By Tedla G Woldeyohannes
Does truth matter in politics? Many would answer this question with an affirmative, i.e., a “yes”, but would immediately add, what is the point of talking about truth in politics since politicians in general are liars? But is this true? Many would respond to this question affirmatively. Now it is not hard to find evidence for many politicians for falling short of being truthful about what they say and do. We should not overgeneralize this since it is hard for all politicians to be liars all the time. Since politicians are acutely aware of the fact that many people believe that politicians are generally liars, when opportunities arise to advance whatever they want to advance, it becomes much easier for them to lie. Now it is not hard to imagine that the widely held belief that politicians are generally liars breeds politicians that are actually liars, if not always, but on many occasions. Since politicians don’t fall from the sky, this cycle of belief about politicians generally as liars and politicians actually lying continues. Now what has all of this got to do with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and the 14 year old girl’s story from Melbourne, Australia? The following.
Truth is nowhere to be found in the claims reported in the news story about the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and Beritu Jaleta. An embarrassing exposure of the lies about the story has been written by journalist Abebe Gellaw. This news report provides one of the endless opportunities to consider the question whether truth matters in politics—in this case, in the Ethiopian context. This article raises some questions that arise in relation to the story reported about Beritu Jaleta and Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister. In the link I referred to above, Journalist Abebe Gellaw raises a number of questions that are mainly aimed at getting the facts straight in order to get to the truth about what is reported. After reading Abebe’s initial report at getting the facts and truth about the story, I was left with one important question that neither Abebe’s report nor the press conference would provide an answer to. Since there is no easy answer, I decided to think about a possible answer that would sit well with the politics of lies and deception of the Ethiopian government. But still the question needs to be raised and an answer needs to be sought. Hence, this article is one attempt at gesturing in the direction of an answer to this question: What is the point of this whole story or drama about the 20 million Australian dollars that is reported to be used to build schools in Gara Muleta, Eastern Harargie? Is it really true that Beritu was awarded 20 million Australian dollars the way she announced about it? I refer readers to Abebe’s findings whether Beritu was actually awarded such a prize of that magnitude. Whether she was awarded the 20 million Australian dollars or there was something else going on, uncertainty about the truth about this aspect of the story need not distract us from the more pressing question about the role of Dr. Tedros, in his capacity as the Ethiopian Foreign Minister. What was he doing in this story? Was his involvement in this story as innocent as the role of a mere 14 year old girl? I don’t think so. To think of a high profile Ethiopian government official as innocent about what he is doing in his capacity as a Minister of Foreign Affairs would be absurd. What would be the best explanation for all the drama behind this story?
I propose what I take to be the best explanation for the story: Start with the apparent ethnic background of Beritu. The way the current Ethiopian government deals issues raised by the Oromo people is too obvious for anyone who is familiar with the brutality the Oromo people suffered. Note the ongoing controversy regarding the so called “Master Plan” and how this controversy has led to the brutal killing of university students in Ambo. Now add this: In various social media there is a growing vocal outcry of the sundry ways the Oromo people suffer injustice in the hands of the Ethiopian government. It is not hard to imagine now how the social media savvy Ethiopian Foreign Minister can quickly make use of the news about the alleged humanitarian investment by a 14 year old child of Oromo ethnic heritage. This posture Dr. Tedros assumed in the story has a clear message for those who expose the injustice the Ethiopian government commits against the Oromo people. The message is to suggest that the Ethiopian government is openly working and promoting the interest of the Oromo, including from the Diaspora. This story about Beritu is intended to promote the government’s willingness to work for the interest of the Oromo with the Oromo people. Would Dr.Tedros and the Ethiopian government make political profit from the commitment made to work with Beritu? There is no doubt that is the hope.
A moment’s reflection shows that to engage in this scheme for someone in Dr. Tedros’ capacity is an insult to millions of Ethiopians. The insult now has a deeper dimension to it because it involves the life of a 14 year old. With zero piece of evidence to support that this story is true, hence it is not unjustified to call it is a scam, and that it has been staged to boost the public relations image for Dr. Tedros and his Office, this would suggest that Dr.Tedros shows a remarkable failure in his judgment using a child in this whole scheme. If and when all the things said and pledges made come to nothing, what will this young girl become? Considering all the routine human rights abuse Dr. Tedros’s government has been committing against its citizens and particularly the Oromo people, it is not difficult to imagine that using a 14 year old child to make a political profit would be of no concern to him and his office.
Furthermore, the other aspect of the insult to the millions is this: I take it that there is something Dr. Tedros knows about the facts regarding the alleged prize Beritu announced that she had won. Note that the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Tewolde Mulugeta, indicated in the press conference held at the office of MFA that the MFA has received some evidence or document about Beritu’s award. However, in a statement shared on his Facebook page, on March 7th, 2015 Dr Tedros claimed that he has basically JUST BELIEVED what a 14 year old told him without any need to make sure the accuracy of her claim. To justify or to make his story BELIEVABLE he has said that children are innocent and hence they should be trusted about what they tell us. He said that if to trust innocent children is a mistake, then he would rather choose to admit such a mistake. He added that he chose to believe what Beritu told him and thinks others would agree with him about his justification to believe the story without a need for evidence whether the story is true or not. Essentially his Facebook message is an attempt to justify his trusting what he was told by an innocent school girl boils down to: Probably what Beritu told me was not true, even if it was not true, her motive is not bad because she is a young girl and the young are generally innocent. And, probably, it was a mistake for me to trust what she told me [but note that he did not say he has made any mistake], but I would rather trust what innocent children or young tell me rather not. This reasoning is preposterous when it is displayed by a Foreign Minister of any country. In sum, this justification to cover up lies behind this political drama shows a serious failure in his judgment regarding his role as a Minster of Foreign Affairs. His poor judgment in handling this issue for some political profit would do more damage to his office than he seems to have realized.
The other serious insult surrounding this scam is to the people of Ethiopia, in general, whose Minister of Foreign Affairs he is, and to the Oromo community, in particular, is this: This level of blatant lie and the way Dr. Tedros tried to cover one lie by another shows the degree of contempt he and those in leadership position like him have to their fellow citizens. To script this ridiculously naïve political drama and to act it out in public, including using the social media, Facebook, to target those who have access to the social media, is to tell fellow citizens that this is what they deserve. But this contempt to fellow citizens has turned out to be a double-edged sword in that it is the Minister’s poor judgment that has been exposed more than anything. This is an example of a person who trivializes truth and ends up trivializing himself. It is not the first time, nor is it the last time for the Ethiopian government officials to engage in blatant lies and perpetuating more lies and deceiving fellow citizens, but using a 14 year old girl for political agenda is outrageous, to say the least.
The bottom-line: In the days and weeks to come, numerous lies will be told in various forms and shapes because the 2015 election is coming. Stories such as Beritu’s are intended to bolster the image of the EPRDF government in the days leading up to the farce election to legitimize the regime in power to remain in power so that the abuse of power can continue. In addition, the Oromo people who opposed the implementation of the so-called Master Plan seem to be among the intended targets of this disastrous drama with the pseudo-goal that the Ethiopian government is promoting the interests of the Oromo, including the Diaspora Oromo to work with the Ethiopian government in fighting poverty. As those who are on Facebook and other social media are aware of, the most trenchant criticisms regarding the so called Master Plan comes from members of the Oromo community in Melbourne, Australia. It is no coincidence why Beritu, who is also a member of the Oromo community in Melbourne, Australia was chosen to play a role in this poorly thought-out and acted political drama. One of the key purposes of this whole scam and drama is to give the Oromo community a distraction from the most scathing criticism of the Ethiopian government’s relation to the Oromo people that comes from Melbourne, Australia among other Diaspora Oromo communities.
Tedla G. Woldeyohannes, a doctoral candidate in Philosophy at St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Abebe has just published a more devastating finding on this story, which I’ve just seen after having finished writing this piece. It’s here: http://addisvoice.com/2015/03/tedros-adhanom%E2%80%99s-20-million-lie-suffers-fatal-blow/
 See the preceding link for more details.