No moral or political justification to verbally attack, never mind physically harm, Daniel Berhane!

(Haile Tessema)

If there were open-mindedness and fairness in Ethiopia, Daniel Berhane wouldn’t be pigeonholed as pro this or against that political party or Ethnic group. Daniel is an equal opportunity offender who tells it like it is with a potential to upset ruling and opposition party members equally.

In fact, he reminds me of American talk show host Bill Maher – current host of Real Time and formerly Politically Incorrect shows. (Notwithstanding the fact that one is an internet blogger with an average income, while the other is a TV personality with an “annual salary of $10 million and net worth of $100 million”).

I had the privilege of submitting articles to Daniel’s blog, Horn Affairs, that were critical of the EPRDF Govt. during Meles’ as well as HMD’s leadership, and Daniel posted them all. When he was unable to do so, he would go out of his way to email me that the delay had to do with his travel or work overload; that he would post the article at next opportunity, and he always kept his word.

When journalists and bloggers were arrested, I recall how Daniel openly and strongly opposed the action; criticized the govt., and publicly called for their release.

I also recall how – in a time when Jawar Mohammed was demonized as a political demagogue even by members of his own ethnic group – Daniel called upon the govt. to negotiate with the Oromo activist. It would take lots of time to scroll on Daniel’s endless posts to prove, but I recall one in which, with reference to Jawar, he wrote, “እኔማ ሰሚ አጣሁ እንጂ ከልጁ [ጃዋር] ጋር ተደራደሩ ብዬ ነበር” (I advised negotiation with Jawar, but no one listens to me).

A TPLF veteran friend once told me that Daniel Berhane and his Horn Affairs blog were working against the party’s interests. Yet, ironically, there’s no shortage of people who – deliberately or naively – label Daniel as overt / covert member or stooge of TPLF. (It’s his right to be a member of a legally registered political party of course, but the point here is that he’s branded to be what he is not.)

So, it’s unwarranted and utterly sad that – in a time when the fight for individual right and freedom of speech has been declared won – some social media opinion leaders and their unthinking and unquestioning followers are trying to create a Salman Rushdie kind of scenario in Ethiopian politics. In fact, I don’t have to go as far as Iran to draw a precedent. Truth is, Ethiopians have senselessly killed each other in an urban warfare over political differences and opinions expressed during ያ ትውልድ (the 70s generation).

Sure enough, the trend of threats is extremely dangerous not just for the Horn Affairs blogger, but also for anyone who dares to express an opposing view; may talk ill about the new sheriff in town and/or somehow offend the new political kids on the block.

Having said that, the purpose of this unsolicited character witness statement is not to defend Daniel in the court of public opinion as a perfect blogger with no fault. Fact is, over the years, I’ve read my share of posts and comments from Daniel I haven’t been happy with. In that case, though, the onus is on me to challenge him in a public forum or correct him via private message. On the contrary, threatening Daniel or any other blogger or social media discussion participant is not just bad for freedom of speech, but also a recipe for disaster if the threat is carried out.

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