The other day Redwan Hussein was briefed about the activities of Ethiopian Olympic Committee, an office he is expected to oversee in his capacity as the new Minister of Youth and Sports Affairs. And this week he signed some agreement related to sporting events in the Southern Region. Should anyone care to know such trivial matters? And most of all when these are the tasks one is assigned and paid to do?
But these mundane chores are deliberately given coverage on state media just to show how it is business as usual for the ex-spokesperson.The former biology teacher was unexpectedly transferred from his post of director of Government Communications Affairs Office (GCAO) which used to put him in the limelight. However it is hardly business as usual.
When the Ethiopian Parliament, alternatively known as the ruling party council for its 100% control of the seats (never mind Susan Rice’s laughter) convened, the first order of business was to rubber stamp the appointment of ministers. Prominent among them: the reshuffling of high-flying head of the GCAO to the less momentous post of leading the Youth and Sports Ministry.
To avoid speculation concerning this sharp twist, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn tried to convince a rather suspicious audience saying the Second Growth and Transformation Plan calls for the full participation of the youth and the appointee has the energy and potential to mobilize that section of the society.
For a little over two odd years, Redwan was the official government spokesperson. During the frequent press conferences he acted out the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi more than any other impersonator. He has been aptly successful in looking and acting everything like his idol. In that he was actually more Catholic than the Pope. He surly passed the dedication part with flying colors.Though some tried to argue in the aftermath of the reshuffle that his successor is more competent, merit has never counted as priority in appointing officials.
It seems the squabble within the parties that make up EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front) got in the way of business. Now it became apparent that the dedication and the blind loyalty has suddenly become irrelevant.
GCAO, which sprang up from the ashes of the Government Spokesperson Office of the Ethio-Eritrean war of the late nineties, has become one of the most potent institutions in the country. Under the tutelage of Bereket Simon, the de facto second in command, that office has become a propaganda juggernaut. Bereket set up clones in every government offices; pushed legislations to muzzle dissent ; they even trained Internet commentators on the social media that counter criticisms of government; made sure that he and two of his deputies control the entire state media by chairing their board. That exercise has become a hitherto established tradition: the minister controlling the radio and television; and the two ministers of state leading the press and news agency. Meaning: an uncontested control of the entire state media.
The soon to be built multi million dollar complex housing GCAO, ironically to be located near the Arat Kilo Palace, is a yet another confirmation of the growing influence of that office. As such, along with defense, security and foreign affairs offices, the control of that parastatal has become detrimental. TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), which lost the prime ministerial position when its leader succumbed, was not going to settle for less. In their effort to make up for the loss, they sought the control of that office, and their wish was Hailemariam’s command.
Now the baton is firmly in Getachew Reda’s hands. The former academician has been climbing up the party’s ladder to be member of the EPRDF council. As a spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs, and later as media and publicity minister of state—whatever that meant—not that he is not new to the position, he was everywhere in recent years that it was difficult to tell the exact differences among Redwan, Shimeles Kemal and himself.
All the three positions at the GCAO, that is, a director with the rank of a minister and two ministers of state have been filled. The appointment was orchestrated along party lines. While much is not known about Workinesh Birru, the minister of state representing Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), she is expected to chair the board of Ethiopian News Agency along with other tasks at her office. Last but not least is Frehiwot Ayalew, a veteran of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM). She was a long time editor of the party’s publication and her last position was head of the Addis Ababa Communication Affairs Office. In her new position, she will be heading the government newspapers as a board chair being the heir apparent to Shimeles Kemal. The later, is not yet assigned an official position.
While papers like the pro-government bi-weekly, the Reporter, try to paint a picture of an equal share of the cabinet pie among OPDO, ANDM, and SPDM, that is hardly the case. Crucial cabinet portfolios have always been under the control of TPLF, a reality Ethiopians learned to come to terms with for a quarter of a century. And the last reshuffle once again sealed that undisputed truth with the single act of the appointment of an official.
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.
Unfortunately, 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!
If one steals smart — the logic goes — they should get away with it. Isn’t that the case? However, some try to get as smart, then, they fumble. That’s what happened to the English language weekly The Reporter, when they ripped someone else’s story undeservedly making it their own.
When was the last time we mulled over this subject? Remember the former Ethiopian ambassador to South Africa and Uganda? That was Tesfaye Habisso whom some folks nicknamed Copysso. The gentleman was churning out articles after articles on history, democracy, governance and all the grand ideas. It was not too long before someone exposed him. His strategy was like get a good story; change the title; add a few lines in the beginning; scribble a couple of others at the end; also don’t forget to put your name. Voila a piece! Little did he know that in this age of the Internet one cannot thrive on plagiarizing somebody else’s labour of love. By the way, have you heard from him since?
Here we go again
With two decades of experience under its belt, The Reporter seems to have everything going for them. They publish in Amharic twice and in English once in a week. When others struggle to put together just a weekly, Reporter is the only one coming out three times in that time frame.They even had a monthly magazine back in the days.
As the former Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) fighter and the first post Derg head of the Ethiopian News Agency, the owner, Amare Aregawi is almost unrivaled in getting insider news from his sources in the security and intelligence. As a ruling party cheerleader, they get countless advertisements from leading public enterprises such as the Ethiopian Airlines, The Commercial Bank, Ethio Telecom and scores of others, funneling millions into their coffer. As if that is not enough, even government ministries and the likes of Anti-corruption Commission patronize them by placing ads in the form of messages, all covered by tax payer money.
Reporter’s huge financial muscle prompted them to set up their own printing press a few years ago until the plan went up in smoke, but that is another article.
With all these huge resources at hand, it is puzzling why they have to steal part of a story, the subject of which is closer to their turf than the paper they copied from.
On the July 5, 2014, Reporter English edition a story reads: Confusion circulates over Andargachew’s extradition. A few paragraphs down the line, some sentences that have been seen elsewhere start to pop up.
Unfortunately, those paragraphs were copy-pasted from The Guardian of the United Kingdom, a paper of reference almost two centuries old. It is highly unlikely the two publications share correspondents. Could it be the vice versa? If the time on the page is any indicator, The Guardian story was posted almost seven hours before The Reporter went to press.
Free Press Free Speech Free Spirit are lofty ideals the Reporter took as its motto, but what we got instead was Free Ripping; words not to live by particularly when making hype of your 20th anniversary.
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