Sunday, April 14, 2024

Nixing intolerance in the bud!

Ethiopia is a nation that is an embodiment of diversity. The ethos that the people of Ethiopia have forged over centuries has allowed them to co-exist harmoniously transcending linguistic, cultural, religious and other variances. Some of the values which are considered to be hallmarks of Ethiopians are our strong solidarity during both good and bad times, our ability to value more the ties that bind us together than what sets us apart, our celebration of various religious and cultural holidays together and above all our undying love for our country. The age-long custom of settling disputes amicably through the offices of elders is also a time-honored tradition that is shared by the various communities in the country. Though we have been struggling under the burden of an inexorable rise in the cost of living, though poverty is testing our very survival and though the prevalence of political violence in many parts of the country is making life an ordeal for us, Ethiopians have stuck it out together to this day.

The four pillars of democracy—justice, equality, freedom and representation—can be given practical effect to when differences are accommodated in a civilized manner.  These pillars are instrumental in ensuring protection for the rights and freedoms of citizens, thereby laying the groundwork for the forging of a society where social justice reigns. In nations where state power is assumed not through bullets but the ballot box the free expression of differing views has been shown to stimulate, not undermine democracy. Individuals and groups can exercise the right to freedom of expression, thought and association in a setting where diversity is respected. Sadly in present day Ethiopia intolerance for ethnic, religious, political and other differences, the very antithesis of democracy, is on the rise.

Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and maimed and millions more have been displaced from their homes in deadly intercommunal conflicts over the past three years in several regions of Ethiopia. The majority of the violence has erupted in hotspots that are traditionally regarded to be on the periphery. In rare instances it occurred in peaceful areas closer to the political center. The relative stability these areas have been enjoying seems to be under threat though following incidences in which demands were made for the expulsion of minority communities living in zones adjoining two regional states. The failure to provide the necessary political leadership at the federal and regional levels alike, coupled with the reluctance of the actors in the political arena to exert a concerted effort aimed at engaging the public in seeking lasting solutions, is largely to blame for the political crisis presently rocking Ethiopia. Though the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) has time and again pledged to uphold the rule of law, neither the unrest nor the killings and wanton destruction have come to a halt since then. 

Extremists bent on building a wall between the children of one nation are eroding the common values Ethiopians have forged over centuries and handed down from generation to generation. In particular individuals who have a large following on social media harp on ethnic, religious, cultural and ideological differences of a people who have accommodated their diversity and co-existed peacefully for eons. These vile characters have been able to wreak havoc because no one has put a stop to them. It’s incomprehensible why the government is dragging its feet in bringing to justice pseudo-intellectuals who are openly spewing venomous rhetoric for the express purpose of fomenting unrest. Even though it is of the essence to reconcile opposing narratives regarding the past by focusing on what unites rather than divides us so that citizens may be able to enjoy freedom, equality and justice, forces harboring an ulterior motive are deliberately pushing a revisionist historical narrative imbued with myths to advance their evil agenda. As a result the tie that binds Ethiopians is being slowly eroded. This not only increases the likelihood of the conflagration of yet more rounds of ethnic conflicts, but also jeopardizes the very survival of the country. 

If the federal and regional adminisrations do not use every legitimate tool at its disposal to ensure that Ethiopia does not crumble right under its nose, the future is bound to be bleak.  The lack of a coordinated response to the unending cycle of violence has heightened tensions.  The foremost obligation of the government is to protect the safety and security of the public. In reality though in Ethiopia there are elements which wield greater power than the government in certain areas or with sections of the public. The problem is primarily attributable to the prevalence of intolerance towards anyone who holds a differing view or belongs to another ethnic group. It’s an understatement to say that if Ethiopia were to become a failed state due to the government’s inability to uphold law and order, the consequences will be extremely unpleasant not only for its people, but also for the region and beyond. The specter of such calamity can be prevented one way and one way only:  stop putting the interest of individuals and groups above the national interest and inculcate a culture of tolerance within each and every citizen. Failure to nix intolerance in the bud is a prospect that ought to be averted at all cost.

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