Differnces Heal, If We Understand Them

In a country lush with diversity, unity can sometimes be tricky. Disagreements can occur and they can sometimes lead to loss of property, or worse, life. But the ways of solving them should not be secret, instead, they should be inclusive. The measures we take should be carefully documented so that we can learn from them in the future, whether they have had the desired outcome or not. In this token, the media can be a great asset. We should not shy away from it, but rather embrace its openness.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn recently took some time to express his condolences and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives and property in the areas bordering the Somali and the Oromia regional states. The places in the middle of this conflict are an important component of overall national security and stability.

I happen to know that part of the country well, as I had been travelling there time and again when I was able to move around by myself. I will never forget places like Deder and Harewacha, located within the Oromia Regional State, which I have visited and the people I have been acquainted with.

At the end of his address, the Prime Minister seemed to be trying to normalise this incident. He tried to make it look like such kinds of conflicts are common whenever there is the issue of natural resources and territory, for instance over grazing ground. And that the conflicts can be resolved by traditional conflict resolution systems that have been practised for years. These methods of resolving conflict generally involved the elderly from both sides of the disagreement.

However, these conflicts have gone beyond that stage.

People are dying, and the unrest has been going on for some time. What is needed is perhaps a concerted effort at a national level, involving all Ethiopians just as much as both the disagreeing sides.

What was telling about Hailemariam’s speech, filled with sorrow, was his warning to the media not to blow the issue out of proportion. This is evidence of a man who pushes a case, not because he is actually sympathetic, but as a symbol of deliberate action meant to enhance his political agenda.

So who knows what the future will be when the government only looks out for its own well-being, instead of its constituents? And what is the point of asking the media not to report adequately enough on the issue?

Are there places where such disagreements have been prevented for people to live in peace and harmony just because the media did not report on them? And what is the point of the press if it is not to document events for future generations to take lessons from the good and bad of history?

Expressions of condolences are necessary, even if there may be an agenda behind it, but trying to sanction the free press – emphasis on free – is not a good idea. It is bound to end precariously, producing unwanted outcomes.

These kinds of measures to limit free speech could worsen the conflict. This is the only genuine piece of advice to those who are tasked with managing and finding solutions for the issue. I cannot imagine where the merchants and the civilians operating and living in those areas would go to vent their frustrations and feelings about the conflict.

The regions where the conflict has erupted are home to historical places like Ejersa Goro. Another is Jigjiga, located in the Somali region. People like Fitawrari Meharene Minda and Germame Neway came from there. It has sites that tourists can visit, beautiful modern buildings and a busy market area. For decades, it has been a city where any Ethiopian can live harmoniously.

Indeed nobody in his right mind can claim that a conflict of such type, between two sides that are of a single country, is typical or should be treated as thus. The media has no fault in worrying about and reporting on the issue. They have not blown anything out of proportion; it is perfectly right to claim that the lives lost and the property damaged require closer attention. It is also the media that can give us an unbiased and undistorted fact on what is really happening. This way, the whole of Ethiopia can come together to help fix the issue, and bring disagreements to an agreeable end.

If the current administration is having a hard time solving the problem, then they should say so. There is no shame in asking the people for a little bit of understanding and some ideas on fixing the issue.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Sep 28,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 909]



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