Ethiopia's war mongering press echoes regime's belligerent stance
By: Asgede Hagos
December 18, 2003

The conviction last week of three of Rwanda's tribalist journalists by an international tribunal for their roles in the 1994 genocide in their country has once again put the issue of journalistic responsibility at the center of discussion in Africa today. That is a good thing because the continent is full of irresponsible "journalists," those who use the noble profession of journalism as a cover for their dastardly deeds.

Some of the worst offenders in the continent are in Ethiopia, who have been beating the war drums, echoing the minority regime's belligerent defiance of the boundary ruling on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border conflict and the international community's strong and unwavering support of the decision.

Alarmed by the clamor for war with Eritrea by some in the Ethiopian press, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Ethiopia and Eritrea, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, recently made an urgent appeal to the irresponsible journalists to stop inciting war between the two nations. In a story distributed by the Inter Press Service, he said: "In my experience with peacekeeping, rhetoric about war has never been helpful" and admonished the "journalists whose influence on the public consciousness is so powerful, to stay calm."

That was in early October, but the campaign, especially by those members in the press that are close to the ruling minority ethnic party, the TPLF, continues. A few days after Legwaila's appeal, the weekly Addis Tribune, splashed its editorial pages with more defiant belligerence of the final and binding boundary ruling. "Badme has been Ethiopian; it is Ethiopian, and will remain Ethiopian for centuries yet to come," the paper said. It even extended its claim to Eritrea's sea ports.
The clamor for war by the Ethiopian press apparently picked up speed after the country's prime minister wrote a letter to the UN Security Council on Sept 19, 2003, finally and formally rejecting the Hague boundary ruling. A story on the October 17 UN appeal, said, "The acerbic media comments started in the local press [in mid October] and continued ….in the form of editorials and opinions, rallying Ethiopians to stand up for Badme."

Peace advocates were particularly disturbed by highly bellicose editorials in the Capital, another Ethiopian weekly, based in Addis Ababa. Like the other media outlets, this weekly was full of misinformation on the outcome of the border war, and the tone was even more chilling. "Eritrea," the paper said, "will have to be weakened to the point when it will finally have to come to terms with Ethiopia on Ethiopian terms." Encouraging lawlessness, the paper said, "It is unimaginable for the Ethiopian people to accept" the ruling and prodded the TPLF regime to ask the international peacekeepers to leave.
Legwaila tried to make the press see the alternative to peace, which, he said is 'too ghastly to contemplate." Adding, he said, "Please let's implement this decision because there is no alternative-because if the border is not demarcated you will never know what will happen between Ethiopia and Eritrea."

Though most of these journalists are based in the Ethiopian capital, we can also find them in such places as the Amharic program of the Voice of America, and the weekend Amharic language radio programs in Washington, D.C. Many of them have had very little training in the principles and ethics of journalism, and seem to have very little qualms about fomenting war and aggression. Before the border broke out, the Amhara elite used their media outlets to openly incite inter-ethnic hatred as a political strategy and in an organized fashion. Their main target at the time were Tigrayans, whom they viewed as a cancer on Ethiopia. Quite a few of the Ethiopian journalists are embedded with such international news organizations as Reuters, the Associate Press, Agence France Press and the Pan African News Agency, often skewing the scales in favor of their country whenever and wherever possible as we saw in their coverage of the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998-2000)..
Since May 1998, they have been cheerleading the TPLF in its invasion of Eritrea, and its destructive actions against Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin. When Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, including war veterans who had fought and sacrificed for Ethiopia, lost all their rights as citizens soon after war broke out in 1998, had their properties stolen or confiscated and finally deported in the cruelest way imaginable, many of these tribalist called for more deportations.

One of the sad things we see here repeated over and over again is that Ethiopia's ruling elite groups have never learned one of the important lessons from their country's 40-year attempt to control Eritrea's destiny during most of the second half of the last century: that expansionism and annexation never work, no matter what the cover to hide the crime. No web of lies and distortions will magically change an invader into a victim. No amount of belligerence or lawlessness will stop the inevitable.

The lesson in the conviction of the three Rwandan journalists is that social responsibility is at the root of journalistic practice. "Those who control the media are accountable for its consequences," the Arusha, Tanzania, based international court said before handing down the convictions.