Propaganda chief urges Ethiopia’s local media to be in campaign mode about renaissance dam; PM’s narrow int’l water law perspective

16 Feb

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

At a meeting with local journalists on Thursday February 13, 2014, Ethiopia’s propaganda chief Redwan Hussein urged media operatives to furnish the international community with up to date information on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) – the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) reported. The whole purpose is to get the rest of the world to stand in support of Ethiopia’s position – in his words – “አለም አቀፉ ማህበረሰብ ከኢትዮጵያ ጎን እንዲሰለፍ [ለማድረግ]”. Is this really possible?

This is one of those stories that is likely to puzzle most Ethiopians. It would prod many into scrutinizing to see for themselves the regime’s real intentions. More importantly, this is necessary not only for the unchewed content of the propaganda chief’s order. But also the timing of his call is interesting, as is the regime’s reliance for the purpose on the beaten media they have already successfully destroyed.

It is this felt-need to speak out that had me pick up my pen. On my mind have been the following five developments, which directly and indirectly may be related to what got the ruling party to choose this course of action:

    (a) This ‘command’ from the ruling party’s propaganda chief now came two days, after the Egyptian water and irrigation minister Mohamed Abdel-Motteleb led-delegation returned home within hours of their arrival to Addis Abeba. A day later, also Ethiopia’s water and energy minister Alemayehu Tegenu told the media from the office of the propaganda chief that he was displeased with Egypt’s request to Ethiopia to stop construction of the dam until settlement is reached. Of that, the minister said: “ያነሷቸው ጥያቄዎች በጭራሽ በኢትዮጵያ በኩል ተቀባይነት እንደማይኖራቸውና የግድቡ ግንባታም ለሰከንዶች እንደማይቆም ካስረዳናቸው በኋላ ምሳ ጋብዘናቸው በሦስት ሰዓታት ውስጥ ተለያይተናል፡፡” (UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION: Since the question they raised could find no acceptance on the part of Ethiopia and that the construction of GERD would not stop even for a second, we invited them lunch and parted company within three hours.”)

    TPLF/EPRDF Propaganda chief Redwan Hussien and Minister Alemayehu Tegenu sharing a sense of contement and “we did it!”, about which the picture is unambiguos. In the realm of Ethiopia’s body language, the gesture bespeaks of “That is it!” (Credit The Reporter)

Incidentally, back home in Cairo Mr. Mohamed Abdel-Motteleb is reported on Egyptian media to have said that the story surfacing in every media about negotiations between Ethiopia and Egypt reaching deadend is exaggerated, if not terribly off the mark. Accordingly, the state-owned Ahram Online headlined this story as Irrigation minister denies reports of deadlock in Ethiopia talks. The foregoing warrants conclusion of some collusion or gamesmanship behind these claims and counterclaims, unless the Egyptian official felt in need of a facesaver.

    (b) Of late, Egypt has been vocal about taking its dispute with Ethiopia over the Nile to international arbitration to get the justice it has in mind and based on colonial treaties. Nonetheless, Cairo has not clearly spelt out whether it is prepared to take political and legal actions, or if it includes military measures. Therefore, it should not be lost on anyone that Egypt has made sure the real direction of its recourse remained murky. On another track, we know that Field Marshal Al-Sisi was in Moscow just days ago, having successfully sealed a deal with Russia to the tune of $2 billion worth sophisticated armaments, financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Hailemariam reacted on February 12, 2014 – I am not sure to which – although his silence could have been more profitable. Here I should seek readers’ indulgence to make slight digression regarding contents of his remark. If one considers the show off lecture to Egypt and the sarcasm thereon, it was simpleton at its worst and as uncalled for scoff at the presumed “ignorance” of Cairo about its lack of awareness that there is no international court that could consider water disputes (“ወደ ዓለም አቀፍ ፍርድ ቤት እንሄዳለን የሚሉትን በተመለከተ መታወቅ የሚገባው በመጀመሪያ ውኃን የተመለከተ ጉዳይ የሚዳኝ ዓለም አቀፍ ፍርድ ቤት አለመኖሩ ነው፡፡ በተጨማሪም በዚህ ጉዳይ ላይ ዓለም አቀፍ ስምምነት የለም፡፡ ስለዚህ ጉዳዩን ወደ ዓለም አቀፍ ደረጃ መውሰድ መብታቸው ነው፡፡ ስለዚህ ይህ ፖለቲካዊ ጉዳይ በሚመጣበት ጊዜ እኛም ፖለቲካዊ ምላሽ እንሰጣለን፡፡”

Of course, Hailemariam is right in one sense – that we live in a world where there hardly is fully developed and ratified international water law. It follows from this, therefore, there is also no international court for water related disputes.

However, the prime minister has missed the point that, although the 1997 Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses has yet to come into force, it is also important to recognize by its mere adoption there is – as Prof. Stephen C. McCaffrey has noted at the request of the United Nations in his introductory note to the convention – “treaty governing shared freshwater resources that is of universal applicability.”

Moreover, already since the morrow of its adoption, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has adjudicated a few cases under the provisions and principles of the treaty, supported by longstanding state practices. Among others, a case in point is the dispute between Hungary and Slovakia on the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros. The case came to the Court (joint special agreement by the parties as precondition) in 1993; it found settlement in September 1998 – five months after the Convention was adopted. In that connection, the Court, among others, made reference to the importance of that treaty in taking a step forward global knowledge and practice of international law, stating:

    “Modern development of international law has strengthened this principle for non-navigational uses of international watercourses as well, as evidenced by the adoption of the Convention of 21 May 1997 on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses by the United Nations General Assembly.”

There is also the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay), in which the ICJ in 2010 ruled that, although Uruguay had failed to inform Argentina about its operations on the River Uruguay, the Court did not find evidence that it has injured Argentina’s interests, viewing it under the no harm principle in Article 7. In other words, the judgement was based primarily on the 1997 convention.

It is oblivious of this the prime minister has likened our world to a limbo, bereft of water law and the institution necessary thereon. That decision helped Argentina and Uruguay to enter into bilateral negotiations, where they reached final settlement.

    (c) Not long ago, there was also official admission by Ethiopia that local mobilization of funds for GERD has not been going well. They have pointed out that so far the state was able to get less than half of the target figure they set for themselves. Also bear in mind that collecting funds from the diaspora in foreign exchange has literally stopped because of the polarized politics and the coordinated disruptions thereon in every country, where the regime sent fundraising delegations.

    (d) The TPLF/EPRDF regime feels that there is need to make intensified propaganda campaign about GERD, although the benefits of such move cannot be easily envisioned. For one, a third of the construction work (by the schedule) has been realized and that there is hardly anything new the media could tell the world that it has not so far known – if not even better. This places before any reader the need to ask what motive derives the regime to indulge in a new campaign. In fact the idea gives sense that Ethiopians and the rest of the world has to be subjected to regurgitated propaganda about the dam and that the date on the calendar is still the spring of 2011, when our curiosity was its apex.

    (e) It was only on February 10, 2014 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told a brief press conference that because of the correct policy Ethiopia has followed, there has been “over time good understanding on certain issues with Egypt and the Sudan. The fact that the Sudan has fully allied its position with Ethiopia’s regarding the importance of the dam’s construction is testimony to correctness and the cooperative policy Ethiopia has been pursuing (“ዚህም መሠረት ከጊዜ ወደ ጊዜ በተወሰኑ ጉዳዮች ላይ መግባባት ተችሏል፡፡ በተለይም የሱዳን መንግሥትና የኢትዮጵያ አቋም አንድ እንዲሆን ማድረግ ተችሏል፡፡” ይህ የሚያሳየው የያዝነው አቋምና መንገድ የትብብር መሆኑን ነው፡፡ … በአጠቃላይ የኢትዮጵያ አቋም በዓለም አቀፍ ደረጃ አሸናፊ የሆነ አስተሳሰብ ይዘናል የሚል እምነት ነው ያለን፡፡”)

I wish things were as simple as that. If at all that is the case, why then is it necessary for propaganda chief Redwan Hussien to launch information campaign on GERD?

In brief, this is a very complicated issue, which would make many nations in different regions of the world uncomfortable because of the implications of its precedence. On top of that, there is little transparency on both sides. If indeed there is unverbalized understanding between Ethiopia and Egypt, it sounds like high end diplomacy and tantalizing.

At the same time, this conclusion is also become no go zone simply because one can also sense even some degree of dissonance between what is being said by the Ethiopian prime minister and his water minister.

In the circumstances, a conspiratorial mind may be tempted into thinking that both Ethiopia and Egypt are hiding something from their publics, especially Egypt being in the throes of revolution and societal split and Ethiopia facing all sorts of challenges to complete the dam. For that, the alternating bravado we hear from both sides, especially after the February 10, 2014 visit to Addis Abeba of the Egyptian water and irrigation minister and his reportedly 45-member delegation betrays a few loose ends.

For that, I would refrain from speculating further on this and instead focus on what the Ethiopian propaganda chief said Thursday, after spending time with the water minister. Even there, Hailemariam observed “በተደጋጋሚ ከግብፆች እየተሰማ ያለውም ድርድሩ መቀጠል እንዳለበት ነው፡፡” (UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION: “The signals we pick from Egypt indicate the need for continuation of the negotiations.” Who to believe has become a new dilemma on the Nile!

Why push the media now to concentrate on GERD?

I ask again why Redwan Hussien wanted local journalists to get seized with feeding the international community with information about importance of GERD. This is an appropriate question in the circumstances and in the months ahead.

At the same time, there is no sane individual in Ethiopia or elsewhere, who could vouch that this is well-thought out mission and that today’s decrepit Ethiopia’s media is capable of handling.

I am stating this not out of spite at the journalists. It is not their fault whatever decimation has taken place on the Ethiopian media landscape, it happened under the evil genius of the Meles/Bereket duo; their anti-press freedom laws or the anti-terrorism proclamation have killed the Ethiopian media not only as an institutions, but also rendering it bereft of any credibility.

The main reason for this lack of confidence is that the media in our country has lost its soul, following TPLF’s years of misuses, abuses and institutional distortions, and incarceration, exiling and removal of the nation’s able journalists or closure of their publications and media outlets. Therefore, what is left behind in the name of a media is merely a stale propaganda manufacturing outfit, already terribly tarnished and discredited in the eyes of the Ethiopian people.

Recall that, if not in Ethiopia at least in Egypt, it has been tradition that the Nile has served as unifying factor between the state and the people. This is also seen in their folktales and literatures. The Egyptian media has played credible role in the service of the national interest.

Even under Mubarak’s heavy-handed regime, public opinion on the Nile Question was given serious attention – not only by imposition of regurgitation of individuals that suffer poverty of mind, but also through direct interest and involvement of the academia, professionals and especially what they call the union of farmers.

If one examines whether there is any merit in what propaganda chief Redwan has asked the timid, scared to death and pathetically deprived Ethiopian media (in terms of leadership, skilled manpower and resources and the freedom any successful and responsible media requires), the Ethiopian media lacks all of the above to do anything to do anything in sustained campaign mode, even for five working days of a week.

Therefore, this hints that the regime is not serious about what it asked the media to do; rather its coded language, which the TPLF leadership is known for – saying one thing and doing another – may have a different purpose. It is possible that they may be trying to exploit media mobilization to create Nile begotten patriotism to revive the regime sagging political career. It cannot be ruled out that it may also have planned to benefit from the fervor:

    (a) to increase financial contributions; and

    (b) to politically benefit from it as preparatory in the face of the forthcoming 2015 election.

Consider this regarding the regime’s selfishness. A friend recently directed my attention regarding telecommunication being targeted as booster for 2015. Also I read that, even the $1.6 billion telecommunication project that has already suffered huge delays because of dilly-dallying, the blame of which was levelled at the Chinese companies – ZTE and Huawei – one of them was given paid vacation. It is rumoured that the regime has tied completion of the project to come as close as possible to the 2015 election. In fact, it can be seen in that article that one of the companies indicated that they have not received instruction to date to start work on the project, although the contract was signed in the summer.

Recall that in the first week of February Ethio Telecom (TPLF Minister Debretsion Gebremichael) is being pushed into action, after parliament and Addis Abeba residents lodged strongest complaint to date. Surprisingly, now Ethio Telecom now admitted that it has kept “the two Chinese giants Huawei and ZTE… busy preparing for their operations here”, according to The Reporter of February 15, 2014.

In the light of this underhanded operations of the regime and its propaganda oriented media, what part of the world would be interested in what the Ethiopian media says about government project on the Nile? More importantly, is there any part of the world that would willingly be attuned to a media that has little to give by way of information or insight? After all, how much information do journalists in Ethiopia have the rest of the world does not know?

The death of the media in Ethiopia

A minor evidence for the death of the media in Ethiopia is the fact that today Ethiopia does not have a single journalist of renown, both at home and abroad. The Ethiopian regime does not and cannot even tolerate a pastor or clerick it does not control becoming popular. Has anyone ever heard or seen, any Ethiopian journalist even rarely contacted by his/their peers around the world to share with them his/her insight about our country? I pasture on all the media; I literally masticate all sorts of news and information on a daily basis, and I have not come across any such reference – not even indirectly.

Turn to Kenya and see how vibrant their media landscape is; how urbane, articulate and well-informed their journalists are! Thank God, the sword that swished over their heads in autumn 2013 was thwarted, when in their moments of madness parliament and some in the political leadership began to behave like Meles Zenawi.

Kenyan journalists’ good fortune is that the world clamoured on their behalf – in addition to their own efforts – opinionmakers in Washington, New York and London signaled to President Uhuru Kenyatta not to take wrong move on this. They implicitly let him understand that, if ever he put his signature on parliament’s piece of self-serving legislation, he would lose benefit of big power sympathy and understanding on what has been dogging him since the 2007-2008 election.

This is not a favor to Kenya’s press. Surely, Kenyan politicians were put under heavy pressure, because of the important role the media has been playing in that country in the past two decades – keeping politicians on their toes and in ensuring that the laws of the land are obeyed. That is why today there is a difference of day and night in the qualities of the politics and the freedoms Kenyans enjoy relative to the oppressive political life of Ethiopians under the heel of a manipulative regime.

After all, what has now become the political tradition of Ethiopia is to officially tell lies and propagandize about successes, even in the midst of failures, hunger, economic messes and disasters. Such media that goes along with what the regime wants and propagandize this can neither inform nor educate.

Ours is outcome of the prevailing TPLF’s mafia politics, as EU parliamentarians recognized in 2010. It has made the national media carrier of its lies and only its voices, denying the country the benefits of plurality.

This far, such policy has made immense contributions to the denial of our country of the benefits of honest competition between differing ideas and organizations. The consequence is that this has made the Ethiopian media landscape barren, unhelpful to ourselves as a people and a nation, much less to inform the world.

I can give readers one solid example. The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) was established in 1942, as the nation’s only news agency, with presence in all parts of the country. Overtime, with qualified journalists it proved to be one of the few premier news outlets in Africa. Today, ENA no longer gets the appropriate news from all the regions, save like the Soviet era focussing on how much production in a small village has grown or by what percent culture has developed.

The ENA I knew used to speak English! Today’s ENA is finds it difficult to employ the rights words even in Amharic. Is this progress for Ethiopia?

Even when the need arises now for such media a media, when one hears what Ethiopian officials think and want done, they seem either incapable of understanding how much damage they have done to the media environment or they have been desensitized by their own propaganda. Their actions have deprived our people of vital tool to be informed and educated to help citizens participate in the affairs of the nation as a matter of right.

Do you know why? As the core of the ruling party for the past 23 years – the TPLF – chose to destroy state media, replaced them with the party’s own news agencies – among others, Fana Broadcasting and Walta Information. That is one signal as the real intentions of the TPLF – to remain in power for the next “one thousand years.” This is a forewarning for destroying Ethiopia, the processes of which have already started in earnest.

A country that has subsisted for over two decades on a diet of stale propaganda, the repulsiveness of which even the authors do privately admit, has little for itself, much less to inform others. Those in the post of leadership in the Ethiopian media blame the lack of capacity, especially trained journalists. But they have no answer why good journalists are either in prison or in exile!

Obviously, when a state fails or deliberately avoids to do the right thing with its powers and in its time and the possibilities it has – or only does what it thinks would serve its interests – there is not much to turn to in trying times such as now. That is why our country is not making any progress, relative to other African countries, even in our neighborhood!

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