1. “Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Do not build higher barriers of misunderstanding.” This is by Dale Carnegie who underscores the critical importance of listening in the process of building mutual understanding in his book, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS & INFLUENCE PEOPLE (1937, revised edition of 1981).
I wanted to begin my comment with this worthwhile quoting to underscore how listening to any point of view be it agreeable or disagreeable is critically important in any conversation we may have leave alone the serious issues of the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Let the meaning of this quotation in this context be clear that careful and sensible listening is a very important element if we want to engage ourselves in constructive and forward-looking conversation, not to mean do not debate or defend your ideas. I am well aware that given our political history which is terribly characterized by devastating external and civil wars, serious distrust, not to be fortunate enough to have truly democratic and responsible governments and political parties; the challenges we continue to face are so big and serious. Needless to say that our severe lack of the willingness and ability to listen to our own very diverse views and ideas, and to narrow the rift among ourselves has a lot to do with the continuation of the absence of political freedom and socio-economic justice in our country in particular and the sub-region in general. In other words, the challenge we (Ethiopians) continue to face emanates from the political culture we have experienced throughout our political history of not listening to each other and not engaging in critical and constructive arguments and counter –arguments among ourselves leave alone listening to others who happened to be our opponents such as President Isaias Afeworki and his party and government. I am not saying that President Isaias and his government are immune from this kind of very undesirable way of dealing with one another. What I am trying to say is that we as Ethiopians are not playing our role as we should as far as claiming ourselves as proud people of long history of political independence and rich socio-cultural diversity is concerned.
Carnegie says, “…. Our like or dislike of a person can cloud our decision making process.” And there is no doubt that one of the serious challenges in making our efforts to keep our core objectives in the right direction and make sound progress is the political attitude of waging personal attack. In other words, instead of trying to win the minds and hearts of others who may have different views and ideas by engaging them in issues-focused and problem-solving arguments and counter-arguments, we go after name callings and unqualified blame game. I am not naïve enough not to expect all kinds of responses (from reasonable and constructive to irrational and blindly rejectionist) to the trip by ESAT’S journalist to Eritrea. But I sincerely believe that there is a need to use this interesting event as an opportunity to control our emotion-driven attitudes and self-damaging rages , and keep engaging ourselves not mainly in the lamentation for what went wrong in the past but on the issues that must be dealt with for the betterment of tomorrow and the generation to come.
2. With this highlights of introduction to my points of view about the journalistic journey I have chosen as the subject of my brief discussion, let me proceed as follows:
A) Frankly speaking, I was not one of those who might have certain degree of expectation about the possibility of the trip by ESAT’s journalists, Fasil Yenealem and Messy Mekonan to Eritrea. Honestly speaking, I was not also one of those who might have strong expectation about the remarkably successful mission of the trip either. The very reason for that kind of doubtfulness of mine was not either because I have had a perception that ESAT had no interest or its journalists had no the courage and professional ability to do so. It was rather mainly because of my concern about a) their security on their way to Eritrea and return from; and as well as during their travel in different parts of Eritrea including the areas where the truly heroic and patriotic Ethiopians are preparing themselves for launching the fight for the prevalence of freedom, human dignity and socio-economic justice in their country b) whether they will be welcomed by the people of Eritrea during their travel to different prats of the country c) whether they will be able to get any encouraging and realistic opportunity (friendly atmosphere) for the creation and development of people – to – people relationship that could pave the way for the making of much more strong bondage between Ethiopians and Eritreans , and d) whether they will be able to have an opportunity to conduct a relatively genuine , constructive and forward-looking interview with top officials of Eritrea, particularly president Isaias Afeworki. I have to say that I am now one of those Ethiopians who are truly inspired and deeply encouraged by how the very mission of the trip turned out to be remarkably interesting and positively impactful.
B) To my impression, the journey by ESAT’s journalists, Fasi Yenealem and Mesay Mekonnan to Eritrea has fairly significant impact on the critical importance of listening to what others including those who disagree with our views and ideas have to say. As a person who grew up in a society (Ethiopia) that never had an opportunity to develop a culture of listening to the views of others and developing mutual understanding in the real sense of the term, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear and read kind of blindly dismissal and rejectionist responses to this truly commendable journey. With all doubts and reasonable reservation ( quite normal) I may have, I want to say that Fasil and Mesay remarkably proved that seeing what is really happening on the ground, and listening to what others who directly or indirectly are impacted by what has happened and is happening in that part of Africa is enormously valuable. They (the two journalist) truly deserve great appreciation for their outstanding job they have done.
C) I have to say that it was with a great sense of interest and with reasonable and justifiable sense of emotion that I have watched what they have recorded in their video cameras and I have listened to what they have reported back. Yes, my sincere interest and emotion emanates from the very deep aspiration to see a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia in which all her citizens could live with mutual understanding, mutual respect, shared prosperity, and of course love one another. As any genuinely concerned Ethiopian, I strongly aspire to see not only a country (Ethiopia) having a real sense of peace and democratic values within herself but also co-exist with a real sense of peace and friendly relationship with her neighbors in general and with Eritrea in particular. I deeply believe that to this end, we have to start somewhere and with something; and that thing is nothing else but engaging in sincere listening as one of the conducive factors for healthy communication and constructive engagement.
To my understanding, Fasil and Mesay have seen what is happening in Eritrea for themselves and have shown remarkable efforts to listen to what the people of Eritrea had to say about their attitude towards the people of Ethiopia. Here is what author Carnegie has to say about how showing our interest in others is critically worthwhile in the process of making positive influence; “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Needless to say, that was exactly what EAST has done. It sent its energetic and courageous journalists to Eritrea who have shown not only their interests in the people of Eritrea but have also reflected the very interests of the Ethiopian people in the people of Eritrea. And this is what we refer as people-to – people relationship which is of course the corner stone for building a bridge that cannot and should not be damaged whenever governments come and go. I hope this wonderful step taken by ESAT will serve as a case for making unstoppable progress.
D) To my observation, with all the benefit of the doubt or the disagreement we may have, the way they (Fasil and Mesay) conducted the three-part interview with President Isaias Afeworki was remarkably interesting and truly worthwhile. I strongly believe that there is a lot to be taken as truly desirable unless we want to remain captives of lamentation for what went wrong in the past and victims of the fear that has characterized what went wrong throughout our political history. I am sorry to say but I have to say that the very mentality/attitude of “there is no need to deal with people such as President Isaias Afeworki and his government because they are our historical enemies” is the very infantile and terribly damaging way of doing politics. Have President Isaias and his government /party had their own contribution to the situation where the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea found themselves in. Yes, they do.
As a matter of fact, however, the total denial about the damage our rulers; be it the monarchical reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, the military junta of Mengsitu Hailemariam have contributed to the situation where we are now. The ethno-centric tyrannical ruling elites of TPLF/EPRDF have made the situation dangerously damaging; and they currently are very busy to keep the political power under their absolute control. Simply put, the politics of throwing the blame for the suffering of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea to President Isaias and his government without taking the damaging contribution we have made will take us nowhere at all. I am well aware that this arguments of mine could make some fellow Ethiopians very uncomfortable; and I am not surprised as we have never had a political history that could enable us to develop a critical and objective way of thinking about what went wrong and what went right throughout our internal political discourse.
I have closely and curiously watched the three parts of the interview with President Isaias. To my understanding, Fasil and Mesay have raised almost all the main issues which come across in the minds of millions of Ethiopians in one way or another. To mention the ones I particularly do remember : if the Eritrean government would take responsibility; if there is any regret for what went wrong; the war between the two countries and its consequences ; the treatment of Ethiopian prisoners of war and Ethiopian civilians who were in Eritrea ; the Ethiopian opposition in Eritrea and the role of the Eritrean government; if there are efforts to normalize and strengthen people-to-people relationship ; the political and economic challenges of Eritrea; if there is any concern about being isolated (especially by some western governments); if the president identifies himself with a particular ideology ; how he views the challenges of the sub-region from historical and political perspectives; how he views and describes his past political and personal experience; and most importantly what is his view about how to move forward .
With all reservation and doubts I may have, I want to say that the way President Isaias presented himself ( focusing just on the issues raised) and the way he substantiated his argument is not something to simply be undermined and trashed aside . I do not want to go back and discuss on what and how he argued on each points raised because I do think that any interested person can go back and watch for himself or herself, and I sincerely believe it is highly recommendable to do so in order to not to remain victim of the misinformation of the misinformed, to say the least. I am not either defending or advocating that all what he had to say was and is genuine and free from political correctness. What I am trying to say is that it is the right thing for us to critically and rationally listen to what and how he had to argue; and express our impressions and understandings in such a way that making our own points of view could make contribution to the direction we need to move in.
To my understanding, I have to say that the points of view he made about the need to recognize that the challenges we are left with due to serious mistakes in the past requires new, genuine and realistic collective approach is quite right . It is undeniable that any government (state actor) and non-state actor both in Ethiopia and Eritrea has contributed to what terribly went wrong in past ; and this has to be genuinely admitted and corrected . It is quite true that this ugly part of our political history cannot be treated effectively by blaming one another, but it is imperatively by engaging in a forward-looking way of doing things.
Concerning the very importance of not be driven by mere emotion and its consequences, Carnegie argues, “Distrust your first instinctive impression. Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.” He further states that, “if there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.” I truly believe that as long as it is forwarded with some grain of truth and with an acceptable sense of civility, it is so desirable for us to behave and respond accordingly. This is not because it is simply a thing good to do, but because it is neither possible nor desirable to behave and act otherwise as far as creating and developing a friendly relationship between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea in particular and the sub-region in general is concerned.
And I hate to say but I also have to say that undermining, if not blackmailing those media outlasts such as ESAT which are trying to witness for themselves what is happening in Eritrea and what Eritrean people and officials have to say about Ethiopia In particular and the sub-region in general does not make real sense of reasoning at all. It goes without saying that to be with a reasonable degree of doubtfulness as well as with a genuine and rational concern is quite normal, if not necessary. This is because we are living and continue to live in a world that is not governed simply with the politics of morality but the very dynamic political reality on the ground.
3. To my impression, they (Fasil and Mesay) have shown us not only what journalism does really mean as a profession (gathering, analyzing, organizing information, and reporting it) but also how it is a powerful means when it does inform the people how the values of patriotism and freedom should be materialized. We have witnessed this great journalistic mission when Fasil and Mesay went all the way down where patriotic and heroic Ethiopians (Arbegnoch- Ginbot 7) agreed to unify their objectives and efforts that are aimed at bringing about freedom and justice in Ethiopia.
Whatever the ethno-centric and tyrannical ruling circle of TPLF/EPRDF and its cronies may try to come up with their notorious propaganda that emanates from their frustration, we have learnt that those patriotic and heroic Ethiopians are preparing themselves to pay all the necessary sacrifices for freedom and justice to prevail in their country. Thanks to ESAT and its truly courageous journalist, we have witnessed patriotic Ethiopians responding to the call from their country (Ethiopia). Yes, we have witnessed a swift and well-determined response from heroic fellowmen and women when mother Ethiopia was calling her amazingly patriotic sons and daughters such as Emperor Tewodros, Yohanes, Minilik and Empress Taitu. Yes, those and all other patriotic Ethiopians had fought for the safeguard of exemplary political independence and passed down Ethiopia we call our beloved home from generation to generation. Our patriotic and heroic compatriots of this critical moment of our time have a very unique mission, a mission to bring about a democratic change and make sure that the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of the country is safeguarded.
Carnegie says, “… the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.” And that was exactly what the two journalists of ESAT (Fasil and Mesay) have done!
Listening carefully to those they talked with, and watching what they have recorded, and now attending the ongoing briefings and discussions by those journalists is critically valuable. It is my hope that we all will continue extending all the necessary support we can and we should so that this great start of creating and developing a well-informed public will make a difference in the process of the struggle for the prevalence of political freedom , human dignity and socio-economic well-being.