African Perspectives

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Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

With financial support of the European Parliament

Being a journalist with(out) freedom of expression

A little while ago the Afrikadag team spoke to Anania Sorri, a journalist from Ethiopia and one of the speakers of the Afrikadag 2019. He came to The Netherlands after being in Ethiopian prison for four months. “Justice and Peace invited me as a Human Rights activist for a training in Groningen. I was seen here as a guest and people from Justice and Peace were very friendly to me. It felt like family”, he tells us in the office of his friend Kibret in the heart of Amsterdam.

From visitor to asylum seeker
After three months in The Netherlands Anania decided to apply for asylum and had to live in an asylum centre for a while. According to him, this period was terrible. “I was having flashbacks to my time in prison in Ethiopia, when I was not able to move freely. It is shameful to just go and line up to receive food. I did not sign up for the life in such an asylum camp”.

Anania now lives in Eindhoven. During his time in The Netherlands, Anania experienced different perspectives of the Dutch society towards foreigners. “Sometimes people were very nice, and sometimes they weren’t. But compared to my experiences in Ethiopia, I respect that so many different visions are tolerated in The Netherlands”.

Anania Sorri by Roos Daemen

Offering a voice
He started with journalism in Ethiopia when his friend, a journalist himself, was brought to prison for no reason. He felt obliged to continue the work of his friend. He wanted to address the unjust and the many problems that were going on in Ethiopia, especially those concerning oppression and the authoritarian regime. “I feel obliged to voice these issues. That’s why I began working in journalism as an activist”.

Anania just started his own journalist platform ‘EthiopiaDigest’. He uses this platform around the world to create a network, in which his relations within the Ethiopian diaspora are very useful. Nowadays he is also invited to many events as a panellist, just like the Afrikadag.“I give my insights and perspective to people. You can only open up if you debate from the heart. In this, I try to intertwine ideas from people with different perspectives. In this way, we can all learn from it to some extent. Ethiopia can benefit from this platform where we have freedom of expression”.

Transition in political culture
If he has the chance, he would like to go back to Ethiopia. “I need to be in my country to be able to write about it. Now the situation is still too bad to go back. Many non-state actors are targeting journalists and are giving them a hard time to do their work. They do so even by blackmailing to kill them. However, there is a transition in political culture going on right now. There are new people assigned to top positions, but this transition takes time. Legal and institutional changes are needed for people to really be free and independent.”

Even though Anania thinks the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia has good speeches and gestures, he is still skeptical. “So many things are at fault in Ethiopia. We have been oppressed by the same party for so many years, and the new Prime Minister is from that party. I don’t want promises but tangible things. I want safeguards for myself, my life and my profession as a journalist. I can’t operate on the promise of one guy.” Time will tell us in which way Ethiopia will change. Until this time Anania will not return the Ethiopia. Luckily he found a way to practice his profession within an international, self-created journalist platform where there is freedom of expression.