The Slow Road to Free Speech in Ethiopia

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As a first generation Ethiopian-American my connection to Ethiopia is different one than that of my parents. For my parents, Ethiopia is home, there is a tight knit, communal sense of cultural identity rooted in nation, religion, ethnic group, cultural practices, etc.

For me Ethiopia represent the heartland, a distant and somewhat romanticized sense of origin that brings to light many of the qualities that define me–facial features, familial/personal values, food, religion, sense of community, etc. These are facets that define me despite the fact that I haven never actually set foot in Ethiopia.

Yet, as I a begin to grow into adulthood, I have come to realize how in many cases, the values that I hold dear were not always the ones cultivated in my home. Instead, many of my beliefs and ideas were imparted upon me from intimate experiences with various institutions, school teachers, coaches, counselors, and media sources (TV, film, Internet, etc.).

In many cases values regarding democracy and “human rights,” are often flash points of conflit with that of my father when discussing happenings in Ethiopia. Take for example the lack of press freedom in Ethiopia. My father, an ardent supporter of the current ruling government in Ethiopia, beams with pride when explaining the great lengths at which rebels from his home province the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) fought valiantly to liberate Ethiopia and set it on the right path. He often cites opposition rhetoric in Ethiopia and the various human rights NGO’s that support them as destabilizing and utter rubbish.

To a certain degree I agree with him. Ethiopia has grown immensely in the past 25 years distancing itself from it’s horrid famine days in the mid 1980’s. The nation’s ruling party has done well putting Ethiopia’s economy in position where it is one of Africa’s promising centers for investment. That being said, there is much work to be done in the implementation of human rights in Ethiopia, one of which is freedom of speech.

Opposition newspapers or general critics of the government in Ethiopia in some cases have been known to incite hatred and ethnic tensions, an issue known all to well throughout Africa. It is in this instance that my father explains me to me that Ethiopia is not like America. He emphasizes that Ethiopians have no experience with democracy and don’t hold such values as dear as Americans who have been practicing them for well over 2oo years.

My father’s point is a valid one, but it begs the question of when will that time come for Ethiopians? By shutting down critics in a one size fits all manner, the Ethiopian government runs the risk of stoking resentment and sweeping away individuals looking to constructively criticize the government in a law abiding manner, all in hopes that their voices can be heard, not squashed.

 

Check out this piece in the Washington Post:

Ethiopia’s Stifled press

 

Here is video by Human Rights Watch on the media situation in Ethiopia:

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