Friday, 16 August 2013

The ESAT Discussion Forum in Virginia

The Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) is organizing a discussion forum to be held on the 18th of August 2013 in Arlington,Virginia, the USA. The general topic for discussion is, according to ESAT Radio August 15th broadcast, on current Ethiopian affairs and on identifying possible "solutions" to Ethiopia's problems. Participants are from political parties, civic organizations, government officials, and the general public. Branded as the first of its kind, the discussion is expected to explore possible 'exits' from the ugly political scene Ethiopia finds itself for decades. This is a timely and crucial initiative that needs deliberations. I want to highlight some points related to the planned forum.


The rationale ESAT provided behind organizing the discussion forum is absolutely satisfactory; that our country Ethiopia is strangled with countless challenges and needs urgent and concerted efforts from us all before things reach at a point of no return. Open and disciplined discussions of current affairs would lead to favorable changes in the end. In fact, in my latest post entitled "Inclusive discourse : A prelude to national reconciliation" (which is available at, I called up on all Ethiopians to open and sustain serious and series of such discussions. I argued that civilized discussions of socio-political and economic challenges and issues by government and the opposition as well as the general public is the cleanest way to bring genuine understanding and then national reconciliation. This would be a guarantee for sustained and scalable peace, democracy, and generally the rule of law. I have no hesitation that the ESAT-initiated discussion would break the ice. Any person concerned for positive change in Ethiopia should support the forum by all means available.


Another added value of the planned discussion is its inclusiveness. Officials from the government, people from political parties and civic organizations and the general public are invited. The Ethiopian Diaspora and those residing in Ethiopia will participate. This is highly original and commendable as nearly all previous meetings, conferences, fund raising events, and  rallies (both from the government and opposition sides) are entirely exclusive of each other. Bringing the two sides together for a genuine face-to-face discussion is both timely and significant. This has been one of the most crucial missing links in Ethiopian politics. The opposition and the government must 'exploit' the opportunity provided. 

However, one needs to be a bit cautious about the nature and the outcome of the discussion forum. The way the forum is organized and led now would have lasting implications for similar future initiatives. And the degree of expectations from the discussions could also leave unwanted scars. I try to outline the following ones.

The Agendas

As I briefly described above, the discussions will focus on current Ethiopian affairs and on how to bring the country to a different political landscape. These are extremely important agendas and goals. The devil is however always in the details. Framing the specific focus areas for discussion might lead to premature disagreements between participants. If government people are attending, how one is going to identify and present specific topics for discussion related to current affairs? Is the forum going to focus on how and to what extent the ruling party is terrorizing, persecuting, prosecuting, killing, and starving its own people? These sorts of talks would for sure inoculate those people who sympathize with the government, probably leading to premature disagreements. Though the scale of injustices made are mind boggling and are the facts on the ground, it would be more helpful to focus on what to do next. Taking this trajectory for the discussions would invite all participants to get serious and would feel responsible to crafting the future of Ethiopia. What should matter at this point in time is the present and the future. This approach would ensure frank discussions which may bring genuine changes for years and years.Quantifying the extent of mishaps that took place in Ethiopia for the last two decades is a tried and tired approach and would lead us no where. 

The Leaders

To me, the other issue is related to the personalities who are going to lead the discussions. In my latest post, I argued that discussions of this sorts would benefit if people who appear to be neutral take the facilitation. ESAT said that it just is creating the opportunity to all interested to discuss and come up with solutions. Does that mean that ESAT journalists are going to chair the discussions? Personally, I have no problem if ESAT takes the role as a facilitator as it is its initiative after all. But if there are other Ethiopians who are not formally affiliated with ESAT and who have demonstrated potential and commitment to  bring change, it would be better to leave the facilitation to them. If this is chosen, it could help ESAT to continue to gesture its independence and objectivity. This may also be useful when it comes to putting government officials and its supporters at ease during the discussions. It does not help to think that all or most or many government officials have a positive feeling about ESAT.

PS: According to the flyer, which is released a bit late and which I saw a day after I posted this piece, ESAT journalists plan to chair the discussions.

The Expectations

ESAT expects, from the discussions,"solutions" to Ethiopia's multifaceted problems. This is a noble cause and is one that drives the initiative. But given 1) the complex nature of our political problems, 2) our culture of negotiation and discourse formation, and 3) the limited time available (just one day), it is unlikely to come up with satisfactory outcomes from the discussions. We may need series of discussions at various levels before we are able to identify our common trajectory. ESAT's expectation is ambitious. If the discussions fall short of meeting the ambitions for whatever reasons, it would hurt. It would hurt ESAT, and it would hurt the Ethiopian people. We have been promised changes after changes; none touched the ground though. And that is partly why many Ethiopians tend to have a dropped mood for political participation. It is thus better to sort of tone down the expectations from the Sunday discussions. In fact, it could pay off if we consider the upcoming discussions as the beginning of the beginning of a new culture of politics in Ethiopia.         


  1. I do not think ESAT is genuine about inclusive discussions. Who from the government side is participating and how much time was given to the government to consider participating? Who are the opposition to take part? It would be a miracle if ESAT comes up with a solution from a short-organized meeting. But still, am positive that they started it.

  2. This is just a waste of time if ESAT journalist is going to facilitate the discussion. It is Ginbot 7 that owns ESAT and I don't see neutrality. ESAT is a propaganda machine of hate and lies.



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