Ethiopia: Our Negative Narrations Foster Negative Impressions About Our Country


opinion

Some weeks ago I had been discussing with colleagues on current Ethiopian affairs. We discussed the political chaos and changes in the past three years. We deliberated on the ups and downs of our political history as well as the societal changes in recent decades. Finally, our general analysis sets us to feel that our country seems to slide deeper into instabilities and economic disappointments. We showed more of pessimism.

Next, we challenged ourselves if we can bring words to express our views of contemporary Ethiopia. We were three. Two of us used negative words. Our friend (‘who claimed to be optimistic about Ethiopia’s future’), however, challenged us that we are absolutely wrong for our negative perceptions. He even argued that there might not be many pessimistic people like us about Ethiopia’s current situation.

My friend and I (the so-called ‘pessimists’) challenged him that if we do a random survey, we might get more pessimistic reactions than optimistic views about Ethiopia. After a couple of minutes, we randomly asked a person to ‘express his view about Ethiopia with one word’. He was quick to throw a grating term. A few days later, my friend and I (who hypothesized that many people would be pessimists about their county) asked the same question to colleagues. As we expected, their answers were loaded with cynicism.

After days, I requested my students if they can ‘express their views about Ethiopia with one word’. I asked half of the class. Surprisingly enough, all of them used negative words or phrases.

From these instances, I have learned that we are occupied with pessimistic attitudes about our country. But, why this happened? Why we are pessimistic about the future despite our country is in a tremendous political change?

In my view, one of the reasons is that we developed the institution of negative thinking due to our repeated exposure to deleterious news and information from the media. Our perception of reality significantly influenced by the information we utilize daily. And, contemporarily negative information and fake news are readily available for us than facts and good news.

For instance, according to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria report (on June 6, 2018), from the top ten words forwarded by some survey participants to bid their views about 2017, only two words were positive, one word was neutral, and the rest seven words were negative. To the contrary, experts stated that 2017 was one of the greatest years in human history: this is the year more people get access to electricity, education, and clean water. In 2017, poverty and inter-state wars substantially reduced. A fewer number of people died due to internal conflicts (see the book entitled “Factfulness” from which the report was extracted).

Nevertheless, according to experts because the media focus on the chaos, natural disasters, and conflicts, people perceive that our world is unstable than ever. This indicates that the sketchily framed reflections of reality by the media noticeably affect people’s views about their surroundings.

Nowadays, the topic of discussion on the mainstream media, the rumors circulated on social media, and our face-to-face conversations seem to be loaded with unpleasant impulses.

Consequentially, most of us can bring pieces of evidence inflicted by confirmation biases to support how bad is our current situation. We overemphasize on a few numbers of undesirable endeavors than the plenteous positive facets of our life. This kind of negative social construction of reality, I think, fostered malicious public attitudes. Thus, when we try to convey our thoughts about our current situation, our mind avails us with negative thoughts.

The other issue is that the older generations’ nostalgia to the past might have substantially influenced us to perceive that our current situation as a nation is troublesome and the future is even worrying compared with the past. Many people from the older generations in our country argue that their era was far better than the current age.

They try to convince us how successful was their generation compared with the current one. They narrate that what is good for this country had been and is still in the hands of ‘generations 1960s and 70s’. This kind of prejudiced narration, probably, infuses us with a negatively constructed nostalgic reality. Thus, we readily disparage our current situation.

Generally speaking, we cannot develop our attitude and construct stories about it on the vacuum. We construct stories about ourselves and the realities we live from the information available to us. Therefore, as mentioned above, among other reasons, the older generations’ biased narrations of our reality and the media’s emphasis to the adage ‘it leads when it bleeds’, significantly affect our perceptions of the reality we live.

Accordingly, in my view, the following a couple of suggestions can be part of solutions vital to lessen our misperceptions about our realities.

Primarily, we better understand that obtaining chunks of unrefined information from many sources cannot necessarily make us informed citizens. At this information age, the accessibility of information is not a big concern. It is the capability to discern facts from fake news that matters most. We should be critical about our information sources and consumption. Therefore, to comprehend facts correctly and thus to properly understand our surroundings, we have to be inquisitive and critical thinkers.

Secondly, we should correct the way we narrate our history and reality. The media and public figures should be careful about their arguments about our history and the current situation. The views from the media and our opinion leaders are vital to the youth to accurately comprehend its history and current situation. The (political and economic) elites, scholars, and other public figures should not simply induce guilt in the mind of the current generation.

Parallel to their criticisms, they should also recommend mechanisms on how to get better with the resources we have. Overemphasis on the disenchantments of this generation will only induce inner pollution. Therefore, our media and opinion leaders should take extra care about the messages they produce and the way they present them to the general public. They have to be skillful creators and producers of information if citizens have to make informed and reasoned decisions in their daily lives.

Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Kibrom Berhane

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Publish date : 2019-05-13 08:41:26

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