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Setting the record straight on the misrepresentationsby the Economist

Setting the record straight on the misrepresentations

by the Economist

Bereket Gebru 05-0217

As the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” It has been very common lately to read a piece about Ethiopia on the most famous international magazines. It has barely been a fortnight since the Economist wrote about Ethiopia. It has, however, come up with another one already. Regardless of content, the level of attention it draws from international media helps make people across the globe more familiar with the country.

As pedagogy would have us believe, repetition is core to education. That is to say that familiarity gained through increased media coverage would raise the curiosity of people about the country. Endeavors to quench curiosity’s thirst would probably leave a person knowing the country better. Therefore, at the end of the day, even negative stories about a country could incite the strongest of attachments.

Although I don’t think it is bad that Ethiopia is receiving some negative reports along with a majority of encouraging reviews, I think setting the facts straight and refuting arguments about our country would add to the publicity it is enjoying. After all, prejudices and stereotypes are developed with the accumulation of incorrect facts and we don’t want the slanted version of the truth to be the standard knowledge people of the world have about our country.

My take on the latest story by the Economist regarding Ethiopia entitled “Africa’s House of Cards: Ethiopia enters its seventh month of emergency rule,” only deals with the facts that have been slanted a bit. Despite the fact that a lot of the facts stated in the article are compatible with the reality on the ground, there are a few that have been inaccurate.

The first of these inaccurate deductions is reflected in the title’s kicker that reads: “development now, democracy later.” As clearly stated in the article, the phrase implies that Ethiopia has just focused on sustaining and upgrading development while neglecting democracy building.

In sharp contrast to the arguments by the article, measures taken by a state to quell unrest and instability cannot be a showcase of neglecting democracy. Democracy is something that is built over time through various institutions and the development of a democratic political culture. Even in developed countries that are considered to hold the beacon of democracy in the world, unrests are controlled through the use of state power. As the whole world witnessed during the heydays of the “occupy wall street movement” in various cities of the U.S., the police were deployed to quell the peaceful protest that went on for weeks and even months in some places. The police were accused of using disproportionate force in evicting the protesters who camped outside of major financial centers in various cities. That, however, does not mean that the U.S. system suddenly lost its democratic nature. It rather shows that such measures should be taken to keep the democratic system going.

Similarly, the immature state of Ethiopian democracy could have suffered a huge blow had the unrest, which was not a peaceful demonstration and was armed in some places, been allowed to continue a bit longer. The decision by the Ethiopian government to quell the violent unrest in some parts of the country cannot, however, be proof of the alleged neglect of democracy. It is rather a demonstration of the commitment to keep the peace and democracy building process going.   

The writer also did not include the discussions the government is holding with the people to identify the popular demands that led to the unfortunate events and give them the proper response. The numerous social discussion forums held by local governments, the dialogue forum with opposition parties and the deep renewal program the ruling party has kicked off are all meant to improve inclusiveness and accountability while providing rapid response to chronic social problems. All these measures are indicative of the government’s due attention to promoting democracy, unlike the claims by the writer.

Yet another point that can be used as a testament to the due attention given to democracy in Ethiopia is its long standing adoption of ‘developmental democracy’ as a state ideology. The developmental democratic state puts the emphasis on both development and democracy unlike the developmental states of South and South East Asia. It doesn’t put democracy at the back burner until development is achieved. It rather contends that development and democracy complement each other as one helps the other flourish. Considering Ethiopia is the only country adhering to such an ideology, it is rather bizarre and uninformed for such a big name magazine to accuse it of trying to achieve development by neglecting democracy.

Another reality defying assessment by the writer is that the response by the Ethiopian government to the violent unrest has primarily been economic with it claiming that political freedom has been a thing of the past. As stated above, the government held thorough and bold discussions with the people on the political, economic and social problems that lay at the bottom of the violent unrest. These forums helped bridge the gap in understanding between the people and the government. Accordingly, they are expected to go on as regular programs in the future.

The dialogue forum between the ruling and opposition parties is also another political response by the government. Setting up a platform for discussion between the ruling and opposition parties is also considered an important measure in going forward. Fostering inclusiveness and widening the political platform is a measure already in implementation. The deep renewal program kicked off by the ruling party to ensure an improved sense of social service among its office holders is also part of the political measures taken in the aftermath of the unrest. The program is helping identify and punish ruling party members involved in corruption and rent seeking practices. It is also meritoriously pushing others to the fore.

In light of the above states political measures, the claim that the government’s response to the unrest has been primarily economic is unfounded. As demonstrated through the dialogue forum of political parties, political opposition has not been obsolete; it has rather been given a more pronounced role in the country’s politics.

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