Addis Ababa is a colorful
city sinking beneath the mountains into a valley of high-rise buildings under
construction, clashing with slums and children grazing goats and lambs while
cars wallpapered with pictures of the Virgin Mary roar around and pop up from
everywhere. In the ochre and dusty city of Addis the crazy chaos seems to have
its own meaningful order of things.
There is a positive
energy in this city which overwhelms you with its warm colors - red, yellow,
orange and pink stand out in every street - along with Christian and Muslim
morning prayers and the aroma of freshly ground coffee. Three weeks after my
return from Ethiopia, I can say that being there was an incredible work and
life experience for me.
REPORTING ON PRESS FREEDOM IN ADDIS ABABA
I travelled to
Ethiopia with the organization I work for, the International Observatory of
Human Rights, on 27th April to tell the story of a country which is
undertaking a huge democratization process. We were all very glad that we were
able to participate somehow in this change: my colleagues and I finally managed
to tell a positive human rights story.
For journalists, human rights stories are rarely happy ones. Only a year
ago, Ethiopia was one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world. It was
only when Dr. Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, that democratic reforms
were issued, journalists were released from prison, private media were able to
operate in the country and “thorny” websites were unblocked.
within a country always takes time, so before leaving England I was a bit skeptical.
Once in Ethiopia, I found the strength of its people who are trying to do good
and better for their country. Although the government still has many challenges
to face - ethnic division is just one of them - I could feel a new positive
vibe. While covering the giant steps that Abiy’s administration has made, for
IOHR TV, we met Ethiopian journalists, bloggers and people who lived in exile
for many years, like EILCO’s founders. Despite what they went through, they now
want to share their own experience and make this democratic change not only
possible, but also felt by the rest of the population. The most powerful
freeze-frame I’ve brought back home is the emotions in the eyes of people like
Bekele Woyecha and journalist Woubshet Taye when meeting the Prime Minister at
the World Press Freedom Day dinner gala. I can’t even imagine how it must have
felt when the new Prime Minister of your homeland, a country you were not
allowed to enter for many years, tells you: “Welcome
home. We need you”.
As a journalist
myself, it was a privilege to meet someone like Woubshet Taye, who unjustly
spent seven years in jail for his critical coverage of the government. When I
asked him who he is today, he said that he is nobody, just someone who is
trying to do his job. His answer really made me realize that freedom of
expression in the Western world is often taken for granted by journalists
themselves. We need to do more to support the challenges and struggles that our
colleagues face in developing countries and dictatorships. Campaigns to protect
journalists worldwide are, in fact, a quite recent phenomenon. Pressure means a
lot for them. Look at the case of Reuters' journalists in Myanmar. The
international pressure was significant in this case. Back in Addis we
interviewed the brother of Reuters' journalist Wa Lone, who was imprisoned in
Myanmar. A few days after World Press Freedom Day in Ethiopia, Wa Lone and his
colleague Kyaw Soo Oe were released.
When I arrived in the
country, the Ethiopians I met were so thrilled about the new political
situation that for a moment I thought that they were overlooking the gaps that
still had to be filled, but I was wrong. The people I met are attentive
critical thinkers. Between exploring the city, tasting Tej and seeing amazing
dancers at the restaurant - Yod Abyssinia, I also had the chance to meet the
students and the head of the university of journalism at the Addis Ababa
University. They are all very aware about what needs to be done and how
journalism could blossom in the country: students recognise that access to
state owned information and unemployment are still challenging issues; Amanuel
Abdissa, of the school of journalism, told me that a quantitative growth of
media has taken place versus a qualitative one and that investigative
journalism is still hard to do; blogger Befekadu Hailu, who was jailed four
times, told me that a new law passed by the Parliament will decrease income of
broadcasters by 45% and that the new government instituted an Advisory Council
to reform the justice system and look at repressive laws that are still
After seeing how
Ethiopians and the diaspora like EILCO are trying to create change, I would like
to do some voluntary work and be involved in journalism training projects.
ON THE DROUGHT CRISIS IN THE TIGRAY REGION
I didn’t just have the
opportunity to report in the fourth largest city in Africa, Addis Ababa, but I
was able to put myself to the test in a different environment. We travelled
with Oxfam to the north of the country, Mekele, to cover how the drought crisis
and climate change are impacting the lives of small communities there. When
crossing the lands of the north of Ethiopia in an off-road vehicle, people and
children on the streets were looking at us astonished. It was probably one of
the first times that they saw white people. “Faringi, Faringi”, “foreigner, foreigner”, children shouted as
watchmen whenever we got out of the car, then asking us to donate some pens.
In the Tigray region,
Oxfam launched a project dedicated to landless youth and women to give them a
good life alternative: beekeeping. This business perfectly fits into the very
arid landscape they live in. There, cattle don’t have any grass to munch.
Moreover, Ethiopia is famous for its special white honey, so beekeeping is
definitely a good opportunity for them. I was struck, not just by the change
this project brought to people’s quality of life, but also by how it empowered
them and positively influenced the idea of themselves.
Teferi Kassa, a 22-year-old man, is very proud of himself
today. He tried many times to immigrate illegally to Saudi Arabia to escape the
hard life of his village. In the end, he decided to stay in Ethiopia as Oxfam
trained him to become a beekeeper. He now manages many bee colonies and sells
his delicious white honey to the local market. With the money he has earned, he
bought a pool that he rents to this village. He then invests the money back
into his beekeeping business.
In his small village,
everybody now sees him as a successful entrepreneur. He now feels fulfilled,
but others like him didn’t have the same chance. 15 young men from the same
district escaped the warm land of Africa and drowned trying to find hope in
Europe. My country, Italy, is witnessing this humanitarian crisis. After
meeting young people there, its new stance on migration makes me question even
more about the role of ‘bridge counties’ like mine and about how EU countries
need to work together to face this issue. Just this week The Economist dedicated
a lot of space to the bond climate-migration stating that “Moving is a rational
way to adapt to a changing environment”.
However, when I met
the second beekeeper and her husband, I realized that they didn’t understand
why their two sons and daughters went illegally to Saudi Arabia. It was moving
to talk to them about how new generations’ goals and ideas have changed,
compared to the values and culture of elders. On the wall of their house, a
poster written in Tigrigna says: “It’s
only when you are far away from each other that you really miss someone”.