In January 2019, Co-Founder of the Ethiopian Institute for Leadership, Communication and Organisation (EILCO), Bekele Woyecha, and the Director of International Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Valerie Peay, met for lunch to discuss how they can work together. It was to their good fortune and the amazing transformation happening in Ethiopia, under the new administration of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, which led to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announcing that the annual World Press Freedom Day 2019 (WPFD 2019) will be held in Addis Ababa on May 1 – 3. The main event of World Press Freedom Day was co-hosted by UNESCO, African Union (AU) and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia with close to a thousand journalists world-wide descending on the capital of Ethiopia for a three day conference held at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and AU buildings. As Valerie Peay commented at the reception for the launch of the EILCO-IOHR joint initiative for WPFD 2019, at the Ethiopian Embassy in London, “the Worlds eyes are on Ethiopia” and Bekele Woyecha stated “Ethiopia is open for business”.
Co-Founder of EILCO, Bekele Woyecha, tells the audience the positive changes happening in Ethiopia that allowed for World Press Freedom Day 2019 to be hosted in Addis Ababa.
EILCO was founded by four Britons of Ethiopian Origin, Bekele Woyecha, Zelalem Getahun, Ermias Kebede and Sirgut Yadeta. Their main aim is to transfer their combined experience of working in Civil Society, Civil Service and Private Sector to their country of birth, Ethiopia. IOHR is a human rights advocacy and action organisation based in the UK with a global reach. IOHR has worked closely with supporting, defending and facilitating journalists. With the experience and contacts of EILCO with journalists in Ethiopia and more generally East Africa, a partnership seemed the natural course of action. EILCO and IOHR travelled to Addis Ababa to deliver a seminar at Addis Ababa University School of Journalism and a panel discussion at the World Press Freedom Day. As well as holding discussions with the British Embassy in Ethiopia, exploring areas of mutual interest with the Ambassador, Alistair McPhail.
Addis Ababa University students from the School of Journalism listen to experienced journalists Woubshet Taye, Befekadu Hailu and others about responsible journalism, misinformation and freedom of expression.
The EILCO-IOHR Panel Discussion took place on Day One of World Press Freedom Day 2019 at the ECA. The discussion was entitled ‘The Need for UN, International and Local protection mechanisms for journalists: First hand experiences of the consequences of lack of such mechanism’. Opening remarks were provided by Bekele Woyecha, co-founder of EILCO. The panel discussion looked at three elements to the question of mechanisms to protect journalists: Local, Regional and International. On the Panel we had Befekadu Hailu, Writer, Blogger and Democracy activist; Woubshet Taye, Editor-in-Chief of Gulale Post magazine; Ruth Nesoba, Deployments Editor at the BBC World Service; Sirgut Yadeta, Communications Expert with major UK companies and co-founder of EILCO, Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR; and Alastair King-Smith, Coordinator for Global Campaign on Media Freedom at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The discussions were moderated by Trish Lynch, former CNN and Sky News reporter and anchor of IOHR TV.
The EILCO-IOHR panel discussion was summarised by co-founder of EILCO, Dr. Ermias Kebede (far right). The discussion centred on the need for protection of journalists at a local, regional and international level.
The discussion demonstrated the local need for protection for journalist through the first-hand experience of mistreatment, abuse and imprisonment of Woubshet Taye, served seven years of a fourteen year terrorism sentence, and Befekadu Hailu, imprisoned four times without charge. Both emphasised the positive trajectory of the current Ethiopian Government on respecting press freedom. Woubshet stated that the three arms of Government, Legislative, Judiciary and Executive should ensure that the law to protect journalism is strengthened whilst also ensuring a strong and independent institution to support journalists. Befekadu highlighted the need for unity amongst journalists, proper mechanism for financial aid to legal challenges and he stated that during his ordeal he promised himself that “at no point will I ever compromise my freedom of expression”.
Ruth Nesoba gave us the regional perspective and the context of the women journalist, she pointed out that Women face challenges in protection, perception and personal life in field reporting. Whilst recognising the advancements in freedom of press in Ethiopia, Ruth warned that support for journalists must not be reversed and that a critical view of new media legislation must continue.
Sirgut Yadeta, Alastair King-Smith and Valerie Peay provided the need for an international perspective to protecting journalists. Sirgut is an experienced communications expert in the UK and is of Ethiopian origin. She commented “there were no laws protecting journalists in Ethiopia and I was very nervous in working here”. However, she recognised that the change in atmosphere has encouraged her to move back and work in Ethiopia. Sirgut called for a Code of Conduct to govern the press in Ethiopia through a self-regulating mechanism. Alastair called for “Governments to listen more”, to identify what has been happening and to continue the positive changes in place. He told the conference that the UK will be hosting a global campaign for Free Media, an initiative being led by the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, partnering with the Canadian Government. Valerie Peay presented the case for IOHR explaining they were an organisation based on advocacy and action. IOHR called for a UN special envoy for the protection of journalists and better local, regional and international protection.
The EILCO-IOHR panel discussion took place at ECA, Addis Ababa on 1st May 2019 featuring Valerie Peay, Sirgut Yadeta, Befekadu Hailu, Ruth Nesoba, Trish Lynch (moderator), Woubshet Taye and Alastair King-Smith (L-R)
Day 2 and 3 of the World Press Freedom Day were held at the AU buildings, with the capacity to hold more attendees. We were told that this event was a record breaker for UNESCO on attendance. Day 2 began with some lively Ethiopian traditional dancing from the Oromia region. We had a panel discussion, in which a minutes silence for the victims of the Yemeni civil war and for Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak was called for by Yemeni-Swedish journalist, Afrah Nasser. This was followed by speeches from Director-General of UNESO, H.E. Audrey Azoulay, President of Ethiopia, H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde and UK Foreign Secretary, H.E. Jeremy Hunt. A keynote speech was also delivered by the Editor-in-Chief, Tsedale Lemma. The evening of Day 2 turned out to be the highlight of the evening, EILCO and IOHR attended the invite-only gala dinner at Sheraton Addis Luxury Collections, where the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, gave a speech on Press Freedom in Ethiopia and accepted his award for UNESCO Person of Peace. EILCO and IOHR were able to get a few words with the Prime Minister, as well as Foreign Minister, Gedu Andargachew and Chief Justice, Meaza Ashenafi.
Zelalem Getahun and Bekele Woyecha (Co-Founders of EILCO) greet Dr. Abiy Ahmed (Prime Minister of Ethiopia) at the World Press Freedom Day 2019 Dinner Gala at Sheraton Addis, Luxuary Collection Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Day 3 had a series of panel discussions and one of the panels was moderated by Co-founder of EILCO, Bekele Woyecha, on the invitation of UNESCO. This panel discussion on ‘Press Freedom in Ethiopia – Before and After the Transition’ heard keynote speech by H.E. Nigussu Tilahun, Head of Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. The day proved an interesting mix of networking and discussion. All in all, World Press Freedom Day 2019 was a successful event for UNESCO, African Union and the Government of Ethiopia. It was delivered by the great staff at Flawless Events led by their Managing Director, Yoadan Tilahun. The partnership between EILCO and IOHR proved to be a successful one and both organisations ended up achieving a lot at World Press Freedom Day 2019.
The EILCO-IOHR team in traditional clothing and dinner attire attend the World Press Freedom Day 2019 Dinner Gala.