Going Global with the Usual Chauvinism Baggage
 
Recently, the Horn of Africa Section of the Voice of America (VOA) increased its airtime for Afaan Oromo and Tigrigna services from 15 to 30 minutes each. A group called Advocacy Group for Voice of Ethiopiawinet sent on June 7, 2004, an appeal letter to some U.S. Senators, Congressmen and other officials expressing grudges against the service. It has also posted the same letter on the internet. It alleges that the Horn of Africa Section’s programs and broadcasts are “divisive and biased, encourage violence and ethnic strife, promote political and social instability, and lead to serious civil conflict that could unleash a wave of terrorism in the region, and undermine the strategic interests of the United States and the global war on terrorism.” It also alleges that “a targeted key beneficiary of VOA’s broadcast has been the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a terrorist group with connections to other well-known international terrorists’ network operating in the Horn of Africa.” 
 
The group states that it advocates for “closer relations between the people[s] of Ethiopia and [the] United States.” One would hope that such effort is not at the risk of attempting to block relations between the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo people, and the people of the United States. The group further alleges that the acts of VOA’s journalists “could lead to growing resentment in the region against the United States.” The group cites Article One of VOA’s Charter which states that VOA be “a reliable and authoritative source of news that is accurate, objective, and comprehensive.” However, it produced no tangible evidence to substantiate where VOA or its reporters failed to uphold its charter. 

According to this group, the Horn of Africa Section “is adding fuel to the fire by advancing the causes of … groups by repeated broadcasts of their unjustified causes and giving airtime to the purported leaders to wage their propaganda wars and to entice potential recruits and supporters.” It avoids elaborating to the recipients of its letter how the cause of such groups is unjustified, or perhaps intentionally puts a lid on what is justified. 

VOA has allocated airtime for the three major languages used in Ethiopia: Afaan Oromo, Amharic and Tigrigna. All the people and political organizations that get information from any broadcasting service are beneficiaries of the service when the service is balanced and accurate. How the OLF alone in the middle of dozens of Amhara and Tigray peoples’ political parties is the key beneficiary should be interesting for any careful observer even though it may not be surprising to those who have lived alongside such chauvinistic culture for a long enough time. Even more interesting is the fact that such groups who are terrorized because people get news service in their native language jump on the terrorist bandwagon to vainly discredit any well founded news and views that are to their distaste. Out of their disgruntled position come all sorts of high sounding alarm bells that should not surprise the careful observers. The group can foolishly make every effort to have us and the people of the United States believe about a “growing resentment in the [horn] region against the United States” because of VOA service. It may not be surprising if a group from the Sunni minority in Iraq makes every attempt to block the basic rights of the Shiite majority in their country. 

On its Horn of Africa Service website, VOA clearly spells out that Afaan Oromo is “targeted at Ethiopia’s single largest ethnic group, roughly 40% of the population.” It further states that Afaan Oromo “is spoken in Northern Kenya as well as by Oromo exiles in Sudan, Djibouti, Middleast and around the world.” By VOA’s estimation of 40% of Ethiopia’s population that is close to 70 million, the Oromo people constitute about 28 million in Ethiopia alone. In this light, VOA’s decisions to start Afaan Oromo broadcast several years ago and double its airtime recently to serve all its listeners with balanced news and views are steps in the right direction in building healthy relationship and understanding between the Oromo people in Ethiopia and the U.S. government and by extension the people of the United States. 

At the very least, the group should be assured that VOA’s balanced views have been well received by the Oromo people as can be inferred from several Oromo media including feedback to VOA itself. 

The so called Advocacy Group failed to understand this critical link and came out with its usual chauvinist baggage, only this time to go global with it. The group has convinced itself the possibility of “significant leadership and management problems at the Section” and overreaches to prescribe the replacement of the current Horn of Africa Service officials. If it gets its way, VOA or the American government needs the group’s permission to broadcast to Ethiopia. 

The group may be best served by not contradicting itself. To state that “Ethiopia would continue to be an important ally of the United States, it is a huge country that is located strategically with over 70 million people, and it would be important to maintain radio program targeting those listeners” and at the same time make every attempt to block the basic rights of 28 million of them will be disservice to all the parties concerned. What the VOA should do and the American people expect from it must focus on balanced news and views service for all the peoples in Ethiopia.

Finally, it may be helpful to remember that liberty is advocated as the social hallmark of the 21st century. No group will be able to stop the tide of liberty marching to empower the peoples around the world. American foreign policy as alluded to by its top officials including President George W. Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appears to help the empowerment of the peoples around the world. In fact, President Bush is credited to have critically observed that American foreign policy’s negligence of the rights of the peoples in the last fifty years aggravated problems around the world. VOA’s balanced reporting on matters that concern the Horn of Africa region will surely contribute to addressing the weakness of American foreign policy of the last fifty years and, again, it is a step in the right direction. For the Oromo people, any freedom gospel preached from outside resonates with the Gada democratic system that was undermined by successive Ethiopian rulers and their servants. Gada is striving to come back and assert its immense social values. Any resistance to liberty will rest in the dust bin of history.