Addis Abeba’s Reverie

We live in the age of political commentary. Turn on the TV, and a comparatively wide range of hosts and guests on satellite channels offer the public a slew of viewpoints on the current political state of affairs.

It is perhaps nothing more than a knee-jerk to the political climate. I do not believe there has ever been a time since the downfall of the Dergue, aside from the turbulent election of 2005, where people regularly discuss politics. The media is merely filling that gap in demand, much the same manner as I am now.

And who could blame us?

Think of all that happened a couple of weeks ago. There was a three-day long sit-in by residents of towns surrounding Addis Abeba, a city that unlike many of its counterparts traversed these politically heated times relatively smoothly. Prices of essential goods such as fuel and pepper jacked up and shops would close down way sooner than they ever used too.

Concurrently, prominent political figures and journalists were released from prison to the elation of many, including international observers. Then Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn informed members of the media of his decision to resign from office, shocking many, and drawing intense attention towards the statement that the idea was his.

Before social media platforms were awash with predictions of his successor, the Council of Ministers declared a new State of Emergency. All of this happened within five days. If the media outlets did not take it upon themselves then to comment, reflect or, at the very least, acknowledge by covering such events then they would lose the public’s interest.

But I am bewildered with the commentators. There is rarely weight behind their names. They are entirely within their rights to say their piece on matters as momentous as the events of that fateful week, as a member of society. But more often than not, they make observations that are utterly in keeping with what one hears on the ground.

What matters here is not that most commentators are failing to elevate the debate, but that the public is not being introduced to other means of looking at today’s politics. For lack of the sort of people that have dug deep into citizen’s mentality, senior leaders’ understanding of it and the historical background of the nation, we are starved of the honest, and engaging commentary that otherwise would have graced the media outlets.

This is perhaps a function of the fact that most of these people are cosmopolitan. They are kempt, and have an Addis Abeban accent. They may have followed the political events of Ethiopia carefully for the past three years, since the first student protests broke out in the Oromia Regional State, through the social media, on radio, TV and by talking to friends and family.

But I doubt any one of them have gone out to protest or performed a sit-in. I am not condoning such actions, but I wonder if it is possible to have such discussions without those who have been angry and believe they have been disenfranchised enough to go out on the streets.

This is not because residents of Addis Abeba should be sidelined during the national discourse. It is only that employed, lower-middle-class Addis Abebans, who have grown up in the melting pot that is the capital, are too detached to give an accurate and full picture.

The usual reply to an unrest somewhere in Ethiopia by residents of the capital is how these people could fall to such levels as attacking people based on their identity. It is right to claim as such since such an act is inhumane, but we also need to ask what could be driving the people to such hatred.

The shortcoming to the current national discourse is that it is taking place without a critical component taking part. The commentators are at the very most assuming.

The best alternative would have been had we had such debates early. It is a failure on the part of society, especially Addis Abebans, that we never noticed as people were pushed to such edges, or were persuaded to carry out such atrocities. The fact that all of this is taking us by surprise says more about us than the protestors for we, the most urbane, have failed to notice such undercurrents.

Thankfully, not all is lost. The State of Emergency may be suited to calm the violence, but it would not be as effective as rationality, tolerance, and being grounded in reality. It is never too late to have the sorts of discussions some political parties such as the Oromia People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) are hoping can be had. That is the only means of noticing such harboured feelings before they ever reach fever pitch and knock us out of this Addis Abeban reverie.


By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye ( is Fortune's Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in both directions of print and audiovisual storytelling.

Published on Feb 24,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 930]



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