Repeatedly since 2005, Ethiopians have witnessed the closing of many newspapers, arrests and imprisonments of some prominent journalists and bloggers, and exile of others. This year, the country ranks 137 out of 179 in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, going down 10 ranks partly due to the excessive use of the 2009 anti-terrorism law which terms are so vague that it is repeatedly applied to prevent journalists from reporting.
In this context, the monthly publication Addis Standard is a real curiosity. Created in early 2011, published only in English and sold at a fairly high price (15 ETB), Addis Standard seems to never miss an occasion to question all things wrong about the government’s decisions and failures. Its publications have indeed recently dealt with corruption, political exploitation of the Muslim community, women’s rights, and restrictive developmental laws. Far from hiding its agenda, the magazine, available all over Addis Ababa and online, features these topics on catchy front pages.
On September 24, the latest of a series of pieces on authoritarianism and totalitarianism offered a lengthy definition of totalitarianism which, argues the columnist Taye Negussie, fits Ethiopia in many ways. Last August, the editor-in-chief wrote a piece about Prime Minister Meles “the despot”, as described by a professor of political sciences at Addis Ababa University who would rather remain anonymous “for fear of reprisal (anticipated or eminent)”. These, and many other examples, don’t reflect the usual content of an Ethiopian newspaper.
The objective of the magazine is soberly defined as to “focus on current socio-political and socio-economical aspects of both domestic and international affairs”, yet in the Ethiopian context, it does more than that: it provokes a debate that is otherwise rather not permitted. Although one can only celebrate this initiative, it remains to be explained how the publication and its contributors are capable of expressing themselves so bluntly when The Reporter‘s editor-in-chief, for instance, was arrested on October 9 on unknown charges. Addis Standard‘s aura is limited by its English only (rather than Amharic) version but is it enough to justify the “special” treatment?