Summary of Papers Presented at FSS Symposium

(All communications to Professor Dessalegne Rahmato, Forum for Social Studies

(Article Reproduced from FSS Medrek with Permission)

The symposium heard and discussed seven papers specially commissioned for the occasion on various aspects of the subject. Dr Lishan Adam, Regional Advisor in the Information Division of the ECA presented a power point presentation on information policy design and planning. His presentation was highly appreciated by the audience.

Paper 1 - Private Enterprise and Public Access to Information

by Berhane Mewa

In developing countries, local business enterprises are caught between the forces of globalization with their unfair competition and the absence of national development that is responsive to local and international demands. Unlike the public sector, the private sector is very sensitive to the policy and regulatory environment which has the potential to enhance or limit confidence, promote or hinder operations and new investments. In Ethiopia, the development of the private sector is hampered by the low level of infrastructure development in general and information infrastructure in particular; lack of transparency in the political and administrative system and the lack of awareness and know-how at the enterprise level. The widely held view of information as a privilege and not as a right has often led to corruption. The alleviation of these problems requires designing policies with the participation of the private sector that place infrastructure ,especially those that facilitate information transfer, as national development priorities.

Paper 2- Access to and Usage of Information Technology In Ethiopia

by Daniel Admassie

Telecommunication is the key infrastructure that creates an enabling environment for the widespread use and development of Information Technology (IT). In Ethiopia, information is not yet considered as a strategic national asset. The Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation provides all telecommunication services and the country has a tele density is below the African average. Relative to the size of the population, there are few telephone lines, and most of them are found in the capital city and the surrounding area. The quality of telephone services determines the ability for computer users to benefit from high speed, reliable data transmission both locally and globally.

The poor state of telecommunication in Ethiopia and the absence of a national communication network have restricted the flow of information between various organizations in the country and have stifled the development of IT and related services. The country suffers from an acute shortage of skilled and experienced IT professionals. Computerization projects in many offices have failed because decision-makers are not aware of the potentials of computers.

Paper 3- Development Planning and Access to Planning Information in Ethiopia

by Getachew Adem

National development planning requires reliable and timely socio-economic data. Since 1980s, the data gaps which characterized the national plans of the 1960s and 1970s have been alleviated following the launching of a series of umbrella statistical programs such as the National Integrated Household Survey Program and the Housing Census of Ethiopia. In spite of these commendable efforts however, national statistical services have been unable to deliver the requisite economic and socio-demographic data.

The result is planning without information, poor information supports systems for microeconomic and sectoral policy information and monitoring. Following the decentralization of the administrative and socio-economic infrastructure of the country in the post Derg period, planning has become decentralized. As decentralized planning is highly information sensitive, efficient and equitable flow of information has become a real challenge.

Lessons from past experience indicate that there is the need for the coordination and standardization of statistical work through the formation of a viable users and producers committee with a view to ensuring national and international comparability of official statistics. The Medium Term National Statistical Program which is intended to re-orient data collection, dissemination and the reporting system is a step forward in generating user-oriented statistical data.


Paper 4- Notes on Social Science Research and Access to Information in Ethiopia

by Yeraswork Admassie

In Ethiopia, most ministries, government authorities and agencies at both the federal and regional levels are empowered to generate, collect, store and disseminate information relevant to their tasks and activities.

Information is also generated and stored by NGOs and other institutions that are also engaged in the production and reproduction of knowledge. However, although the information thus gathered is quite extensive, there are few documentation centers and libraries. Most of the few that exist are poorly organized. Moreover, there is an absence of a proper mechanism of deposition and retrieval of sources of information. Unpublished materials are much more vulnerable.

The optimal utilization of public sources of information is further threatened by continuous restructuring of government ministries and other state institutions. A case in point is the numerous reorganization of the Ministry of Agriculture and the negative impact this has had on the well-being of its invaluable sources of information.

Paper 5- Archives and Historical Research

by Bahru Zewde

Good historical research depends on the availability of primary sources such as archeological excavations, official and private correspondence, manuscripts, photographic collections and collections of oral materials. National archives are central repositories which store manuscripts and documents and make them accessible for historical research.

There are few countries that do not have a central repository. The Ethiopian case however presents a 'Great Anomaly' in that Ethiopia, which boasts centuries of a literate culture, still lacks a national archive. But there are archival collections most of which are veritable gold mines of information for historians. There have been various attempts to set up a National Archive since the late 60s and there is now hope that this long saga might be approaching its finale.

Paper 6- Access to Information: A Gender Perspective

by Alem Seged Herouy

Concealment of information, considered as a national trait, has undoubtedly put a break on the development of the country and the advancement of Ethiopian women. Mass media can assist in introducing and accelerating attitudinal and behavioral changes as well as adopting new technologies.

Access to information for women has been a critical factor in countries that have narrowed the gender gap in the socio-economic and political arenas. In the recent past, samples of radio programs on women in Ethiopia reflect a considerable shift in program content. More effort is being invested in creating awareness of women's rights and potentials, on retrogressive socio-economic and political constraints that dominate their lives and options and opportunities that they can explore to improve themselves and overcome their problems.

As a result, more women are becoming vocal and more articulate in voicing their opinions in seeking legal protection against violence, in seeking equity in marriage contracts and property rights. In spite of these changes, there are still formidable constraints such as male dominated ideologies, the classification of women as a homogenous group, negative media projection of women and exploitation of women in advertising. These constraints are further exacerbated by the absence of gender sensitive research and resource centers.

It is hoped that the national communication and media policy will address these constraints.


Paper 7- Access to Information and Press Freedom in Ethiopia

by Mairegu Bezabih

Information is the most important input in news coverage and analysis. The right of freedom of expression is as inherent and as fundamental as the right to live. The print media was introduced in Ethiopia about a hundred years ago but multitudes of factors have retarded the growth and development of a free and independent press.

Access to information is further hampered by cultural, educational and technological factors. Secrecy, a highly revered social norm in Ethiopia is the leading cultural constraint.

A significant factor in terms of political constraints is the centralization of the dissemination of public information and the resultant bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining information from government agencies. This is much more harmful to the private press which has no access to government information and often even to the private sector. The educational system fails to provide adequate knowledge and technique on how to receive and disseminate accurate and up-to-date information. The highly limited number of radio, television and telephone services in the country exacerbates these problems. In post-Derg Ethiopia, the government has opened the media to the private press but this emergent free press is subject to state editorial control. Both the state-owned print and electronic media has continued to be the propaganda machinery of the new government.

Closing Remarks In his closing address, Commissioner Asrat Bulbula appreciated the usefulness of the debate conducted in the symposium and the diversity of views presented for discussion. He pointed out that the policy on information which is new being drafted jointly by the three public agencies noted by the Minster of Information and Culture in his opening statement will benefit from this kind of extensive public debate before it is finalized. He invited the audience to participate in the debate when the draft policy is submitted for public discussion.