By Hashim Adam*
The propaganda video that was released by the Ethiopian Television (ETV) about the Muslim movement in Ethiopia reminded me of the unfounded accusation that the TPLF made against the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in order to terrorize OLF’s supporters in early 1990s.
It was several years after 1991, and I was in middle school when the government agents were busy working on defamation campaign against the OLF. There were meetings almost every other week in villages, towns and schools. On these meetings, they did Saaxileessaa, literally means disclosing secrets.
Before the Saaxileessaa meetings, the government agents would equip couple of people with all the accusations against the prisoners. The accusers presented themselves at the meeting as if they were victimized by the OLF. The prisoners, suspected of financially supporting and sympathizing with the OLF, would be brought to the stage and the drama would start. The prisoners were severely tortured before the meetings and instructed to confess, and they would be frightened that had they refused to confess they would face the consequences afterwards. The torture was so harsh that, even the innocent person whom had never heard of the name OLF, would admit to the charge. Close relatives of active members of the OLF received the worst treatment of all.
The audience at the meetings was also misinformed about the OLF’s mission. The youth and uninformed were the main targets of propaganda, and it seemed like the truth was buried and completely covered with all the lies and false accusations. It was hard to identify the agents from the victims. Everyone was suspicious of the person next to them at the meetings. So, even though most people knew the truth, very few individuals would stand up and confront the TPLF agents.
Videos and set-up Saaxileessaa agents were used to spread the propaganda. One prime example was the incident when I was in the 7th grade. Mr. Danyachew, vice administrator of Bale Zone at that time, came to our school and held a daylong meeting with us. He brought with him a video for us to watch. The content of that video was very disturbing. It showed people getting burnt in a house, being thrown into a deep gorge and being hung from the tree, and so many evil things.
After the video was shown, Mr. Danyachew stood up from his chair and explained, “Look at them,” Danyachew spoke shamelessly and made it worse for us – the audience of that excellent propaganda, “this happened in Baddannoo. And, it was the work of OLF, they butcher people, hung people and burn people.” And he continued, “You know who they are doing this to?” he tried to label the OLF as brutal which would do such horrible things even to their own brothers and sisters. We were very young, but what we watched awaken us all of a sudden. We were irritated and could not wait until he got off the stage. Instead, he kept going on and on about it. What he did not know was that those young kids could analyze things way better than he could.
After the long and boring explanation about the video, in soliciting for support from the audience, he gave a chance to few people to speak. One young brave boy, I still remember him, raised his hand and was given the chance to speak. The boy was nervous at the start, but picked it up as he spoke, “Ok, I have one simple question, who recorded this video? Whoever recorded this video must have done all the crimes committed. This looks like a movie to me; instead of recording it, how come they did not save those innocent people? And, I heard that OLF fights for freedom; why would they commit such crimes?” And, then he sat down, all the sudden everybody was clapping.
Mr. Danyachew was furious, and he jumped up from his chair and shouted, “Shut up now,” and turned around and looked at teachers who were sitting right next to him, and furiously spoke, “There must be some remnants of OLF among you,” banging on the table right in front of him. Probably, he did not expect the 7th grader to challenge him. It took him a while until he later on collected himself and answered the question. Even though I don’t recall the exact answer, I remember him leaving that school scratching his head wondering who the hell taught those kids.
That video was so fictitious that even people as young as middle school students knew how the producers of that video were the best writers of the same fictions. They create a story, set up characters, practice the lies very well, and narrate it like it is true. They want to create confusion and mistrust among different ethnic groups, religious sects and even among brothers and sisters. They have been doing this since the first day they secured power in that country, and used this system to defame leaders and to frighten supporters of the true cause.
Now, leaders of the Muslim Community are the victims of this fiction. The same technique, that has been used against the OLF, the ONLF and other opposition parties, is being used against Muslim leaders of today. The Muslim leaders are being accused of attempting to create an Islamic Government in Ethiopia like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and causing violence in the country. On the contrary, we have witnessed one of the most organized and peaceful demonstrations ever led in Ethiopia. These leaders should have been actually recognized as leaders of peaceful social changes in that country. The shocking thing is how ETV personals shamefully lie to the people, who happen to know their leaders very well. Can they even think? Do they think that the viewers of ETV programs are stupid?
ETV is truly a propaganda machine that accuses innocent and peace-loving people of crimes they did not commit. It uses any possible lie it can fabricate in order to brainwash, confuse and try hard to distance the people from true freedom fighters and peace-loving organizations. However, it has been unsuccessful, and it will never deter our generation from pursuing the freedom that millions are yearning for!
* Hashim Adam is the former President of the International Oromo Youth Association/IOYA (2010-2011) and former President of the Oromia Student Union at UMN (2009-2010).