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Bigotry Wrapped in a Flag

September 14 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele ( Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement. )

It is usually three or four guests sitting beside a talk show host throwing them light, formulaic questions and an open microphone for them to ramble on and on for a long time. That is the usual format on Ethiopian television channels. An easy and cost-effective way to fill air time throughout the suddenly ubiquitous television stations.

The talking heads love the exposure, the TV hosts do not have to do much. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. Though it bores the audience to death and the conversations are becoming increasingly absurd in proportion to the airtime, not much lasting damage has been done. So far.

But two programmes I saw recently were extremely disturbing, to say the least.

In the first one of these nationally aired programmes, true to form, the usual format is followed. But with one difference. This time it is not the usual talking heads as guests. The guests were children, I would guess to be between six and 10 years of age.

The host asks these children questions that adults would struggle with addressing, issues of the current situation of the country.

The children then proceed to parrot what appeared to me was memorised lines they were fed. The gist of their message is to admonish politicians for sowing hate in society, for divisions and violence. One was on the verge of tears, talking about why there is violence in the country. All topics that are important but not appropriate for the age of the children.

The most likely justification that could be offered is, “But we are doing this for the motherland.” No. This is using the children. It is inappropriate. Period!

The other was an entertainment show that is meant to be funny but ends up being laughable. An Addis Abeba-based TV host was interviewing an Ethiopian singer based in the United States. He prods him to retell a story of how he stood up for the motherland in North America.

The singer then proudly talks of how in an Africa Day show in Washington, DC, he pushed the flag of another African country - Ghana - off, insisting Ethiopia’s flag has to be at the forefront representing Africa. He claimed without Ethiopia, all Africa would not be free. And that is not the worst of it.

He proudly retells the offensively bigoted racial epithets he used to silence others on the stage who tried to tell him that he was wrong. I find it inappropriate to repeat the word he said he used to confront a Nigerian on stage with him during the Africa Day, held a couple of years ago.

The reaction from the host and the audience?

Laughter and clapping. What it is they found funny, I will never know.

But what I know is that nationalism can turn otherwise decent people into unrecognisable fools. There is a collective dumbing down and moral desensitisation that is happening, which I find concerning. That there was not a single individual that was alert enough to raise the alarm to stop the transmission of these programmes in the long chain of those involved in these productions speaks volumes. In this society, it takes a conscious effort to avoid the blind spots that are created by nationalism, be it geographic or ethnic.

Pan-nationalists tend to see themselves as enlightened and look condescendingly at ethnic nationalists. But the reality is the difference between the extremists on both sides is just a matter of the size of land they pay allegiance to. As long as people allow themselves to be immune to logic and refuse to see their blind spots and examine their biases, whether the cause is to a country or an ethnic group makes little difference.

Blind nationalism, whether national or regional, is a destructive force in the world. The citizens of the 21st century should be enlightened minds that are open to new ideas, listen to those who challenge them and are willing to admit mistakes and change course when convinced by reason.

These dogmatic, unreasoned, simplistic and unsympathetic platitudes are unedifying. Trying to cover them with the flag does not make them any less harmful. In fact, it makes them more dangerous.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 14,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1011]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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