The age of globalization we live now in is characterized by the availability of information at one’s fingertips. Obviously, increased transparency is a major outcome of an era where information has become king. Transparency is a critical factor in every aspect of life be it political, economic or social. If a country like Ethiopia cannot keep up pace with the blinding speed at which information is exchanged worldwide, it risks losing out on many fronts and remaining stuck in the centuries-long cycle of backwardness.
Transparency is and should be the guiding principle to which the government, the ruling party, opposition parties, commercial enterprises, charities and societies, educational and health facilities, the media and the public at large need to adhere. The situation on the ground in Ethiopia, however, is the very antithesis of this. Consequently, the state of information flow is woeful to say the least. It’s a norm to cover up or under-report events which do not hold up the government in good light. Rumors and intrigue are lent more credence than the truth due to the lack and distortion of information. This is one of the features of an opaque society.
The constitution of Ethiopia provides that the conduct of affairs of government shall be transparent. Because the government has failed abjectly in translating this commandment into action, the public’s expression of grievance in response to bad governance, miscarriage of justice and endemic corruption has been unanswered. To make matters worse, the majority of public officials who were found to be culpable of and have actually owned up to these misdeeds are reassigned to other posts without offering convincing justifications. Even the few who are indicted on criminal charges do not face the full force of the law and escape with relatively light sentences. All this has disenfranchised the public and eroded its trust in the government. It would be naïve to think that a healthy relationship can exist between the government and the people where the former operates in an atmosphere of opacity.
People are increasingly becoming estranged from their own country on account of the inability to obtain timely and reliable information about the day-to-day activity of the government. The state-owned media are in particular loath to accord fair coverage to public protests or conflicts instead devoting attention to mundane matters. As a result the public is forced to look to foreign media outlets to get hold of the information it seeks. It is confused by the contradicting statements the government makes as in the case of the recent violent protests that took part in some parts of the Oromia region. On the one hand, it acknowledged that the protests were manifestations of legitimate grievances. But on the other, it claimed that they were organized and led by sinister elements with an axe to grind. If information pertaining to important events is kept secret, public resentment and distrust are bound to deepen.
Another instance of lack of transparency that infuriated the public is the reluctance of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation to disclose the names of the athletes that was communicated to it by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for failing drug tests. Why is the federation unwilling to confirm the identities of the individuals even though the public has a pretty good idea who they are? Do Ethiopians have to seek confirmation from outside sources? Such disinclination to keep the public constantly abreast of new developments exist because we have officials who simply are alien to the concept of transparency and incapable of moving with the times.
Transparency should not be a value treasured by the state or political actors alone, though. Private sector companies have to make available essential information about the nature and quality of the products and services they sell for the sake of public health and to remain competitive by forging a loyal customer base. Parents need to interact openly with their children so as to ensure that the latter develop into responsible citizens. Educational and health institutions, charitable organizations and the media are liable to do more harm than good if they do not internalize transparency as a fundamental principle of their operation. After all, transparency is a badge of civilization and modernity.
Lack of transparency and accountability is one of the major shortcomings Ethiopia faces as a nation. How is it possible to accommodate ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural and political differences without engaging in a frank dialogue? It’s only through the free exchange of information that any national crisis can be managed effectively. Transparency is indispensable in terms of ensuring the maintenance of the rule of law and democracy as well as respect for such basic rights as freedom of thought and expression, enabling a peaceful political struggle, and making a meaningful contribution to national development. In the absence of transparency, maladministration, dictatorship, corruption and other forms of illicit practices are bound to flourish. That is why the public at large, the government and other stakeholders need to strive towards the prevalence of transparency. Failure to do so is a recipe for disaster!