GERD” finally came out on social media with a subtle confession and kind of blaming the young girl for “mistake” that “originates from innocence not maliciousness.” But he warned: “We should not write inappropriate things.” Advice well taken! Hoping the Minister will return the favor.

However, that kind of behavior the Minister likes to call mistake is deeply rooted in his office.His predecessor’s infamous press conference in April 2002 on a Saturday afternoon was a classic example. The then head of diplomacy Seyoum Mesfin declared the town of Badme has been awarded to Ethiopia by the Boundary Commission set up to delimit the border following the dispute with Eritrea over the chunk of land. To add insult to injury, the public was ordered to rally in support of the “historic decision”. Alas, it was a matter of days, if not hours, before truth was unearthed.

dr-debretsion-gebremichaelUnfortunately, lies have become the fabric of every propaganda sugar-coated as news. A day hardly goes by without the government or the party affiliated media distort reality in the name of development journalism intended to give a rosy picture of the country.

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) is one among those vying for the top spot in this dishonest exercise. The other week the launching of the 4G mobile network took center stage in the media event. The Agency quoted the Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Dr Debretsion Gebremichael as saying that Ethiopia is one of the few African countries to have introduced the technology. A number of other government and ruling party media outlets echoed the story. Is Ethiopia really one of the few? A search on the Internet however tells a different story. Close to half of the countries in the continent already use this latest iteration of high-speed connection. One can only blame them for not making a big fuss over it.

Ethiopia can boast of developments in various areas but mobile technology is not one of them. Control rather than business driven government monopoly on the sector has made it impossible for the public to reap the benefits of advances in communication. A New York Times article earlier this month that looked like a sponsored story couldn’t help that state of affair when they say :“The internet is frustratingly slow and telecommunications are largely not reliable.” Talking international ranking in the sector would drift us far from the issue. With all these facts, it is anybody’s guess how the country can be “one of the few” in the continent.

To understand the level of white lies it is enough to conclude with this eulogy penned apparently on the commemoration of Ethiopia’s late autocrat on the second anniversary of his death. “The oppressed people of Africa and the rest of the world remember August 22 with a broken heart because that’s the day when they lost their pillar, advocate and defender.” This didn’t come from a neighborhood ruling party operative but from a former head of ENA, arguably the oldest news agency in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fortunately for Haddush Kasu, the whole state machinery works in that mode, so his is not such a big deal!

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