In Summary
  • Ethiopia, we were told by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Makonnen, has no journalists in jail contrary to Western propaganda.
  • The Deputy Premier told delegates at the African Media Leadership Forum in Addis Ababa last Friday that with the terrorist threat, national security remained of paramount importance. 
  • Repression of the media is commonplace in Ethiopia. 
  • Deputy President William Ruto's speech sought to lend an intellectual sheen to repression, arguing that campaigns for media freedom and freedom of expression that formed the theme of the conference were, in fact, foreign, Western, imperialistic “narratives”.

I learnt last week that Ethiopia has amongst the most liberal and progressive media laws in Africa. Its constitution guarantees freedom of media alongside all the other basic civil and political rights.

Ethiopia, we were told by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Makonnen, has no journalists in jail contrary to Western propaganda.

If there were any journalists who had ended up on the wrong side of the law, they were tried and jailed, not because of anything they wrote, published or broadcast, but because they were “clandestine terrorists”.

The Deputy Premier told delegates at the African Media Leadership Forum in Addis Ababa last Friday that with the terrorist threat, national security remained of paramount importance. Journalists or anyone else who crossed the line, he assured a stunned audience, would continue to suffer the severest penalties.

Listening keenly as the Ethiopian leader spoke was his Kenyan counterpart, Deputy President William Ruto, who had been drafted in late in the day to deliver the keynote address after President Uhuru Kenyatta decided to snub the meeting despite advance confirmation.

Mr Makonnen had introduced to the audience a new term in the lexicon, “clandestine terrorist”, and that was after Mr Ruto in the keynote address before him had come up with his own gem: “Media assassins”.

The two leaders had kept the audience waiting for quite a while before making their entrance into the conference hall.

One can only imagine that they were rehearsing a coordinated tag-team counter-attack to the media freedom issues in their respective countries that had dominated the first day of the forum.

Repression of the media is commonplace in Ethiopia. The forum organised by the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative took place against the backdrop of a boycott campaign over the choice of venue.

At least seven Ethiopian journalists are serving lengthy jail terms under terrorism laws. Dozens have fled into exile or opted to pursue safer occupations in a country that stands atop the ranks of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Page 1 of 2