When Would They Talk about the Interest of the Nation?

When Would They Talk about the Interest of the Nation?

March 15, 2011

It is perhaps not all that worthwhile to talk about scribes who care little about demonstrable facts no matter how much these might be manifestly incontrovertible to the neutral observer. I do understand and realize that, at the end of the day, more often than not, what we make of the facts and how they are interpreted depends on the conceptual framework that are brought to bear, and conceptual frameworks are not always value free. Moreover, it is not always clear which is dominant in the shaping up of attitude: the reasonable and the rational side of us, or the unconscious.

In a recent posting on Aiga Forum, Mequanent argues, referring to our cyberspace combatants who keep on longing for a repeat in Ethiopia of the Tunisian and Egyptian recent experiences, that their condition is a case for psychiatry. Though I agree with the general thrust of Maquanent’s piece, on his characterization of the state of mind of the combatants, I differ__ It appears to me that their condition is incontestably more political than clinical. That is also why what they wish happen to their country__ though a pipe dream__ is so inexcusably objectionable.

One cannot attribute, the total neglect by our cyberspace combatants of how much things have changed in Ethiopia and how much the country is at a real turning point in its history, to a non-political condition that distort perception and impair imagination. Theirs is a case of politics of the most crass type__ á la the recent phenomenon in the U.S. zeroing in on the first African-American President of the United States. No use naming names.

With respect to our own combatants__ who no doubt happen to be more sophisticated and more learned than their American counterparts__ the obstinate refusal to deal with the realty, and to run away from facts on the ground, takes two forms. In the first instance, there is the attempt to smother the facts pertaining to the historic progress made in Ethiopia in the economic, social and infrastructure sectors, through puerile polemics, rendered in ostensibly erudite manner, but frankly, with absolutely no substance at all.

How can one not appreciate the fact that what Ethiopia has achieved over the past seven years is being considered by many a source of invaluable experience that other developing countries can draw lessens from. Incedentlly, that was why the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minster and Foreign Minister was at the United Nations last week. He was invited to give a key note address to the UN General Assembly’s thematic debate on Investment in and Financing for Productive Capacities__ a debate organized by the President of the General Assembly with the view to using the outcome as an input for the IV LDC’s High-Level Conference scheduled to take place at Istanbul a few months from now.

It is obvious that what Ethiopia has done over the past decade or so towards achieving almost all the MDGs is extremely encouraging. But what is equally significant has been the commitment that the Ethiopian Government has shown to enhance the country’s productive capacities in various areas. Just look at the hydropower generating capacity we have developed.

Where we were a decade and half ago was in the vicinity of 400 or so megawatts. The present capacity is 2000. The plan is to bring this to 8,000 in five years. “Last year” said, the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister, in his key note address to the General Assembly, “Ethiopia commissioned three hydropower generating plants and out of this two were built entirely with our own domestic resources”. But how can one respond to those who continue to believe that nothing would move in Ethiopia without handouts from abroad; and have no idea about how much of what Ethiopia does is the result of the contribution of its own people, and their ingenuity to boot. In the already referred to key note address, the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister appeared to respond to those who resort to empty rhetoric when he said that “last year domestic revenue accounted for over 81 percent of our total revenue, including grants”. Moreover, should it be necessary to indicate that in per capita terms, Ethiopia is the least favoured from among African countries in development assistance? The hope that Ethiopia would succumb if foreign aid were cut off is just sheer illusion of those who have forgotten how Ethiopians behave under unwarranted pressure, or know nothing about what underpins international development cooperation. There is no free lunch.

Should the Ethiopian Government be beyond criticism simply because it has to its name achievements that we referred to earlier? Not at all. Citizens and nationals should never cease breathing down the neck of their Government. The watchful eyes of citizens should always scrutinize each and every act of the Government. Governments can never do enough; they need to be pestered, prodded and pushed to do more, and those who feel they can perform better have every right, through the legal means, to seek to supplant the incumbent authorities. Even exaggeration of weaknesses of governments by opponents contesting power is permissible, and we see it happen everywhere. But one can do all this without resorting to practices for which the combatants of the cyberspace have developed notoriety__ incredible inability to face the reality of today’s Ethiopia.

The other feature of this reluctance by our cyber combatants to address the reality of the country is, in terms of the interest of the country, even more dangerous in its implications. It does not require a great deal of knowledge of the Horn of Africa to discover that Ethiopia, has had, because of a variety of reasons, including because of maters related to resources, enormous challenges to its stability and security. Even during times when the country’s manifest weaknesses could not have made it a formidable potential adversary of any credibility, some thought that it was necessary to make doubly sure that the country would never come close to developing such capacity. That was why, though a relatively small country, Ethiopia has always had challenges in foreign policy that are rarely confronted by small nations. Things have changed today, making the challenge we face even more complicated and difficult. The prospects for an even more expanded development in Ethiopia which is being confirmed by the progress being experienced in the country have led some to seek various ways of impeding the country’s progress, and to do this even with greater determination and resolve. That the following years will be critical in that regard is also very obvious. In that regard, it needs no emphasis that this is the time for Ethiopians of the requisite acumen and analytical capacity to look into what implications the current awakening of North Africa has for Ethiopia’s interest, particularly with respect to that issue which has gratuitously been made a bone of contention between us and you know who. Coupled with this, the fragile security situation in the Horn of Africa__ Somalia’s vulnerability to non-regional extremist forces and the yet inconclusive situation in the Sudan, to say nothing of the terrorist proclivities of Asmara, have contributed to ratcheting up Ethiopia’s security challenges, requiring Ethiopians to coalesce around the country’s national security interests. Let alone Ethiopians, even non-Ethiopians realize the magnitude of the security challenge Ethiopia faces and the heavy responsibility that the country has to contribute to making the Horn of Africa a sub-region of relative peace, stability and harmony.

Our cyber combatants are entirely oblivious to all this. Not that they don’t know, but perhaps they have decided, probably at the unconscious level, that this matters little and that more important is the contest on writing the most biting and acerbic critique of Ethiopian leaders, no matter the validity of the allegations made. Theirs is like an essay contest, akin to what takes place in a classroom, but in substantive terms more in line with Ethiopia’s adversaries than anything else.

One would be hard pressed to find even the vaguest reference to Ethiopia’s challenges in the writings of these compatriots of ours. These are in fact challenges that any Ethiopian Government would face unless it proved to be weak therefore of no consequence at all to others. Our cyberspace combatants have no time to grapple with the challenges of the real Ethiopia, choosing to talk instead about Ethiopia in the abstract for the purposes of attempting to tear down individual Ethiopian leaders. Their total preoccupation with individuals like the Ethiopian Prime Minister has become so pathological that they have no time for the country and its challenges.

It is this type of mindset and downright self-absorption which allows one to wish for Ethiopia at this juncture in its history, the upheavals we are witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt, and in other Arab countries. This is not a value judgment on these changes, and, no doubt, these upheavals, despite the drama, are no more than changes because the term revolution is hardly the proper appellation for them. They could become one, but for now, they are not. All the same, Ethiopia has already had its own, and, obviously, the progress made in the country over the last twenty years, most particularly over the last ten years, is indeed the result of that revolution. One cannot be for a revolution in general, in the abstract. The question, what for? needs to be addressed.

Ethiopia is a country on the move. If there are places where revolutions are the least needed, Ethiopia would be one. How would Ethiopia’s economic, political, security interest and that of its people be advanced through following the Tunisian and Egyptian example? Please, learned people, educate us.

What is odd in all this is how naively some appear to believe that all those who are behind the social media __ including states__ have no self-interest, and national objectives to promote. If so, then, how can the inconsistencies in national policies towards the various upheavals be explained? No need to write a book on this theme; watching the events surrounding Bahrain would suffice. If there are any groups in this world who do not judge these changes, among other yardsticks, on the basis of their implications for one’s country and people, our cyberspace combatants would occupy the top of the list. Some have in fact no inhibition about declaring their being the minions of foreign experts on disobedience and have already begun to use the cyberspace to show the special skill they have managed to hone under the tutelage of their foreign benefactors.

Of course, our cyberspace combatant compatriots never ask whether the values and objectives of their benefactors are congruent with that of their mother country. How unlucky we are; or should we take solace in the conviction that the size of this group is too small to worry, and growing smaller?
Ted A.
March 15, 2011

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