At a time when the country is being rocked by antigovernment protests and violence, the Government of Ethiopia, in an unusual break from its trend, admitted that it is grappling with a massive communications crisis to the extent that most of the problems propagating in the country are mainly attributed to serious communication breakdown between the government and the public.
In his press conference held on Friday February 2, 2018, the minister of Government Communications Affairs Office (GCAO), Negeri Lencho (PhD), told journalists that the communication challenges the country is facing at this time are far more difficult than the challenges posed by the drought in the country.
“We have registered invaluable victories over the past years and we have to take care for not to be snatched of these victories by illogical views and actions,” Negeri told journalists gathered in his office yesterday, which is located off Africa Avenue.
The communication breakdown that he admitted to comes as a single unsaid reason for the widespread political unrest that the country is witnessing at this time, according to Negeri. So far, lack of good governance, the public’s increased demands to infrastructure development, and the creation of a demanding public were the primary factors cited by the government to be behind the unrest.
However, Negeri’s statement was indicative of a different school of thought regarding the cause of widespread political unrest in Ethiopia. Negeri’s comments also marked a slight shift in its approach since it was outward looking than the recently observed self-blame of the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), as he denounced social media activists and what he called “irresponsible media outlets” for distorted messages creating the massive communication breakdown.
“When they see something happening at one place, they immediately disperse distorted information as if that incident has caused huge damages,” he said.
This is not the first time Negeri stood out from other government officials in the system by his assessment of the current issues important to the country. One incident was when he made a comment regarding media outlets which he accused of “fueling and wrongly representing conflicts” in Bunno Bedele of the Oromia Regional State, using erroneous images and statements. At the time, Negeri was firm in asserting that those media outlets would be “held accountable” and will be brought before the court of law.
His statement at time had created a buzz across all media spectrums in Ethiopia and observers of Ethiopia’s media environment. The statement prompted the director general of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, Zer’ay Asgedom, to discuss the media practices of reporting conflicts in Ethiopia at press conference he called shortly after Negeri made his statement.
Zer’ay set the record straight saying that the statement by the minister of Communications Affairs Office is not the official stance of the authority and that it might be “Negeri’s personal take”. In a follow up press conference, Negeri commented that whatever he spoke as government’s spokesperson, he spoke on behalf of the government.
What triggered Negeri’s current statement is the growing concern over the frequent political unrest in the country. The recent protest in Woldia, Mersa, Kobo and the surroundings have gained huge media coverage both online and offline alike.
Apart from the minister’s statement and admittance of the communication breakdown, the conflicts erupting in the country are also attributed to the ethnic based federal structure that the country follows, according to social media commentators.
By Brook Abdu and Zemenu Tegen