Respect for diversity, tolerance, and finding common understanding are goals the United States shares with many of our partners around the world. Ethiopia is an incredibly diverse country with over 80 ethnic groups and even more languages spoken around this country of 100 million. Recently, rapid political change, while overwhelmingly hopeful and positive, has seen rising rifts in society, including rising ethnic tension. We know that most Ethiopians cherish the ideals of tolerance and celebration of diversity, so we used our annual video challenge to elevate those voices and spark constructive conversations about the challenges to, solutions for, and benefits of tolerance and mutual respect.
We invited Ethiopian filmmakers to create three-minute videos talking under the theme “Our Ethiopia” – to celebrate the historical and cultural richness of this country while highlighting the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity. We announced the program in early 2018, at a time when rising political uncertainty and the first outbreaks of ethnic violence were raising questions about the country’s overall stability. It was a tricky space to enter, but we hoped Ethiopians would step up to the challenge. We weren’t disappointed.
The response to the video contest was overwhelming. We received nearly 200 video submissions reflecting a wide range of perspectives. By the time we had selected the winners, even greater change had come to Ethiopia. The bold resignation of the Prime Minister in the name of democratic reforms gave way to a successor with a strong commitment to democracy and dramatic steps to open space for political participation. Suddenly Ethiopians were faced with rapidly widening freedoms and the prospect of a brighter future – but only if they can work together to achieve it. During the same time period, ethnic conflict drove numbers of internally displaced people over two million.
At the awards ceremony to honor the contest’s participants, I shared my optimism for the country’s future and encouraged them to be a part of building it, highlighting the theme of the competition.
“This is your Ethiopia, and your chance to set this country’s direction on the path you want to see. Now is the time to uphold Ethiopia’s long history of diversity and tolerance. Now is the time to take democracy from aspiration to practice, and it will be up to each of you to do that. The United States of America stands with you, and we are ready and eager to help the reform efforts succeed.”
The video competition continues to resonate. At the award ceremony the Minister of Culture requested copies of the winning submissions to use in public outreach. The winning videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times collectively on the Embassy’s social media platforms where they continue to generate constructive conversation, and have been featured prominently on national television to audiences of millions. The program is a great example of the power of Public Diplomacy to engage with the public and to elevate, empower, and encourage local voices to advance our values and our policy goals.
View Ebongo’s video below and check out other contest entries on the U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa Facebook page.
About the Author: Michael Raynor serves as U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.
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