If you advocated for a dictatorial regime, what might you get? You might get the thing you have advocated for: a dictatorial regime.
This simple observation doesn’t seem to have occurred to Tamerat Negera, the alleged Ethiopian journalist whom The National Press Club had as a co-panelist to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.
During the panel discussion, he tearfully recounted his ordeal following his imprisonment by the Ethiopian regime and what his family had had to endure as a result.
But he conveniently did not mention what his journalistic work consisted in prior to his arrest.
Until he was jailed, apparently because he fell foul of the regime’s strict demands of its client journalists, Tamrat was not just an ardent supporter of the regime but an advocate for a cruel variety of dictatorship. In one of his broadcasts, he argued that what Ethiopia needed was not democracy but dictatorship so that, his reasoning went, the various centrifugal forces in the country could be made to fall in line. Democracy, he said, was not an idea whose time had come.
In another extremely cruel broadcast, he advised the Ethiopian regime to institute collective punishment against the Tigray people. He argued that the Tigray people deserved such punishment because they had supposedly failed to reject the Tigray People’s Liberation Front enough and that the regime should make the point that their supposed lack of opposition to the TPLF had a cost. The TPLF was at that time on a collision course with the Ethiopian regime. The Ethiopian regime went on to impose collective punishment, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Tigrayans have died as a result. One can’t establish how much Tamerat is personally responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans but it cannot be denied that a lot of those lives could have been spared if influential people like him had categorically rejected the idea of collective punishment. The main reason the regime felt justified in imposing the collective punishment was because the pernicious idea had become a mainstream thought among the elites of Addis Ababa.
So when Tamrat found himself at the receiving end of the cruelty of the regime, he should have realised that he was getting the taste of his own virulent medicine. What happened to him and to his family is a fraction of what he preached the regime should unleash against Tigrayans. It was the beast that he had helped create that came back to haunt him.
Tamrat didn’t mention any of these things during the panel discussion. Perhaps he doesn’t have the self awareness that would have enabled him to appreciate the absurdity and irony of him being on the panel as a defender of freedom of expression. For if he had, he would have started his intervention by acknowledging and apologising for his role in creating a regime that has claimed the lives of millions of people. His own suffering, as painful as it is, pales in comparison to the horror that the regime has occasioned on Tigrayans.
And why did the NPC see it fit to invite someone who, by any account, is anathema to what the event is supposed to celebrate: freedom of expression? One possible explanation is the people who invited him hadn’t done their homework and so didn’t know who they were inviting. But that would raise another question: why invite someone they didn’t know to such an important event? A more likely explanation is that they knew who Tamerat is but didn’t care enough about his alleged journalistic work as long as they could tick some tokenistic box.
Either way the NPC has a serious question to answer.