Updated with post-publication response from IMF spokesperson.
ADDIS ABABA — In a defiant move against its publisher’s decision to pull an interview with an IMF official, journalists at The Reporter, Ethiopia’s largest circulation newspaper, ran two blank pages as a public protest on Feb. 3.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ashenafi Endale, accused the publisher, Amare Aregawi of siding with the Ethiopia representative of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tobias Rasmussen. Journalists there, who spoke to Semafor Africa on condition of anonymity, said Rasmussen sought to retract what they said were lukewarm comments about economic reform efforts by the Ethiopian government.
“This week’s interview is being published as a blank section as a result of undue pressure to withhold the piece in the hours leading up to publication,” the paper wrote following the blank page.
The Reporter’s editor told Semafor Africa he was put under pressure to pull the interview from publication.
“As we were about to go to press, Mr. Ramussen abruptly asked to change his own replies,” Ashenafi Endale said. “He threatened that he will go to the highest authorities of the Ethiopian government should he not be granted his wish.”
The IMF initially did not provide further details in response queries. “We are aware of the story, which appeared recently, and we do not have much to add”, an IMF spokesperson told Semafor Africa on Monday.
But after publication the spokesperson reached out and said the IMF itself did not request for the interview not to be published. “As far as we can tell, there was a misunderstanding on the version of the interview that could be published on the record in line with our initial agreement with The Reporter.”
The spokesperson did not clarify details of the dispute or Rasmussen’s role.
The dispute comes at a sensitive time for Ethiopia. It is currently in talks with the Bretton Woods Institution to borrow more than $3.5 billion. The Horn of African nation missed a debt payment on Dec. 11 and the government hopes the IMF will play an important role as it recovers from an economy ravaged by war and restarts its three-year economic reform agenda.
In the meantime, the IMF has been pressing the government to float its weak currency, end government subsidies, and broaden the tax base — reforms already partially underway as the nation struggles with high inflation hovering around 30%.