Mea Culpa, not Defensive Rationalization, is the Right Thing to Do
By Seyoum Tesfaye
May 4, 2012
In highly contentious political joking and tussling environment rumors, misinformation and counter misinformation have found their own niche with devastating long range impact to the nurturing of a healthy political process. The use of “unconfirmed” and “unsubstantiated” information in a journalistic narrative will downgrade the reputation of the news outlet that generated the news, no matter the heroic effort to temper the blow when the “unconfirmed news” is discredited by iron clad evidence to the contrary.
The motivation of the reportage or the reporting organ is not an issue for reporting “unconfirmed news” is one of the tools of modern journalism but the spin and exaggerated extrapolation that explodes out of control due to the trigger “unconfirmed information” and the ensuing collapse of all scenarios built on the original unconfirmed reporting imposes a moral responsibility to genuinely reassess the process of how we deploy and utilize “unconfirmed information” in our new digital media.
The guiding rule in struggling against a corrupt regime is that we should make all earnest effort to anchor the building of embryonic democratic institutions on the basis of integrity and transparency. We must also nurture the culture of owning our mistakes individually and collectively when and if they manifest in the process of trying to do our best.
The recent episode of the “unconfirmed” news flash concerning the degenerating health and possible death of the president of Eritrea has left a sour test in our political conversation. Whether it will have a lasting negative impact or not will depend on how we categorize the episode and process (reevaluate) the experience. I feel it was a genuine mistake that grew out of proportion and created its own snowball effect. Whichever way you look at it was a mistake.
I include myself among those who must own the mistake since I did not thrust my instinct, basic knowledge about journalistic ethics and did participate in an act of self- deception by disregarding the negation “un” in front of the “unconfirmed” and gave in to my desire to see the brutal tyrant removed from power through natural death, extended comma or better yet in chain waiting judgment day. I owe a genuine apology to the Eritrean Americans in metro Atlanta that I, unintentionally, misinformed by recycling the unconfirmed news in our daily diet of political conversation. I extend a genuine Mea Culpa. My apology is forwarded to the Eritrean Americans who have made up their mind and taken a firm stand against the brutal regime in Asmara and are struggling to destroy the unhealthy influence of the regime and its agents in metro Atlanta.
To the supporters of the regime who were dumfounded and depressed throughout the “unconfirmed’ period I kindly suggest to them to see beyond the resurfacing of their hero and ask the unavoidable fundamental question: how long can a country and people be hostage to the irrational behavior of a single person? Why should the fate of Eritrea be merged with the life and death of one man? Was this the vision and goal of the humongous sacrifice? It is time to think differently and be part of the solution seekers than just trusting the future of the nation and people to one man.
I have no sympathy whatsoever to the Eritrean Lucifer known as Isiaias Afewroki. The size and magnitude of this individual’s diabolical role in Eritrean national politics is one of the worst thing to happen in Africa in the in the last half century. I clearly understand the overwhelming happiness and digital jubilation that followed the “unconfirmed” news and the thousands of erroneous sub-texts. Unfortunately we were psychologically open to the ruling clique’s manipulation. Our heart dwarfed our mind. There is no other way to put it: We got played big time.
I understand the usage of “unconfirmed” “unsubstantiated” information and the use of “unanimous” sources in journalism. The mistake was in not grasping that in the struggle against an entrenched intrigue- driven regime the consumers of the news (among which I am one) we cannot afford to let our guard down. When dealing with any news about the internal working of the regime or the characters in the leading position we start with: do not trust, verify and again verify. When in doubt it is better not to make it a part of our consumption.
The president of Eritrea is not dead (he is not well both politically as well as health wise) which means his divisive and manipulative politics is not dead. Vintage Isaias, the master of underhandedness had just demonstrated his well refined ability to manipulate the conversation through disinformation. You got to give the devil his due- he has perfected his deception into an art.
In his disappearance and reappearance drama he and his agents controlled the narrative- we were the audience with extraordinary imaginations wishing the drama to end with our Caesar sprawled dead on the stage, in an irreversible coma or at least being taken to one of the thousands underground jails that he has built until he faces justice. The system that he is controlling has proven its resiliency- the generals, the civil functionaries and his barking media agents played their role as scripted and most likely as rehearsed. We had 15 minutes of a humbling experience. He had his 15 minutes of fame.
We cannot gloss this episode and dump everything on the system and absolve ourselves from taking a measured but appropriate responsibility. Eritrean politics does not lend itself to public apology, reaching out for compromise and admitting weakness. A legacy of six decades of a culture of winning at all cost, crushing and shaming your opponent and never admitting a mistakes and leadership shortcomings. The zero sum game and its unethical methods are the gift of the super revolutionaries to the so-called New Eritrea. We could never build democratic Eritrea if we intentionally and unintentionally continue this sick culture. It is alien to our forefather’s ethics and social principles. We must categorically repudiate it. It all starts by admitting mistakes and not trying to justify with thousands of words what can be easily corrected with a simple Mea Culpa.
What did we learn from the “unconfirmed” experience in a global sense? What were our blinders?
- Out of 4.5 Million people no one could tell us that all this was a charade a hoax with a new twist
- Our social and political GPS did not work.
- The veteran of ELF and EPLF dotting the top leadership of the opposition organizations did not have confidential sources within the inner circle of the regime.
- We did not ask why a news of this magnitude was confined to our websites when there is a contingent of diplomatic circle in Eritrea
- Why did we fail to scrutinize the possible reason the Horn of Africa media (IGAD countries) basically ignored or underreported the possible demise of their number one nemesis?
- Did the Ethiopian government have any clue about this issue?
- Aljazeera, CNN and BBC would have jumped on the news had they felt there was any validity to the news. Why did not we see this as a yellow light?
- What are we to think of the new personalities in Eritrean cyber media who speak with iron clad authority that Isaias is dead? The “unconfirmed” at least, by implication, means it could be wrong but to be so dead sure about the death of Isaias begs the question.
- Why is our struggle event and personality driven and is not grounded on forward looking, system thinking and strategic positioning – both in building up the opposition and tearing down the regime?
- Does the fact we are facing a ruthless narcissistic tyrant absolve our opposition media, website and radio programs from coming up with a Journalistic Code of Ethical as a general guideline on how to qualitatively differentiate our democratic media from that of the tyrant’s unscrupulous media?
- What does this say about the cohesiveness of the regime’s top leadership – was this a crisis well managed by the tyrant or an entire defensive disinformation campaign orchestrated from the center under his control? Finding out which scenario unfolded is the more paramount question with profound consequence to our struggle.
The system Isaias has built cannot survive through the kind of Houdini prank he just exhibited and by blaming CIA for all the stupid decision he has been making. His system has reached a dead end. The disappearing act was in a real sense a cry for help – for attention. The world has ignored his petulant behavior and contained him into a small circle. He has to resort to exaggerated farce and sophomoric prank to get few weeks of attention.
The excitement by those who oppose him to the mere “unconfirmed news”, the wholesale ignoring by the international media and more importantly the state of paralysis exhibited by his minuscule supporters in Diaspora was the reason why he woke up from his celebrated Rip van Winkle habit of sleeping long hours to deliver his usual Mambo Jumbo- a verbal portage without any nourishing value.
The longer tyrants stay in power the shallower their vocabulary and the more predictable not only the structure of their sentence but also their un-nuanced speech and hand mannerism. Study his “resurrection” interview and you will see all these traits accentuated. His desire to be profound is betrayed by his well-developed narcissistic tendency to use “I” one thousand times without mentioning or extending recognition to others; his desire to slay bigger perceived dragons, his exaggerated hours of travel inside Eritrea and his new love for sleeping long hours and his overdeveloped tendency to pontificate ad infinitum about everything under the sun all these traits assure us that he has no anchoring vision or positive agenda that he can build his legacy on. For what it is worth the “unconfirmed” experience has resoundingly confirmed that he has now become his own agenda with a corresponding obsessive and compulsive intensity befit to a the last chapter of a brutal tyrants hold on power.
We have learned from this experience that cannot defer practicing ethical politics until the tyrant is gone. We build the free institutions in our mind and in daily practice. We defeat tyranny when we do not copy its methods and practice a qualitatively different kind of politicalizing, organizing and communicating methods. We will move forward with honor when we do the honorable thing and recognize, accept and correct our short comings.
Those who do not make mistakes are the earthly saints who are not engaged in the noble effort of trying to changing themselves or human suffering. We are earth bound trying to do our best. So what is a mere mistake when compared with the noble agenda we are trying to accomplish? The bigger mistake will be not to acknowledge the small mistake.
Disclaimer: The opinion and perspective expressed in this article represents only my point of view. Posting this article without the expressed permission by the author is prohibited.