Time out for a little mental entertainment!

Dilwenberu Nega
April 14 2010

If you have been following the 6th round of parties’ debate and yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQT) with unblinking attention as I have been doing, you would come to realise that EPDRF is on a winning streak. Election pundits or pollsters would tell you that TV debates and PMQTs are all about delivering punches and exposing gaffes. And this becomes all the more crucial during the campaign trail as is the case now in Ethiopia.

Let’s, therefore, now examine two cases which in the spate of a few days made euphemism (a polite word or expression that you use instead of a more direct one to avoid shocking or upsetting someone) and malapropism (an amusing mistake that you make when you use a word that sounds similar to the word you intended to say but means something completely different) topics of intense discussion among political pundits in Addis Ababa.

Case No.1: Arkebe Equbaye (EPDRF) vs. Siye Abreha (Medrek)

In his first salvo against EPDRF’s Foreign Policy, Siye Abreha fired a fusillade of charges and speculations chief among which was that the EPDRF-led government had allowed the Ethiopian Defence Force to be “contracted out by the United States to do the job that Americans themselves had previously tried and failed to accomplish.”

This preposterous, not to say treacherous, accusation spurred Arkebe Equbaye (widely rumoured to be Foreign Minister-in-Waiting) into an attack mode and blamed Siye Abreha of “equating our gallant Defence Force with that of mercenaries.”

An angry looking Siye later accused Arkebe of sinking low and said our “Defence Force knows what I meant.”

So let’s get some sense into this ping-ponging with words between Arkebe and Siye and find out who turned out a victor from the debate.

It is my view that the victor was EPDRF’s Arkebe Equbaye for he managed to catch Siye Abreha in the act of committing an egregious mistake during the debate. We all are familiar with politicians’ proclivity not to speak in a cut-and-dried manner the way ordinary people like you and me speak. They love using euphemisms. All politicians, whether in government or in opposition, have a well stocked armoury of euphemisms for immediate use. Those who had lived through the national nightmare of Ethiopians from 1974-1991 would recall “revolutionary measure had been taken” to be Derg’s euphemism for being killed by a firing squad. From Siye Abreha’s charges one can see that he was speaking euphemistically. You do not have to be a philologist, then, to find out that what Siye had said was tantamount to stating that the EPDRF-led government of Ethiopia has been using our gallant Defence Force as mercenaries to execute US plans in Somalia.

Case No.2: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (EPDRF) vs. the Rt. Hon. Temesgen Zewede MP (UDJ)

Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQT) in Parliament is an opportune moment for a Prime Minister to shine and for leaders of opposition parties to make a determined effort at outshining the Prime Minister. But as the track record of the Ethiopian Parliament amply testifies, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had effectively used PMQTs not only to effectively articulate policies, but to outwit his political opponents - what British MPs call “to out-Churchill-Churchill.”

At yesterday’s PMQT Ethiopians were treated to another round of vintage Meles and his witty remarks. In questioning the credibility of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s report to Parliament US educated economist, The Rt. Hon.Temesgen Zewede MP (UDJ), challenged the Prime Minister to produce evidence of the “monetary and physical policies” of his Government. This is a classic case of malapropism: what Temesgen Zewede had wanted to say was clearly “monetary and fiscal” and not “monetary and physical” because there is no such thing as physical policy in economics – not even in neo-lib economy!

Well, guess what? Our witty Prime Minister seized on Temesgen Zewde’s slip of the tongue and rectified it in a manner and style commensurate with the norms and behaviour of the House. Unfortunately, however, the Prime Minister’s attempt at rectifying Temsgen Zewede’s malapropism did not go down well with Temesgen; he, instead, turned ballistic and kept on firing a fusillade of inappropriate remarks which prompted The Speaker to silence him. Lashing out at Prime Minister was as pointless at it was unbecoming. Moreover, unlike Temesgen Zewede’s claim the difference in pronunciation between physical and fiscal is not a “whistle.” Meles 1 Temesgen 0.