Addis Ababa is hosting World Economic Forum. Does anyone care?

When Addis Ababa hosts the 22nd World Economic Forum for the first time on Africa soil will anyone care?

Oh sure there are some who cares and obviously their favorite theme in the media in the wake of World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s speedy economic growth.

Before we go in to details of things, let me explain how free and independent media encourage economic growth. It has been said a thousand times that a free and independent media has played a great role in promoting economic development by solving primary problems of a certain society through the free flow of information. Furthermore a free media improves public policy implementation, by increasing government accountability and transparency and it also raise political consciousness of citizens. Definitely today’s global economic powers with the exception of may be China are primarily managed to grow because they have had comparatively free media.

I strongly believe that one topic that should be tackled in numerous debates in the forum should be the role of free and independent media and economic growth in Africa. Also other topics on the agenda should be issues like journalists’ incarceration, telecom services control by government and may be corruption. In fact the present spotlight of media on Ethiopia’s economic breakthrough is distracting attention from many serious challenges that Ethiopia’s free media is facing on day to day basis.

Free media gloom

The forum has started on Wednesday, however, does not promise well.

The forum has started on Wednesday after lots of bad news about Ethiopia’s free press five journalists—Woubshet Taye, Elias Kifle, Re’eyot Alemu and two Swedish journalists — sentenced to at least 10 years and more behind bars and 2012 PEN America press freedom award winner, Eskinder Nega, could face the death penalty if convicted this Friday. Even more worrying news is that government has triggered a reminiscence of a ‘Derg’ regime by reactivating highly restrictive directive that authorizes publishers to censor the content of newspapers. These are dire warnings that Ethiopia’s media is in a danger zone.

Ethiopia is dubbed as the Africa’s fastest-growing economies and I do not have a problem with that though the rate of the growth is questionable one. However Ethiopia’s political integration is inadequate and it lags behind its much heralded economic growth. National consultations mechanisms stay behind and even weaker than economic growth wise slow paced African countries for instance Zimbabwe. Differences persist over whether a liberal democracy, social democracy or even narrower version of democracy called revolutionarily democracy should prevail in Ethiopia.

There are no the slightest hints that this mood in Ethiopia could turn, though many press freedom activists campaigning for more freer environment during the past few weeks I have started to feel much more pessimist about Ethiopia’s press. And of course World Economic Forum hasn’t captured my imagination and many friends of mine in the way other similar meetings has. Will you care?

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