Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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    Silence isn’t golden

    The Koshe tragedy was one of those painful moments that left one wondering what life was all about. One would have googled Freud, Nietzsche or even Osho! We were so desperate for answers that would prevent our hopes from drying out! It wasn’t for nothing it featured on the international media. (May God bless those who didn’t make it.) By now we should have picked all the pieces and made life easier for the survivors who still are mourning their loses. We should have been patting our own backs; “What you need now is reward yourself for a job well done. Go out and enjoy a couple of real beers or a romantic evening with your Helen of Troy.” Well, like many things these days, that is not happening. Promises aren’t being kept, and survivors are learning all the ‘Good Samaritan’ stories were just another set of children’s fables.

    The Koshe disaster wasn’t just about another fateful accident; it was about people paying with their lives just because they happened to be poor. Poverty drove them to nestle at the foot of that mountain of waste in the first place.

    The media coverage on rescue and salvaging activities at the time led people to feel at ease, “At least the survivors will have better lives.” No way!  Tens of millions of birr was donated, promises were made and the TV screens were filled with all kinds of people playing the Mother Theresa card.  But as the Bard would have put it, ‘all is not well in the house of Koshe survivors.’

    They recently cried foul telling the media the promises haven’t been met and life was getting tougher. Well, for some that was crossing the line; “How could they talk to the media!”  Maybe the decision was made in some watering hole to teach them not to mess with the powers that were. They paid in the form of verbal harassment and suspension of two weeks of rations. How could people be so inconsiderate! Even in the best of times ours isn’t a nutritionally self-sufficient society. And they deny victims of the disaster the few mouthfuls they could manage! The religiously uncompromising must have it better, “It is Satan who is messing up everything.” Well, even though messing up things is what Satan does for a living, the Koshe story shouldn’t be something we turn our backs on.

    But, why? Why are some shaking in their boots because the public was made aware of the prevailing situation! The humanitarian activities concern everyone and this is not about actions taken behind thick brick walls in windowless basements. Those concerned should have simply explained the problems¸ if there are any, hindering their activities.

    “You see, we are facing quite challenging logistical and financial problems, Things are not as easy as you think.” Simple and straight forward explanation; but going to the extent of verbal harassment and the pulling of rations, if they ever happened, leads one to wonder if the humanitarian storyline has been rewritten. Do they have anything to hide? Don’t they want the public to know how they manage the funds meant for the welfare of the survivors? I mean no one has actually been accused of taking some nuke code to enemy territory! So, what is the “Don’t ever mess with us!” sort of behavior all about?

    Look, there is a queer trend gaining ground these days. Some mishap worthy of media coverage happens. Gov’t officials, groups, individuals claim they were devastated to hear the news and vow to help the victims anyway they can, acting as if the grief would turn them into a thousand pieces any second. You know, the sad faces with contours which would have tested the patience of a Picasso; the jaws hanging as if any second the last string holding them would snap sending them crashing to the ground. (Believe me, when it comes to acting, we have a lot of Oscar material out on the streets!”)

    All the while, they make sure the cameras were rolling. Why? I’ll tell you why; most of the masquerading is not about the issue at hand but about a couple of minutes on the evening news! Night falls and they sit in the comfort of their homes and, ‘Bingo!’ there they are on the screen! (Hey dad, mom wherever in the other world you are, I’m on TV!) They themselves never knew they could paint the saddest expression on this side of the universe! Mission accomplished. And the victims! Oh, the victims! Let fate do what it has to do with them.  Everyone crawls back into their nests until another disaster happens and the TV crews are out in search of sad faces and sadder language. These days, people are really honing their skills in turning disasters into public relations opportunities.

    After any disaster of national significance you hear enterprise after enterprise expressing how their staff ended up with bleeding hearts. That’s nice; being nice in the rude times we’re in is indeed a plus. But we’re not actually interested in hearing whether their hearts were bleeding or bursting; we would have been happier if they had given the TV spot money to the aid efforts! In times of such disasters every birr is a gem! But, no! “It is about prime time TV, dummy!”

    One remembers the time when that barbarity happened to young, innocent Ethiopians in Libya. The reaction was earth moving, the public grief genuine. It wasn’t about a distant relative, it wasn’t about the kid next door, it wasn’t about personal loses; it was a nationwide, deep-rooted compassion. The VIPs and show people flooded the media with all sorts of promises and the saddest words in any vocabulary. The entire nation was up in arms to console and help the poor families of the victims so that they could get through life. It didn’t happen. No sooner has media interest dissipated almost everyone crawled back into their nests and waited for another mishap to happen.

    The last time thousands of Ethiopians were deported from the Arab countries the theatrical hoopla assumed carnival proportions. Everyone vowed to help the unfortunates, most of whom were young girls who only wanted to make a few bucks to sustain theirs and their families’ lives. Every evening, we watched tons of food and drinks being disbursed, with everyone in emergency mode. The girls were promised employment trainings and all sorts of things. Not that some bits and pieces of actions weren’t taken, but, by and large, the commotion just died away as the news disappeared from the front pages and TV screens.

    Whenever a singer or some other celebrity passes away there are talks of helping their families and their children, setting up statues or some sort of foundations; the media is filled with the grimmest faces nature could throw at us, and then? And then as the cameras stop rolling so do the vows and promises of not throwing our compatriots out to the wolves.

    The only sin of the Koshe people was that they were dirt poor. Hadn’t been that they wouldn’t’ have inhabited such a biblically shocking place. It was one reminder that poverty isn’t something that is being romanticized in films and special TV programs.  News of the survivors being maltreated should have sent the ripples upstairs and disturbed the waters. Maybe then someone would have said, “There must be plausible answers for this excess!” For now, what disturbs all well meaning souls is the silence in the face of public trust being eroded and survivors’ hopes being dealt heavy blows. For once, silence isn’t golden. Oh accountability, where art thou!

     

    Contributed by Ephrem Endale

     

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