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Neoliberal media's Politicization of a rare sad mishap

By Solomon Ejegu
Tigrai Onlne - February 24, 2014

Are they calling him a hero and supporting him because he is their member or because he hijacked a civilian airplane? Another first in the world where criminals are called heroes.

The ideological driven media onslaught on Ethiopia is not a new phenomenon. The government and its efforts have been subjected to ideologically motivated harsh criticisms and remarks since the late 1990s when it became evident that it doesn't intend to implement a full-scale privatization, deregulation and liberalization of strategic economic sectors as per the neoliberalism prescriptions.

The despotic president-for-life of Eritrea denied any negotiation with Ethiopia
Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn 31 is from Bahrdar town. He is the co-pilot who hijacked the Ethiopian airline jet a few days ago. He is in jail an Geneva, Switzerland.

The attempt to blacken the government intensified in mid-2000s when Ethiopia made it abundantly clear that it has embarked the democratic developmental state paradigm. Despite the astonishing socio-economic progress achievement of Ethiopia's development strategy, the neoliberal forces at home and abroad saw it as a “bad example” that should be quashed at the earliest possible opportunity.

However, given Ethiopia's increasing capability to withstand arbitrary aid reductions, which was clearly shown in 2005-2007, and given the ineffectiveness of routine onslaught by western media, the neoliberal forces have become confused as to how they can make Ethiopia's change its economic polices - which they oppose on purely ideologically ground rather than merit.

The sudden hope that the revolution in Egypt gave to global neoliberal forces and their local allies, who would cooperate with anyone to bring mayhem and chaos and grab governmental power in Ethiopia, was dashed soon after. The local elements had became so desperate, especially after the peaceful election 2010 and the landslide election win, that they went as far as openly lobbying Ethiopia’s development partners to stop supporting basic social services.

However, this loose coalition of the neoliberals by different names and the local power aspirants continue to grab every opportunity in the hope of blackening the image of Ethiopia and frustrating its self-tailored political-economic path.

The misleading and irresponsible statements of the last week were nothing but part of that ideological campaign.

Last week, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702, a Boeing 767-300 that was on scheduled service departing from Addis Ababa at 00:30 (local time) scheduled to arrive in Rome at 04:40 (local time)  was hijacked while it was flying over Sudan, as it was learnt when it started squawking 7500 - the transponder code indicating a “hijacking.” It was forced to proceed Geneva Airport (GVA). Then, all passengers and crew disembarked safely, then went to their  intended destinations as Ethiopian Airlines immediate made all the necessary arrangements to ensure that its esteemed passengers are being properly handled while in Geneva and can proceed to their intended destinations, to Rome and Milan, at the earliest.

The government was as usual upfront and transparent about the matter. Immediately after the news of the incident, Government Communication Affairs Office Head with the Rank of Minister Redwan Hussien briefed journalists about the hijack and recent development and said it has been confirmed that all 193 passengers and seven crew members on board are now safe and are expected to be transported to their destinations.

According to Redwan, the Ethiopian government in close cooperation with its Swiss counterpart is doing its level best to help the travel of Flight ET702 passengers to their intended destination and the alleged hijacker is a man named, Haile-Medihin Abera Tegene, who has served the airlines for five years and was sane.

He explained, when the plane entered the Sudanese airspace near Khartoum, the co-pilot, locked the flight deck door when the pilot went to the toilet. He then asked to refuel at Geneva, landed the plane, climbed down on an emergency exit rope from a cockpit window, and gave himself up.

The co-pilot is now in custody pending investigation by concerned authorities. According to reports, the co-pilot has asked asylum which is guaranteed by Article 32 of the Ethiopian Constitution. Redwan said:

All Ethiopians have freedom of movement to go wherever they wish. Secondly, as he is Ethiopian Airlines pilot, he has lots of opportunities to apply for all airlines with all his dignity and also he has a host of visas. So, he doesn't have to hijack his own plane and cut his throat and getting himself into hot water,”

"the intention as to what forced him to hijack his own plane is still vague and requires descriptions. “We still wait until the investigation is concluded. So that we will know what forced him otherwise any political, social or economic reason will not make sense to hijack his own plane and be a criminal. Having known that anti-hijacking law, international law or any country's law carries up to 20 years imprisonment.”

However, some overrated pundits and western media with ideological agenda didn't waste a minute to start making their usual claims and far-fetched conjectures. A news report published on The Telegraph, on the day of the hijacking, is a good example in this regard.

The news analysis published, under the heading "Ethiopian Airlines hijacking: Why co-pilot might have taken extreme steps to leave", makes a number of claims that contradicts facts on ground, logic and commonsense. It attempts to answer the big question why the co-pilot did what it did, even if it was published few hours after the incident. Of course, there was no need as the have pre-made conclusions.

The article claims: "Two key “push factors” lie behind this outflow: repression and poverty. Ethiopia is a de facto one-party state, dominated by a small autocratic elite. Under the previous prime minister, Meles Zenawi, elections were shamelessly rigged and the opposition simply closed down. The new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, took over when Mr Meles died in 2012. Although a less authoritarian figure, Mr Hailemariam has inherited a state which imposes stifling restrictions on political freedom."


The world would have been a very different place if all faced with poverty and repression chose to hijack public transportation and endanger the lives of hundreds peoples. If the poverty and repression  theory was to be accepted, how many people  suffering from free-market-fundamentalism and in lack of health coverage would be candidates for similar conducts? One may ask if the writer would have made similar assertions if such people were engaged in the same.

The comparison between the former Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister is not worth responding, except to illustrate that the writer's ignorance of Prime Minister Hailemariam's repeated statement that he will continue Meles' legacy and that the writer is pre-occupied with Meles' challenge of the neo-liberal order when writing the article.

The article also claims: "The government trumpets the fact that Ethiopia has achieved economic growth of about 10 per cent every year for the last decade. But the benefits have yet to reach most of the country’s 90 million people. Ethiopia’s national income per head is only $400, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. All this means that many skilled people do their utmost to leave."

However, despite what Telegraph's writer wishes to believe Ethiopia's growth is benefitting millions. This is a fact attested by several international organizations. For example: A few months ago, World Bank's "Ethiopia Economic Update" report unequivocally confirmed the robust and sustained growth of the past decade squashing doubts once and for all. The report stated "over the past decade, the Ethiopian economy has been growing at twice the rate of the Africa region, averaging, 10.6 percent GDP growth per year between 2004 and 2011 compared to 5.2 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa".

The Bank's experts added that: “Two and a half million people in Ethiopia have been lifted out of poverty over the past five years as a result of strong economic growth, bringing the poverty rate down from 38.7 percent to 29.6 percent between 2004/05 and 2010/11”. "Ethiopia follows a strategy of increasing exports to facilitate growth. This is appropriate given the limited size of the domestic market and it is consistent with the development experience of some of the recently successful countries, particularly in East Asia”.

After these flawed claims about the political and economic situation of Ethiopia, the article went on to claim: "The government has made this difficult by imposing draconian restrictions on emigration. Many Ethiopians are simply banned from leaving the country. The co-pilot who flew to Geneva might have had no legal avenue for leaving Ethiopia permanently. He appears to have decided that hijacking a plane was his only option, even if the price is spending time inside a Swiss jail."

Quite to the contrary, the debate in Ethiopia is whether the government gave "too much freedom".

It is known that so many Ethiopians find themselves happen to migrate to a foreign country, without having fully explored economic opportunities here in Ethiopia. The result is that people can be subject to unnecessary misery and abuse. However, on the other hand, the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia unequivocal provides the freedom of movement.

This, in particular, makes it difficult for the Government to take actions other than raising awareness to curb migrations if they fulfill legal formalities.

However, the neoliberal media Telegraph talks about "draconian restrictions on emigration".

Another similar example is the statement on BBC by its security correspondent Mr Frank Gardner. In a manner contrary to professional ethics, Mr Gardner has gone to great lengths to have the world believe that the security details at Addis Ababa Bole Airport leave much to be desired.

However, it is know that Bole Airport is highly reputed for its exceptional security provisions amongst international flight-safety regulatory bodies. The airport is periodically audited and at no time has it been found in breach of the international standards that world-leading airport service providers are required to meet.

As Ethiopia's Ambassador to United Kingdom elaborated: "The case of flight 702 can, in no way, be cited as a consequence of breach of security at Addis Ababa Airport. If put in proper context, what Mr Gardner prematurely commented on is an isolated case of failure of responsibility on the part of a single crew member who was in charge of the aircraft. As a security correspondent, we believe that Mr Gardner should at least have carefully considered that, to the extent that this incident was preventable, it could by no means have been, even by any additional safety-ensuring mechanism, as the source of this rarest of sad mishaps lies elsewhere."

To add one more example of irresponsibility and an ideologically motivated media onslaught on Ethiopia, let's cite the remarks by of Associated Press's John Heilprin.

In his news report of the incident, Mr. Heilprin first states, "it was not immediately clear why the co-pilot, whose name wasn't released, wanted asylum".

Then, he jumps to make ideologically charged assertions; raising unverified, unrelated, subjective claims. He said: "Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia's human rights record "has sharply deteriorated" over the years. The rights group says authorities severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The government has been accused of targeting journalists, and opposition members, as well as the country's minority Muslim community. There have been numerous hijackings by Ethiopians, mostly fleeing unrest in the East African nation or avoiding return."

At this point, it is unavoidable to speculate if the neoliberal media is also targeting Africa's best airlines in the hope of tarnishing Ethiopia's image and pride and weakening one of the strong institutions of the nations.

Fortunately, Ethiopian Airlines is not a company in some banana republic company that the can push around. Ethiopian Airlines commands the lion share of the pan-African passenger and cargo network operating the youngest and most modern fleet to more than 79 international destinations across five continents. Ethiopian fleet includes ultra-modern and environmentally friendly aircraft such as the Boeing 787, Boeing 777-300ER, Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 777-200LR Freighter and Bombardier Q-400 with double cabin. In fact, Ethiopian is the first airline in Africa to own and operate these aircraft.

Ethiopian is currently implementing a 15-year strategic plan called Vision 2025 that will see it become the leading aviation group in Africa with seven business centers: Ethiopian Domestic and Regional Airline; Ethiopian International Passenger Airline; Ethiopian Cargo; Ethiopian MRO; Ethiopian Aviation Academy; Ethiopian In-flight Catering Services; and Ethiopian Ground Service. Ethiopian is a multi-award winning airline registering an average growth of 25% in the past seven years.

It is worth noting that the image and strength of Ethiopia and its airlines is not a gift from some ideologically motivated neoliberal journalists. While the international media is important for our socio-economic endeavor, the ultimate decisive factor is the quality of leadership, the work ethic and the determination of Ethiopians to take poverty.

After all, as Ethiopia's Ambassador to United Kingdom put it, it was a rare sad mishap. However, the lesson of the past week was that the neoliberal media hardly misses a chance to discredit our efforts and achievements.

Weyzero Hizbale Seyoum, Co-pilot Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn's mother interview

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