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As journalists, whenever we have questions about our nation’s development or where we are headed, we usually turn our attention to the government to tell us the answer. There is nothing more assuring than when the government keeps its people updated about everything it is doing.
This also was the case in Ethiopia, actually it still is but the update doesn’t come as often as some would like. I remember there used to be a time when the different sector representatives announced their 6 month plan and stated their achievements in the past and such, these updates were sort of like the intimate moments between the people and government.
These days though, the intimate moments seem to have been reduced to only once a year, except for the occasional drop by to state something.
In other parts of the world, in the West specifically, government officials are always connecting with the people. They are frequently interviewed, commenting on issues, talking about achievements and talking about failures and talking about solutions and future plans.
This communication between people and government builds a stronger bond based on acknowledgment and constructive criticism.
Throughout history, governments have been seen more or less as negative. Former president Ronald Reagan said once “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
In most cases, especially in the third world, people tend to be afraid of the government instead of seeing it as a body that is there to serve them.This maybe is because most see the government as something that is out of their reach of communication, and may feel as though they cannot ask questions for fear of offending.
I am in no way suggesting that citizens should be able to call up a government official for a chat or to say hello, but, governmental institutions need to put on a friendlier face and be in a position to answer questions at any given time.
Here in Ethiopia, some ministries as well as higher officials have joined social media such as twitter and facebook. One of my personal favorites is the Page of the Ministry of Health. It is regularly updated, giving feedback on projects, talking about future plans, posting press releases and pictures.
The page currently has 3,615 followers and I have a feeling that number will continue to grow. Although, this facebook page reaches a very small number of people, it is still a big source of information for many, sort of like a friend on facebook with whom people interact.
There is also another famous page among Ethiopian facebook users; Dr. Tedros Adhanom’s page. This page currently has well over 200,000 likes and that number keeps going up. It is nice to see our Foreign Minister sharing news, sharing his point of view, and being active. Now, for all I know, a designated person maybe updating the FM’s page and not Dr. Tedros himself, but that is beside the point.
The fact that the FM has his page and the fact that it is always updated, makes it feel like he is accessible to regular people.
The whole point of this is that, when high government officials are present to speak to the people through different channels, when they directly address the people, frequently, it will instill ownership, trust and stronger partnership. With ownership, trust and partnership, opportunities and achievements are limitless.