Why now? Where were they?
Disclaimer: The following opinion is solely that of the author and does not reflect the views of Ethiopian News Digest.
First and foremost, I unequivocally condemn all forms of discrimination, arrest, killings, and abuses based on ethnicity, race, or religion. I harbor no ill-will towards anyone. My sincerest hope is for all parties involved in the Ethiopian conflict to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation rather than the use of force.
As a researcher deeply involved in the field of journalism and media studies, I’ve often found myself in the somewhat uncomfortable position of scrutinizing the work of journalists. While I generally prefer not to critique individuals publicly, the actions and statements of two prominent Ethiopian journalists—Minalachew Simachew and Elias Meseret—compel me to break that silence.
Minalachew Simachew: From Broadcaster to Activism and Hate
Minalachew Simachew, a long-time employee of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency, was a well-known figure in the Ethiopian media landscape, primarily for his roles as a news anchor on Ethiopian Radio. My research has put me in touch with many who are acquainted with him, both personally and professionally.
Minalachew had garnered a reputation as the ‘go-to’ individual for gathering intelligence on Amhara and Ethiopian nationalists with affiliations to organizations such as the All Amhara People’s Organization and other nationalist groups. He was particularly favored by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and was often seen collaborating with top intelligence officers, such as Esayas Wolder Giorgis, the Deputy of the Intelligence Agency. His reputation among his colleagues was that of an internal informant, if not a spy.
Upon relocating to the United States as an economic immigrant, Minalachew did not pursue typical labor-intensive jobs nor did he possess the qualifications for white-collar roles. Instead, he found his niche within radical Amhara activist groups.
In a recent interview with politician Lidetu Ayalew, Minalachew defended an offensive term used by an Amhara political group during a press conference. His justification was both shocking and legally flawed. He argued that the use of derogatory language against the Oromo people is permissible because Ethiopian law does not specifically ban it, much like how Americans refrain from using the ‘N-word’ due to legal restrictions. This argument not only disregards existing Ethiopian laws against hate speech but also demonstrates a perilous logic. When Lidetu Ayalew tried to point out the moral and legal boundaries, Minalachew audaciously questioned Lidetu’s loyalty, asking, “are you with us or against us?” It is worth noting that Lidetu handled this confrontational moment with grace.
The consequences of Minalachew’s stance are far-reaching, particularly for the Oromo people, who are already marginalized. Although hate is a corrosive force, the Oromo community and other progressive Ethiopians reiterate their resolve that Ethiopia will move towards a better future, with or without individuals like Minalachew setting foot on their soil.
Elias Meseret: Cover your Eye and let me cheat you!
While Minalachew Simachew’s professional narrative invites critical scrutiny, Elias Meseret presents another intricate case deserving of attention. Elias once commanded my admiration for his comprehensive interviews with international leaders and his valuable contributions to Ethiopian publications such as Fortune, Capital, and The Reporter newspapers. During his time of ascendancy, Elias was often seen as a proficient journalist and a potential role model for his Ethiopian counterparts, who sometimes lacked professional finesse.
A Complex Relationship with TPLF
However, even at the peak of his career, there were persistent rumors that Elias was unduly favored by the then-ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This favoritism led to mixed sentiments about him within the Ethiopian journalistic community.
Following the downfall of the TPLF, Elias made concerted efforts to distance himself from the regime. There was an evident push in his reporting and editorial choices to position himself as an Ethiopian contributing to the end of TPLF rule, a move which could be viewed as understandable considering TPLF’s controversial reign. However, this effort seemed to overlook the opportunities and platforms that TPLF provided for journalists like him.
Controversial Reporting Amid Conflicts
What I find particularly concerning is Elias’ reporting on the conflicts and civil strife affecting various Ethiopian communities. He was quick to downplay any misconduct by the Amhara militia or the Ethiopian government during the Tigray crisis. His articles even seemed to encourage officials to continue arresting Tigray civilians. This willingness to marginalize the suffering of a specific ethnic group raised serious ethical questions.
The Amhara Conflict and Shifting Narratives
With the recent Amhara conflict, Elias has taken on a dramatically different role. He now portrays himself as a spokesperson for those arrested, without engaging critically in understanding why these arrests are happening. Previously, he suggested that the ethnically rooted nature of Ethiopian conflicts justifies arrests based on ethnicity. Now, he assumes a self-appointed role as a human rights advocate and spokesperson for the Amhara militia and its supporters.
In a self-reflective manner, Elias seems to preempt critics by framing a hypothetical question about his biased reporting: “During the conflict with TPLF, you were okay with Tigrayans being arrested; what is the difference now?” However, this rhetorical maneuver fails to absolve him. His inconsistent stances not only display a lack of journalistic integrity but also undermine public trust in media reporting.