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Opinion: Superficial Positive-Image-Building Campaigns Will Not Unite Ethiopia

By Qeerransoo Biyyaa* [posted January 10, 2008]

Since September 2007, the regime in Finfinnee (Addis Ababa) has been engaging in huge positive-image-building campaigns in the eyes of the West. Positive-image-building campaigns make one of the components of the millennium goals. This campaign has involved music concerts, exhibitions, and bazaars.

Today I will focus on why these superficial image-building campaigns can not help unite Ethiopia. I will show how it deepens the divide amongst the peoples of the country who want to determine their own destiny. If you ask the regime or supporter of the regime why creating awareness in the West about Ethiopia is important, you will get misleading arguments like this: “The country badly needs foreign investment to grow. This will signal to the world Ethiopia is a better and stable place to put their money in”. This quote is from my reader who sent me an email following my previous article. At its very best this rhetoric is a propaganda which tries to conceal the fundamental questions of freedom and democracy, the lack of respect for human rights and the right to self determination up to secession of peoples. The oppressed people of the country are now focusing on trying to find answers to these fundamental questions in various forms of struggles. Examples are everywhere about the violation of human rights in Ethiopia and particularly Oromia and Ogadenia.

It is one thing to try to attract foreign investment for developing a country, but it is quite another to assure the safety and security of investors’ money. This is so because Ethiopia is not a stable country where sustainable investment can take place. What happened to the Chinese oil mining company in Ogadenia and the Gambella massacre related to oil extraction are evidences that superficial-awareness-creating campaigns will not guarantee the well-being of foreign investment. Foreign investment is far from being safe. It is being attacked because of lack of stability in the country and even its neighborhood. In my view foreign investment is vulnerable to threats in Ethiopia not because the local people and opposition do not like their country or region to prosper, but because the locals who are represented more by opposition political organizations rightly perceive that the government with foreigners is exploiting their wealth. The government is alien to the people, and such investments benefit a few elite from the minority ruling regime which helps its own group to control the economy of the country. Because locals associate the foreign investors with their oppressors, which are the state and its machinery, local people mistrust and attack investment sites or its workers just as a fair act of protecting their wealth. This is one reason why the campaign to promote [a false] positive image of the country in the West does not work.

Investors are told Ethiopia is ‘green, its resources untapped, and that it is a united and free country.’ It becomes the chicken-and-egg question. Which comes first? Freedom and democracy in Ethiopia or trying to build positive image just by verbal campaigns? I will leave this for you to ponder.

The other reason this campaign will fail is that Ethiopia is not a country, but an empire where peoples are held together by the barrel of the gun. Except the Tigrians and Amharas, the rest of the nations and nationalities have not agreed to be called Ethiopians.

Yes, there are potential investment areas that can make the country a powerhouse of Africa. This involves mining the oils in Ogadenia and Gambella, advancing and mechanizing its agriculture, generating hydro-electric power and selling it to other neighboring African countries. Nobody is opposed to see their country develop. With the unpopularity of the regime in Finfinnee, this attempt to create awareness about Ethiopia’s potentials only serves a propaganda purpose. It will be a fantasy to think of a successful investment and united country without first addressing deep-seated political standoffs. Unless these are addressed, Ethiopia will ever be that the country known for its biting poverty, civil war, drought and environmental degradation.

* Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of