By Tamiru Ayele
The managing editor of Awramba Times and former CPJ “press freedom hero” has accused the Committee to Protect Journalists of being one of the tools of imposing “Western hegemonic ambition” and a single ideology on targeted countries like Ethiopia and China.
Dawit Kebede, who was one of the four recipients of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2010, launched the scathing attack against CPJ and leading international human rights groups in a recent interview with ETV, the state-run propaganda outlet. He claimed that organizations such as CPJ, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oakland Institute and the International Crisis Group are tools of advancing Western hegemony. “These organizations are part of an overall allegiance to control the world under one single ideology,” he said.
“I do not endorse or reject these organizations 100 percent. But whether we like it or not, they have their own agenda,” he said. He alleged that these advocacy groups exaggerate small incidents and try to put enormous pressure on countries where there are ideological deviations and political economic differences with the United States.
The ruling TPLF regime routinely uses the same line of argument in a bid to discredit international human rights groups that expose atrocities and gross human rights violations in Ethiopia. Contrary to the preposterous claim, TPLF abandoned its Albanian communist ideology over two decades ago. The regime has no tangible ideological differences with Western governments that pump billions of dollars to Ethiopia in the form of foreign aid.
According to the former “press freedom hero”, CPJ and other human rights organizations and their reports are tainted with ideological prejudice. “These institutions have their own agenda and it is intimately related with their survival. As I said earlier, it is related with the desire to impose Western hegemonic ambition on the rest of the world by attacking those countries that do not follow their ideological lines,” he said.
He also asserted that the annual U.S. State Department report on human rights is nothing but a summary of reports published by these Western think tanks and human rights groups that have vested ideological interests. He mentioned Survival International, which defends the rights of endangered indigenous ethnic groups, as an example of overreaching Western interference and alleged that the group tries to impede development and investment in areas like the Southern Omo as if it was more concerned for these indigenous groups than the government.
But Dawit further stated that the reports published by these international advocacy groups have little impact except being used for the benefit of those who tend to use them for propaganda outputs. When Dawit Kebede was jailed in the aftermath of the 2005 election turmoil, CPJ, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, among others, took the lead in campaigning for his release at a global level.
The online publication Awramba Times is widely criticised among Ethiopian activists for changing into a copycat of the worst state-run propaganda outlets. A Washington DC-based activist says that Dawit is just contradicting himself and the reality on the ground in his effort to please the TPLF regime he had once condemned as oppressive.
“It is a well known fact that the situation in Ethiopia is worsening. Despite the fact that he is now opportunistically attacking those who have honored and defended him, he is still receiving funds from the same Western organizations in the name of promoting press freedom,” he noted.
“We all know that Dawit Kebede has made up with his former tormentors. That is why this is a typical case of an opportunist biting the fingers that fed him,” he said. According to the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Dawit has received a substantial amount of money from CPJ, Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) just within the last few years.
“It is public knowledge that he is still receiving over 40,000 US dollars annually from NED in the name of promoting press freedom. If these organizations have demonic and destructive ideological interests, as he alleges, why is he taking their money under false pretenses?” he asked.
In his acceptance speech at the CPJ press freedom awarding ceremony held in New York in 2010, Dawit had vowed that he would give his whole life for press freedom and would never be intimidated by dictators or their agents.
“My country receives millions of American taxpayer dollars to fight terrorism in the Horn of Africa, but under our anti-terrorism law, I risk 25 years in prison if I interview certain opposition politicians,” Dawit had told the CPJ gathering in New York.
CPJ, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, factually insist that Ethiopia under the TPLF is one of the worst repressive countries in the world where journalists, dissidents and activists face trumped up terrorism offenses, torture and vicious attacks. Dawit’s former colleague, Woubishet Taye, who was the deputy editor of the defunct Awramba Times newspaper, is languishing in jail sentenced to 14 years behind bars for being a “terrorist”.
Dawit, who had fled Ethiopia in November 2011 after closing down his newspaper, completed a full circle when he returned home within two years, expressed his happiness for being able to work more freely as a journalist in Ethiopia. He said he had felt a thousand times more oppressed among the Ethiopian Diaspora that largely oppose TPLF’s ethnic-based brutal dictatorship ruling Ethiopia.
According to CPJ, 2014 is one of the worst years for Ethiopian journalists. “A state crackdown on independent publications and bloggers in Ethiopia this year more than doubled the number of journalists imprisoned to 17 from seven the previous year, and prompted several journalists to flee into exile,” CPJ says in its latest report. In the last few months alone, a dozen of journalists have been jailed and nearly 30 Ethiopian journalists were forced into exile after the regime filed terrorism charges against them and the publications they worked for.
Meanwhile, in his latest online posting, Dawit posted celebratory reports from Dedebit, a place where the ruling TPLF junta launched its violent insurretion forty years ago to secede Tigray from the rest of Ethiopia. After it toppled Mengistu’s military junta, TPLF is widely condemned for imposing a brutally oppressive and exploitative ethnic-based Apartheid on the majority of Ethiopians.
“I am now exceedingly happy with what I do more than I can express it in words,” Dawit told ETV, now renamed Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC). Dawit says regardless of what his critics say, he is only practising journalism in an “impartial and professional” manner.
Watch Dawit Kebede’s interview with ETV
Excerpts: Dawit Kebede Interview with ETV / EBC in Amharic
(Translation by K. Bekele, Seattle)
ETV: CPJ has awarded you a press freedom award. What does that mean?
Dawit: The category of award given to me was not done through soliciting votes or online campaigns. The awarding body has its own criteria and based on those criteria you are told to go and collect the award. On the basis of that I went to New York to receive the award.
With regard to these institutions, I have one clear position. I do not endorse or reject these organizations 100 percent. But whether we like it or not, they have their own agenda. These organizations that you mentioned, be it CPJ, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, [International] Crisis Group, Oakland Institute or Freedom House, whether we like it or not, these organizations are part of an overall allegiance to control the world under one single ideology
Whether we like it, they have their own agenda. They defend press freedom. The evidence they present are partially things in existence. When they report a journalist is jailed, the government may have its own reasons and may present its own evidence, but there could be journalists in jail. At the same time, they may also report as if a journalist that did not flee his country went into exile.
In countries where they believe are countries that do not take their ideological lines, it is observed that they exaggerate small events. In these cases, they exaggerate the situation and put significant pressure on these countries. For instance, you mentioned a report that cites China and Ethiopia who have an ideological and political differences. If you look at the majority of these countries, they are the ones that have ideological and political economic differences with the United States. Sometimes there is an issue that is raised frequently. For example, the Ethiopian government works with the US on anti-terrorism, and peace and security matters. Many people get a bit confused when these organizations issue such reports even if Ethiopia is a U.S. ally.
The Americans work with others in areas where they agree, they use these institution where there are differences in ideological and political economic strategies that may not suit them. In spite of the fact in areas where they don’t agree with the ideology and political and economic path Ethiopia is following, America works with Ethiopia on terrorism issues but they use these institutions to put pressure in annual reports. Whether we like it or not, these institutions have their own agenda and it is intimately related with their survival. As I said earlier, it is related with the desire to impose Western hegemonic ambition on the rest of the world by attacking those countries that do not follow their ideological lines. At the same time, there are journalists they defend.
ETV: Let us discuss organizations such as Survival International and Oakland Institute with regard to what you just said. As you know, the government is saying that Ethiopia is making great strides in agriculture. The government in Ethiopia is working hard to duplicate the success in agriculture in the industrial areas also since these two sectors feed each other. There are many arable agricultural land in Ethiopia as well as the availability of cheap labor in abundance. These two are important factors to attract foreign direct (FDI). When Ethiopia is trying to sell this fertile investment opportunities on a global scale, organizations like Survival International, Oakland Institute, Human Rights Watch and various international organizations speak against Ethiopia claiming human rights abuses due to the uprooting of the indigenous people exaggerating the actual situation on the ground on purpose. As you said they exploit a minor problems in order to paint a more gloomy picture of the situation. When IMF claims a rapid economic progress in Ethiopia, Survival International and Oakland Institute issue reports that tarnish and degrade the country. Do you think this is consistent with what you mentioned earlier which is an example of how these organizations are being used as a tool to impose Western Hegemony in Ethiopia?
Dawit: Yes, it is. By the way, there are so many of the numerous organizations. A stream of reports always come out by these different organizations. All the organizations you mentioned such Survival International and International Rivers, Oakland Institute, think tanks, rights advocacy groups and press freedom defenders are set up as civic organizations. At the end of the day, their allegiance is the same. They always issue reports. We have seen the CPJ report. After two or three months, the [U.S.] State Department report will be released. Actually, the US State Department report is nothing but a summary of reports copied from CPJ, Human Rights Watch and reports by the others. Then it becomes a report reflecting the the (the State Department’s] positions. Such reports continue to be issued. But the organizations you mentioned like Survival International, for example, in China, India, and in our own country like Southern Omo, there are indigenous ethnic groups that have unique life style. It defends for the rights of these indigenous groups.They believe that these groups should keep their culture and identity and any development and investment `activists jeopardize their survival. There is a government in any country which is accountable to its own people as it survives on the will of the people. It is ironic that when the government is about to implement policies and strategies that benefit the people, these organizations say that it is going to harm these indigenous groups. As I told you earlier, these organizations are also tools to enforce the kind of policies I mentioned earlier.
By the way, these institutions have a long arm. They have the capacity to stop funding the Ethiopian government may get. For example, they have succeeded in stopping the funding ,around 200 million Euros, from the European Bank which was allocated for the Gibe Dam III. Their claim of trying to protect the culture of the indigenous people is not convincing. It is just a smokescreen. I want to say more on the reports these organizations are pumping out. What is the impact of these reports? These kinds of reports may serve as propaganda input to some extent for those that want to use them to that end. But it has no significant impact beyond that.