Door of Freedom Should be Wide Open, Not Wildly Open

December 5 , 2018
By Matewos Berhanu ( Matewos Berhanu is a finance director at Hope Enterprises. He can be reached at )

One of the remarkable features of the period before the 2005 election in Ethiopia was the unprecedented degree of freedom for the press, the flow of opinions and speech that entertained wide spectrum of political views.

Commendable as it was, information outlets over-enjoyed the opportunity to serve as channel even to highly sensitive issues. The infancy of the democratisation process in the country that cannot bear to hear the failures of the then prevailing political and economic system was not recognised.

Arguably, nor was there a capacity and willingness on the part of the incumbents to welcome people’s choice should the polls go against them. The way the freedom was handled significantly contributed to the failure of actualising democracy at the time.

The ultimate goal of the quest for freedom of expression should not just be freedom of expression itself but the good of oneself and the society through it, which could as well be counterproductive if pursued otherwise. Indulging an audience to information of any kind or level of sensitivity at any available time is likely to lead to emotional and dangerous reactions by the public with uncalculated repercussions.

In compensation for damages of the past and in earnest desire for genuine democracy, the ongoing reform has availed the freedom to organise and speech to all that claim to have stakes in the country’s fate. But it deserves serious pondering over what good and bad the unleashed freedom would do to the renewed hope in the country.

At this time of bracing for national reconciliation, leaders of political parties, activists, bloggers and the media should take the greatest care for the vulnerability of the existing political situation and apply political wisdom in harvesting the fruit of their struggles. By the same token, amassing audience and the consequent market revenue by the media by satiating individual or public curiosity for information is irresponsible and lacks fairness and civility, even if considered factual.

Now that the nation is eying a general election just a year and a half down the line, largely expected to give citizens a legitimate opportunity to exercise their popular sovereignty, those that have benefited from free press, thought or speech should rise to the opportunity.

There have been many instances in history where this has happened but has left heavy regrets over missed chances. Any individual, party or government that does not factor in the historical and current complexities of the country and is not able or willing to be reflective, civil and fair in attaining desired goals does not qualify to be a true representative of public interest.

Let freedom be taken as provision for unimpeded but not unchecked flow of thoughts and actions. Parallel to that, it would be wise to recognise that leaders’ aptitude and maturity is well measured at times of freedom rather than at times of its absence.

Taking greater advantage of the availed freedom by investing time and energy on doing the right things rather than contemplating and dwelling on the wrongs of the past, which the justice system under the right reforms can adequately take care of, is more advantageous.

In social dynamism where freedom is mishandled, there is high likelihood of ending up with political income statement of loss in sharp contrast with the one forecasted by its leaders, after all is said and done. At such occasions, though the incumbents would not be totally acquitted, the blame for the failure will reasonably fall to a larger extent on the receiver of the freedom rather than the giver.

As much as there is an intrinsic need with humans for freedom of choice and expression, there is an equivalent necessity to develop the behaviour and capacity of self-assessment on the consequences of our actions beforehand. Time has never been generous for correcting past mistakes, less so when they are made in such a volatile environment that the country is in and in the face of contenders that are irresponsible.

Not only should the natural enjoyment and benefits be accounted in the balance sheet of a democratic society, but the risks of its misuse and potential damages thereof need also be disclosed when it comes to freedom of expression.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 05,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 971]

Matewos Berhanu is a finance director at Hope Enterprises. He can be reached at

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