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Unethical Journalism will not Change the Reality on the Ground

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Open letter to Tizita Belachew and Addissu Abebe of VOA Amharic Service

By Daandii Qajeelaa

Dear Mrs. Tizita Belachew and Mr. Addisu Abebe,

I listened to the interview you jointly made with what you called three “Oromo Ethiopian scholars” on the controversial Addis Ababa (Finfinne) Master plan broadcasted on Saturday, May 23, 2014 with keen interest. Those interviewed were 1) Dr. Bulcha Ta’a, 2) Dr. Demissie Oluma, and 3) Dr. Gizachew Tesso and the two of you moderated the debate as independent and neutral VOA Amharic service journalists. From the outset, the interview seemed to have been designed as a rebuttal by Drs. Ta’a and Oluma to an earlier interview Mr. Addissu Abebe made with Dr. Gizachew Tesso on the same subject. It was noted that Dr. Gizachew Tesso was re-invited to join the other two gentlemen because several listeners of the VOA Amahric service raised questions on his earlier interview.

As an Oromo individual who has been actively involved in the activities of the Oromo Diaspora for over fourteen years, I am puzzled by the choice of the two individuals Dr. Bulcha Ta’a and Dr. Demissie Oluma, for two reasons. First, the two individuals are largely unknown to the Oromo public in the Diaspora. They are not members of any Oromo association or organization, community, scholarly, professional, or otherwise. For example, I worked in the Executive Committee of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) for 7 years and actively involved in several Oromo based organizations here in USA. As a result I came to know nearly all respected Oromos, with some expertise knowledge, who are residing in USA and Canada. I don’t know these two “Oromo Ethiopian scholars”. There is no record of them making research and/or public presentation on this subject or on any other subject. My question to you is, what made them eligible to be invited to give this interview on a well-respected media such as VOA? I am not a journalist. But common sense tells me that a reputable organization such as VOA would carefully select well known, well respected and reputable individuals with uncontested expertise knowledge to an interview on this sensitive and controversial subject. Otherwise, the good name, reputation, and credibility of VOA will be on the line.

The second reason I am puzzled by the choice of the two individuals is that their view is not a typical Oromo scholar. In an attempt to answer the root cause of the current Oromo student protest in Oromia, the two so called “Oromo scholars” shocked all of us when they said “the root cause of the current crisis is the division of the country into federal arrangement based on language”. They went on saying “the Oromo students who are currently protesting are the product and victims of Woyane policy” and that is why they are protesting. Basically, they blamed the victims, Oromo students, for the current crisis without any sense of remorse. We Oromos know where this line of thought originated from. It is the view of typical hardline Amhara scholars, who advocate that the current federal arrangement be demolished and, in doing so, take the Oromo and other oppressed nations and nationalities back into the old unitary Ethiopia, dominated and completely controlled by Amhara ruling elites. We Oromos know for sure that it is extremely rare to find an Oromo individual, let alone Oromo scholar, to have the kind of view reflected by Drs. Bulcha Ta’a and Demissie Oluma. The question now is how are these two “scholars” chosen? What is the motive behind searching for such individuals from among the Oromo public and presenting their view on this media on this sensitive subject giving them the tag of “Oromo Ethiopian scholars”? Is this how “independent journalism” works?

Anyone who follows the Ethiopian politics can observe that there are two main schools of thought in the Ethiopian political landscape. These are: 1) the “Right to Self-determination of Nations and Nationalities” school of thought, and 2) the “Ethiopian Unity” school of thought. Those in the “self-determination” camp advocate for the realization of “the right to self-determination of nations and nationalities” as enshrined by the declaration of the United Nations. Nearly all Oromo scholars are in this camp as they advocate and struggle for freedom of their country, Oromia, from old nafxanyas (Amhara settles) and neo-naftanyas (Tigrayan elites). Those in the “unity” camp on the other hand, promote the view that the “unity and territorial integrity” of Ethiopia is above everything and is not negotiable. Nearly all Amhara scholars are in this camp. The “unity” camp can be categorized as extremists and moderates. The “unity moderates” accept the current Federal arrangement but oppose the disintegration of the country. The “unity extremists” on the other hand, go further and promote a return to the old unitary Ethiopian state in which the current Federal arrangement is abolished. Ironically, the view of Dr. Ta’a and Dr. Guluma, supposedly “Oromo scholars” is under this “unity extremist” category. And yet, they are presented as typical Oromo scholars for an interview.

Oromo scholars are divided on whether Oromia should be an independent country or remain as an autonomous state within Federal Ethiopia. However, to my knowledge, Oromo scholars have absolute consensus on one thing. With the exception of some extremely rare Oromo individuals like Dr. Ta’a and Dr. Oluma, they all oppose the old “unitary Ethiopian state” where the current Federal arrangement is abolished. Oromo students are not “products of Woyane policy” as described by the two doctors. They are products of typical Oromo scholars. They listen to well respected Oromo scholars such as Professor Mekuria Bulcha, Mohammed Hassan, Asafa Jalata, Merera Gudina, Gemechu Megersa, to mention few.

Dear Mrs. Belachew and Mr. Abebe,

I am a firm believer of free speech and encourage debate on controversial subjects such as the Addis Ababa (Finfinne) Master plan. My concern here is that you have chosen rare so named “Oromo scholars” who have a typical hardline Amhara scholar’s ideology and who are unknown to the Oromo public. While I cannot tell your motives for certain for doing so, I can guess it could be one of two things: 1) probably you are carried away by your personal ideology, or 2) you are pushed by those Amhara hardliner fans to search and present “Oromo” individuals of such view on your program. Either way, I am sad that you abused the good name and reputation of VOA to promote a special sectarian interest by completely disregarding the voice and interest of the Oromo mass. I would not be bothered if you had presented Amhara hardliners on this or any other topic as you always do. I am sad because you went further and presented a typical ideology of Amhara elites through an Oromo person’s mouth, giving the wrong impression to the general public that “Oromo scholars” actually are against the current “language based federalism”.  It is wrong and fake. It is unprofessional and unethical. It doesn’t do any good to the ideology you are trying to promote. For the Oromo, it doesn’t change the reality on the ground. Above all, it has a negative effect of damaging the good name and credibility of VOA.

Sincerely,

Daandii Qajeelaa

dqajeelaa@gmail.com