Press Freedom in Ethiopia - a blossoming beauty


Worku Belay 06/04/09


Since the birth of democracy began in Ethiopia under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, many people have tried to compare its challenges with the challenges faced by America many decades ago when democracy was still very young in the US.


But how Ethiopia has progressed under Meles leadership the last dozen years is one of the biggest achievements in democracy in Ethiopian history. Especially comparing early American experience in press freedom problems with the Ethiopian experience, it makes us appreciate how amazing Meles Zenawi's administration has performed. It makes us more proud to be Ethiopians.


Looking at history of one of the oldest democracy, the United States of 50, 80 and 100 years ago, the press freedom challenges in America were massive. The US Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) was one of the biggest enemies of free press in America. It would engage in illegal surveillance, investigation, and spying on individuals if the government does not like their beliefs or opinions. And then it would harass, intimidate, or prosecute journalists and editors. During the Jim Crow era in America, police would help or ignore while white people killed black journalists in places like Wilmington and others around the country. Black people were denied all human rights and they couldn't even get their voices respected because white americans were always elected and during the Jim Crow era, even white people who commited crimes on blacks were elected governors. Sometimes the American government would defame and imprison journalists by saying they are communist-inspired or a threat to national security. The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) was established by the government and it led to the criminalization of many journalists which the government said were anti-America. Such tyrannical systems and organizations by America were always defended and their anti-democracy acts were hidden from the public so that America's history is not tainted. Also Espionage and Sedition Acts gave the federal government the power to monitor and intimidate black editors throughout the country. Even the Post office and the FBI use to block the circulation of Black newspapers like the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. If black journalists opposed any American government policy, they were intimidated, faced censorship, torture or imprisonment.



So one wonders, why was the American government this much anti-democracy and anti press freedom at that period?



Supposedly democracy was 300 years old in America during the early 1900s so what was the excuse? Was the national security threat as an excuse, good enough? The American government feared the radicalisation of the small African American population, which is only around 15 percent of the American population. But the big fact was, America's anti-democracy behavior did not have any real excuse. Unlike Ethiopia, America is not bordered with unstable regions like Sudan or Somalia to the south. Just like Eritrea is doing today, Canada was not financing insurgent rebels inside America or invading it. Unlike the Ginbot 7 anti-peace organization which put expiration date on peaceful struggle, the American government enjoyed two permenant peaceful political parties, like the Republican Party and Democratic Party. Not only in security, even in economy, America had a strong economy. It did not inherit one of the most impoverished countries like Meles Zenawi inherited. When America was doing censorship and imprisoning journalists, it was not a weak, sensitive and failing government economy that inherited the clouds of over 1 million death in famine, like the Meles Zenawi government inherited.


So why was the American government deeply anti-democracy during those periods? There is no single answer to this question.


But with its great challenges today from left, right, top and down, the Ethiopian government of Meles Zenawi has shown to all of us Ethiopians that we can achieve great things never achieved before in a short amount of time if we work hard. Today, many dozens of private newspapers and magazines continue to grow in Ethiopia. Meles Zenawi became the first leader in Ethiopian history to help develop such private media. Despite the ups and downs, Ethiopia continues to progress forward. Unlike in America of those previous ages, newspapers continue to publish anti-government articles in Ethiopia and even about the Ginbot 7 organization of Berhanu Nega that has decided to use "armed struggle" and violence. In fact, Berhanu Nega is always seen on frontpages of many private newspapers in Ethiopia today. If it was not for the press freedom system created by Meles Zenawi government, most Ethiopians would not even know anything about the Diaspora-based Ginbot 7 organization. Today, even the radical opposition websites like EthioForum, Ethiopian Review, Abugidainfo and others always post/use articles from private newspapers in Ethiopia like Awramba Times, Addis Neger, Capital, Addis Admass, Addis Fortune, Reporter etc.


Some Diaspora opposition websites have been making jokes to make us laugh recently by using anti-government information from private newspapers in Ethiopia to "expose woyane" one day. But the next day, these funny opposition websites accuse woyane for not allowing private newspapers.


The same way, some Diaspora opposition websites have become very very comical by using anti-government information from opposition officials and opposition MPs in Ethiopia like Temesgen, Bulcha, Merera, Hailu, Beyene etc. But the next day, these funny Diaspora websites accuse Meles Zenawi for not giving freedom to opposition officials in Ethiopia. Such jokes by the Diaspora politicians have been showing us how amazing the Meles Zenawi government has become. With over ten legal opposition parties, Ethiopia has one of the biggest number of opposition parties in the whole world. Not only that, the dispersion of views of opposition parties in Ethiopia (some legal opposition groups want to return Amhara rule, others want to separate Ogaden, others want to make Oromiffa official language, others want to work with Eritrea, others want to take Assab from Eritrea, others want to remove ethnic federalism, others want to increase ethnic federalism) has showed that Ethiopia is slowly becoming the most free and the most pluralistic government in the world.


Soon, we will challenge South Africa for the biggest and most progressive press freedom environment in all of Africa. All of this achievement should make all Ethiopians and the Meles Zenawi leadership very proud. I ask the Meles Zenawi administration to continue improving this progress more and more.  We know there are big challenges and we can not be blind to these challanges. Even In recent weeks, the propaganda by Ginbot 7, the cyber-tiger, selected about a dozen commanders of our Ethiopian ARMED forces who appear to have Tigrayan names. It ignored many other dozens of commanders in our country's army with that seem to have non Tigryan names. It convinced itself that ignoring the other many dozens of non-Tigrayan commanders and top officials would fool Ethiopians into thinking that Ethiopian army does not reflect the Ethiopian society. But it was unsuccessful propaganda. Comically, (after the ethnocentric Ginbot 7 cried day & night about its “Amhara” and other G7 supporters imprisoned) the Ginbot 7 continued its propaganda by accusing Meles of being ethnocentric. But during ALL OF THIS Ginbot 7 weak propaganda, almost all private newspapers in Ethiopia (especially Awramba Times and Addis Neger newspapers) were actively reporting the day to day activities of the illegal Ginbot 7 organization. Most Ethiopians were never fooled by Ginbot 7 propaganda and we can only honor Meles Zenawi's achievement to set up the foundation for such a growing private press in Ethiopia that has really made us proud.


When Meles Zenawi quits his post  soon, there are many ways that we can honor our great leader. One of the ways will be by setting up foundations in the name of Meles and press freedom institutes in Ethiopia that will forever honor the achievements of the father of Ethiopian democracy.  Meles has given us a whole new reason to be proud of our motherland Ethiopia.