Transparency best antidote to disinformation epidemic
Newly published photos and video showed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) touring a prosthetics production factory Thursday, ending a nearly three-week absence from public view. His absence had fueled rumors of his injury and even death, particularly on social media. The recent spate of speculations and thinly sourced reports about his status demonstrates how the premier’s safety is an extremely sensitive matter due to Ethiopia’s fractious politics. His reappearance comes after the Office of the Prime Minister and the ruling Prosperity Party both issued statements earlier in the week calling on the public to be vigilant about fake news circulating about the Prime Minister’s wellbeing on social media saying they were entirely unfounded and disseminated by irresponsible elements intent on sowing insecurity. Pointing to the fact that this is neither the first nor the last time baseless rumors have been spread regarding the Prime Minister, many are wondering why he had not appeared in person sooner and laid them to rest decisively instead of resorting to indirect means to deny the reports . Be that as it may the whole affair underscores the importance of guarding against the disinformation epidemic sweeping Ethiopia.
The common values Ethiopians have forged over centuries and handed down from generation to generation are being undermined by extremists bent on building a wall between the children of one nation. In particular individuals who have a large following on social media are harping on ethnic, religious, cultural and ideological differences of a people who have accommodated their diversity and co-existed peacefully for eons. These vile characters are causing death and destruction left and right because no one has put a stop to them. It’s inexplicable why the government is reticent about bringing to justice politicians and activists who are openly spewing venomous rhetoric for the express purpose of fomenting unrest. Even though it is of the essence to reconcile opposing narratives regarding the past so to ensure that Ethiopians are able to enjoy the dividends of freedom, equality and justice, forces harboring an ulterior motive are deliberately pushing revisionist historical narratives laced with myths to advance their evil agenda. As a result the tie that binds Ethiopians is being slowly eroded. This not only increases the likelihood of deadly intercommunal and interfaith conflicts, but also jeopardizes the very survival of the country. That is why it’s incumbent on the public to display discernment when consuming information regardless of the source.
A viable nation can neither be built on nor destroyed by lies. Whereas ethical values guide visionary citizens when they embark on a nation-building exercise, deception is the favored instrument of characters intent on tearing a country apart. These days while some endeavor to practice a civilized brand of politics, there abound forces that toil day and night to use the slightest of differences to dismantle the country. The job of politicians who genuinely seek to take the reins of power through the ballot box is not to excoriate the government no matter what; it’s to contribute their share to deepening the democratization process by, among others, steering it on the right path when it goes off track and mobilizing the public to remove it from office democratically when it fails to mend the errors of its way. Fomenting conflicts and divisions at a time Ethiopia is facing the twin challenges of a breakdown in law and order in some areas and the COVID-19 pandemic is deplorable. This shameful race to the bottom is liable to irreparably harm the nation’s interest and earn the culprits harsh criticism in the eyes of history.
Whilst most Ethiopians care more about strengthening national unity, uplifting fellow citizens and the prospects of a brighter future going forward, a vocal few toil to sow destruction, pull down anyone who does not subscribe to their world view and dash hopes of a better future. It’s become commonplace to come across hypocrites who have not contributed anything of substance to improving the lot of their compatriots malign citizens diligently serving the nation. There is nothing more exasperating than to witness someone who has never run a family ridicule hardworking folks doing their best to help the country stand on its own two feet. It’s perplexing why the political class in Ethiopia has to make everything a reason for bitter division and is loath to engage in a constructive discourse marked by respect for differing outlooks. This undermining of the cultural practices, norms and values Ethiopians have developed over centuries may well turn out to be Ethiopia’s undoing.
Prime Minister Abiy and his administration need to abide by the constitutional dictum stipulating that the conduct of affairs of government must be transparent. Despite the modicum of progress observed in this regard since he came to power, the government’s track record still leaves much to desire. The total silence that accompanied the premier’s prolonged absence from public view at a time Ethiopia continues to be beset with a host of domestic and regional crises has unnecessarily fed rumors about his safety and as such constitutes a failure that may well have dire consequences. Opacity only serves to leave a vacuum that elements with an axe to grind use to peddle lies and innuendo. Although the government has vowed to investigate and bring the manufacturers of fake news to justice, the threat is not nearly enough to stop them in their track. The surest way these elements can be starved oxygen and guard against the disinformation epidemic buffeting Ethiopia is to avail timely and accurate information to the general public.