Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Part 2-Leaving Ethiopia
Missing friends, ful; not pining for scattered hooves

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA and PARKVILLE, MISSOURI USA)—As I sit in my home office in a comfortable lounge chair looking out on our freshly mowed back yard, Gondar seems a world away—a place literally and figuratively distant.

Yet, even just a few days after my return home, I am already finding myself missing some, but definitely not all, aspects of life in Gondar, Ethiopia.

First, what will I miss? Here’s a partial list:
-Vegetarian foods (fasting plate of vegetables and injera; ful—delicious spicy beans; shiro--the bubbling, orange kind)
-My infectiously energetic seventh graders
-My journalism department colleagues at the University of Gondar
-The beautiful views of, and from, the University of Gondar campus (pictured)
-Visiting different scenic Ethiopian cities, especially Bahir Dar and Hawassa (hippos!)
-My American family in Ethiopia—Fulbrighters, senior scholars, and their families who welcomed me, always made sure I was fed, and created a real sense of community,
-Donkeys. They hang out on the road just outside our apartments. The babies are surprisingly cute. They all seems oblivious to the traffic speeding along the road, and I was always worried that I would see one of my donkey friends waylaid by a passing motorist. Fortunately, it never happened.
-Salam, my friends’ new eight week old puppy, who is almost as cute as the baby donkeys. I must admit to having called called the dog Saddam, due to the fact that he leaves “weapons of mass destruction” scattered on the apartment floor.
-Ethiopians. Most of them really are very nice. They always made me feel welcome.

Of course, there is no yin without a yang, so here are the “won’t miss” items:

-Days without running water. I discussed this in a previous blog, where I insisted that even on “no water days,” my glass was still half full. After taking any number of two liter showers and “flushing” with a jerry can, I’m not sure if I believe my own previous cheerful assessment. There’s no getting around the fact that it literally stinks to not have running water.
--Scaling a mountain to get to work every day. And then upon arriving at the journalism building on top of the mountain, walking up six more flights of stairs. And then when reaching home in the afternoon, climbing up five more flights of stairs.
--Animal parts (mostly lower shins and hooves) scattered about. I’m not kidding. It’s common to see goat or sheep hooves, and occasionally a bigger mystery bone, along the road or a path while you’re walking. Despite my incessant questioning, no one seems to have an explanation regarding these scattered parts.
--The absence of my favorite vegetarian dishes in restaurants after the pre-Easter fasting period.
--Bureaucracies and red tape which turn even the simplest request or transaction into a soul-depleting ordeal. While visiting one office, I commented to a friend that they office workers were all vying for the title of “least helpful employee.” 

Despite the pitfalls, on balance, Ethiopia was a good experience for me professionally (see previous blog) and personally. It is always an honor working with U.S. Embassies and the State Department. My stint in Ethiopia was four months productively, and interestingly, spent. I look forward to my return, which can hopefully include running water and ful while excluding scattered goat hooves.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Despite bumps, Ethiopia PJ project achieves goals

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA and PARKVILLE, MISSOURI USA)-Whenever you close out a grant project, granting agencies always require a cascade of data that demonstrate and measure the ways that the grant has succeeded. Instead, I prefer to go with my gut as I evaluate the success of this semester-long peace journalism project. I know you will excuse (embrace?) my lack of complex data-filled charts.

First, a quick overview: In the fall of 2017, I was named a U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism in Ethiopia. This project was launched by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, the U.S. Embassy-Addis Ababa, and the University of Gondar (UoG).

I came to Addis Ababa in mid-January, and taught several workshops there before moving on to Gondar. At UoG, I taught two courses, and also presented a peace journalism seminar in April. From my Gondar base, I traveled to Bahir Dar (February), Hawassa (March), and Mekelle (April) to deliver peace journalism workshops for university students, professors, and professional media staff. In total, my peace journalism seminars reached about 310 students, academics, and journalists. 

In general, the audiences at these events were receptive to the idea of peace journalism. I had a number of journalists comment that there are aspects of PJ that they appreciated and would endeavor to implement. Even journalists from State Radio/TV in Hawassa were receptive to PJ. There, we talked about PJ and state media. Attendees, reporters and managers, listed potential benefits of state media for PJ. These included access to many different people and cultures; access to government leaders and decision makers; and better resources than private media. The discussion got really interesting when we talked about how state media structures might provide an obstacle for PJ. These are the disadvantages the attendees said state media pose for peace journalism: Inability to criticize the government; interviewees reluctant/afraid when dealing with state media; censorship; and inability to balance stories with opposition voices.

These meetings and workshops were arguably the most successful aspect of the project. At each location, we drew a good, engaged audience (75 or so in several instances), along with lots of favorable local press coverage.

My classes at UoG produced more mixed results because most of the students didn’t possess the requisite English skills to fully understand the course content or excel at projects and tests. My departmental colleagues have also noted the students’ substandard English, so this is more than just my whining. In both classes, 95% of the feedback I got from students was a simple “I don’t understand” or “Can you explain this again?” In my report to the U.S. Embassy, I wrote that despite this, I still recommend placing other American journalism academics at UoG. To address the English deficit, I suggested that that students enrolled in any American professor’s class be required to concurrently enroll in a parallel English language lab, or utilize systematic tutoring. 

My other major initiative was my scholastic journalism project, and it was, pardon my lack of humility, an unqualified success. I worked with a group of seventh graders at the University of Gondar Community School. For about two months, my co-advisors Peggy Landers, Habtie Marew, and I met with the kids once a week to present the basics of journalism and peace journalism and of producing a newspaper. Then, the students organized themselves into a newspaper staff, and went out to report, shoot pictures, etc. Using these materials, they produced their school’s first student newspaper, in English. (Click here to see the newspaper) I was thrilled by the work of the students, and by their enthusiasm. I was even more thrilled when, during our last meeting, the newspaper staff began planning for the second issue of their newspaper.

Overall, I believe the project achieved its goals, and provided a good foundation for peace journalism in Ethiopia. I hope to continue working with the UoG journalism department; in fact, we have applied for a joint grant for a media literacy project. And one way or another, I’d love to continue assisting the community school’s enthusiastic seventh grade journalists.

NEXT: In part two of my Ethiopia wrap up, I’ll get a bit more personal: What will I miss (hint: think beans), and what won’t I miss (hint: scattered animal parts).

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ethiopian students: Journalism must counter hate speech

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA)--There is an ongoing political crisis in Ethiopia, punctuated by violent protests and internet shutdowns by the government in 2017 and general strikes and a state of emergency this year.

As part of an assignment in my broadcast and multimedia writing course, I asked my University of Gondar students to write a blog post reflecting on the utility of peace journalism as a potential tool to help mitigate the conflict. 

Below are some excerpts from their blogs:

“How can peace journalism calm the Ethiopian crisis? PJ can examine the causes of the conflict and lead discussions about solutions. It offers counternarratives and rejects official propaganda and instead seeks facts from all sides.” (Tilahun Weyessa and Niguse Kekebo)

“Peace journalism can take a great role to create peace in the country. I believe that every media ask themselves how to cover events and how to tell the story to create peace…In my opinion, journalism cannot help to distribute information but also (must) counter hate speech and create an environment of balanced information…” (Mesafint Mamo and Melese Gobena)

“Peace journalism can help the Ethiopian crisis by exploring the background and context of the conflict and by giving information from all sides in the conflict, not just two sides as the mainstream media usually portrays. PJ offers creative ideas for conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping, exposing lies and cover-ups of culprits on all sides…The greatest problem is the practices that lead to misrepresentation of the reality and accurate framing of the facts. PJ is thus born out of a need for good quality of reporting.” (Kemechew Gudisha)

“In Ethiopia peace journalism enhances people’s mutual understanding through asking (about) the problems that lead into conflict, making ongoing discussions and adjusting conflict resolution methods to minimize ethnic conflict and maximize tolerance…”  (Abraham Mugoro and Mekonnen Hagos)

The students’ comments reflect what I’ve been hearing from journalists throughout Ethiopia—that peace journalism can indeed be a useful tool here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Newspaper students feast
on praise, pizza

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA)—At a celebration party yesterday, I probably got carried away a bit when I told my seventh grade newspaper staff that they were Gondar’s best journalists. I meant no slight to the city’s fine professional reporters. What I should have told the kids is that they will soon be Gondar’s best journalists. Also, I definitely should have said that they are among Gondar’s most dedicated journalists.

We gathered at a local hotel to honor the student’s efforts in producing the University of Gondar Community School’s first student newspaper. (Click here to view) Before my co-advisor Peggy Landers and I passed out certificates to the kids, they ate copious amounts of pizza and guzzled numerous sodas. I teased the editor, Eyasu, about having to give a five minute formal speech. He did end up quietly thanking the staff for their “above and beyond the call” efforts. Each student in turn politely thanked me, Peggy, and the paper’s other advisor Habtie Marew.

I promised the kids that I’d continue to serve as their honorary advisor via the internet, and that I’d be happy to critique stories, page layouts, and so on. I hope the students take me up on the offer, since working with them has been the highlight of my semester in Ethiopia. 

I do stand behind one statement that I made yesterday when I told the kids that they are definitely my favorite Ethiopian journalists.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Mekelle questions challenge need for objective PJ approach

(MEKELLE, ETHIOPIA)-Three key questions emerged during yesterday’s intro to peace journalism session at Mekelle University for a crowd of about 60 participants—mostly students with a few faculty members and professional journalists sprinkled in.

1. What’s the role of culture in peace? I responded that peace journalism is one of 100 (or more) things that need to occur to achieve peace, especially Dr. Johan Galtung’s positive peace where societies are harmonious, equitable, and so on. I said that the role and nature of the cultural influence on peace varies from country to country. In Uganda, for example, they’ve found that the traditional ethic groups and their leaders can play a profound role in peace and reconciliation.
2. One questioner asked, What’s wrong with advocacy journalism? He noted that we are all want what’s good for the public, so why not advocate?  I said that if we become advocates, we are no longer journalists. One important reason why so many have lost trust in news media in the U.S. and elsewhere is media's partisanship, and the increasingly blurry lines between news and commentary. I believe that peace journalists can be most effective when reporting about, rather than advocating for, peace. As for what’s good for the public, that is certainly subjective. A ruling party, for example, might have a very different opinion about what the public needs than the opposition.
3. One attendee, a university lecturer, stated that peace journalism isn’t needed because good journalism can do all the things PJ claims to do, like maintain and restore peace. This isn’t a question, really, but is certainly thought provoking. My reply was that theoretically, good journalism might be able to assist peace. However, in practice, this hasn’t happened. My book is full of examples of irresponsible traditional journalism that has fueled conflict, reinforced stereotypes, and exacerbated tensions. If good journalism can maintain and restore peace, why hasn’t it? 

I added that good journalism (objective, balanced, factual, contextual, etc.) is the foundation of peace journalism. However, PJ builds on this foundation, and provides a focus, an emphasis, where none exists in traditional journalism. This additional focus includes giving a voice to peacemakers and the voiceless; leading discussions about solutions; and providing platforms for difficult discussions about cross-boundary relationships and reconciliation. 
Thanks to Mekelle University and the U.S. Embassy-Addis Ababa for sponsoring what I hope was an enlightening seminar.