Time travel is one concept that still eludes the scientific prowess of mankind in the 21st century. Until that breakthrough comes, we are left to look at deeds in hindsight and regret bad ones hoping they might create in us the will to reverse the situation.
A February 2018 Xinhuanet news was headlined “Many Libyans regret uprising on 7th anniversary amid political chaos”. The news story delves into the feelings of ordinary Libyans who went out to the Martyr’s square in Tripoli to commemorate the anniversary. The report quoted twenty year-old university student Noura Shebani as saying: “The revolution was a great disappointment for us. Outsiders and stakeholders jumped on the backs of the martyrs and casualties. They promised us to improve living conditions and give back our stolen rights to us. But all that has happened is lies, leading us to an abyss.”
The story also tells of a woman, Fatima Tajouri, who lost her two sons in the 2011 revolution and joined the gathering at the square in February, 2018. The mother who held a picture of her two sons reportedly said: “I am sad that my dearest sons died, but even sadder about the threat of losing Libya, because I am afraid that all will be lost at once.”
It won’t be surprising if some Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis and Syrians shared the feelings of these Libyans because they witnessed their countries crumble into ashes and lose their sovereign status as a state. Although it is sad that people find themselves under such unenviable conditions, others that find it hard to resist the downward pull of fragility and see themselves slowly losing ground need to take the time to learn from the mistakes of other nations.
As discussed at length in the ‘Global Addis’ column of The Reporter of May 1, 2021 under the title “Is Ethiopia a fragile/failing state?”, Ethiopia certainly ticks some of the major characteristics of fragile/failing states. Fragile states have governments that cannot ensure security of citizens, consistently and legitimately enforce their laws and provide public service. The Ethiopian government has these shortcomings in some parts of the country.
Even more serious criteria used to designate states as failing apply to Ethiopia to some extent. Such criteria include: loss of physical control of its territory and inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. The Sudanese and Eritrean incursions, areas under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the loss of control in Metekel and Kamashi zones of Benishangul Gumuz and similar conditions in the four zones of Wollega (Qellem, Horo Gudru, Eastern Wollega and Western Wollega) are instances of physical loss of control of territory. Steadily increasingly diplomatic pressure, recent measures driven out of it, such as the visa restriction on government officials, and others expected going ahead also somewhat push the Ethiopian state a bit to the margins of the center of the international community.
With the country slowly descending into fragility, it is important to ask how we can avoid the regret citizens of other unfortunate countries have been forced to live with after seeing their countries spiral into the abyss. There needs to be a conscious effort to change the trajectory to fragility and avoid the regret that follows not doing so when the time allowed it. Some scholars argue that holding the upcoming national elections and allowing the new government to hold a national dialogue forum is key in determining the country’s trajectory while others call for national dialogue before elections can be held.
Professor Kassahun Berhanu, veteran political science scholar from Addis Ababa University, is among those who believe that the elections should come first. On the issue of fragility, the Professor told The Reporter a month ago “The country is in deep trouble but it has the chance to find its way out of it. If it cannot respond to these pressing matters, however, it might end up becoming a fragile/failing state”. Despite his concerns, however, he told The Reporter this week that he sees no circumstances under which Ethiopia will end up as Libya.
Prof. Kassahun remarked that the change had to come as there were no signs for reform. He noted that people from within the ruling party and the youth in different parts of the country stood in opposition. The party that led the opposition EPRDF coalition, TPLF, then became disgruntled as it lost the position it held for 27 years. Prof. Kassahun stated that the TPLF raised arms and took its chance at forcefully dislodging the government when it attacked the Northern command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). In his opinion, it is right not to negotiate with those who raised arms.
Despite incorporating some reform measures, he explained, the change itself needed to respect the constitution. That entailed dissolving parliament and conducting elections but the Coronavirus pandemic thwarted efforts in that direction, he reiterated. Now that efforts are back on track to hold elections in a couple of weeks, he thinks the development holds the best option out there to ensure the country’s survival, which in his opinion is more than democracy and elections themselves.
Prof. Kassahun argued, on the other hand, that national dialogue forum could take up to two years. He underscored that a meaningful involvement and contribution of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), media, the private sector and religious groups would take quite a long time. Having such a process before national elections, the Professor explained, would mean extending the opportunity to have a legitimate government by another two years.
The Professor also thinks that establishing a transitional government during that time is not admissible as it is not constitutional. Therefore, for Professor Kassahun, conducting the elections along with their limitations is the best option out there. Security challenges that have barred the conduct of elections in various parts of the country are manageable forfeits for the Professor as they do not account for more than 60 parliamentary seats of the total 547. The possibility of post-election violence exacerbating the situation is a risk to take note of for Prof. Kassahun but it is not sizeable enough to rule out elections amid the ongoing security challenges.
Once elections have been conducted and a legitimate government is in place, however, Prof. Kassahun noted that it should hold a national dialogue forum under relatively more stable conditions.
On the other side of the argument is also another prominent political science scholar from Addis Ababa University, Professor Merera Gudina. For him, Ethiopia is a failing state in which the central government has not collapsed. Despite claims of 3,000 years of civilization, remarked Prof. Merera, Ethiopia has still not managed to modernize its politics. He underscored that the politics of the last 50 years has left the country at the tail of the world. He spoke of a proposal by the then Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States, Birhanu Dinqa, to Emperor Haileselassie on making the state more democratic and his treatment as an ungrateful person by the state. He further noted that the Emperor dissolved the federation that united Eritrea with Ethiopia, starting the Eritrean war for independence. The Derge went further to claim that it does not negotiate with outlaws, he explained. The whole situation, according to Prof. Merera, gave birth to the Oromo, Somali and other questions.
Prof. Merera claimed the current government “has only rebranded Woyane” as it so far failed to lift the burden of history shouldered by the people. For him, therefore, the country has been in a cycle of political chaos for a long time now. He further thinks that the current government does not have the right answer to the key question: how do we create a system that can work for all Ethiopians? He underscored the important of political will in finding the way out of the cycle of chaos.
There has been nominal invitation of political parties to the ongoing election process, according to Prof. Merera, and parties along with their candidates and supporters have been marginalized and pushed out in real terms. He thus views the election as not having the capacity to break the cycle of political chaos.
Although Prof. Merera thinks national dialogue holds the way out, he pointed out that the political negotiation so far has excluded major stakeholders. He opposes the idea of weighing the illegibility of parties to participate in the negotiations and discriminating them accordingly. He is of the view that it is hard to find people that have not sinned in the political landscape, especially among those that hold governmental offices. In the case of Tigray, for instance, who can elect the leaders of the people of Tigray? He remarked that ‘selecting Aregawi (Berhe (PhD)) or Prosperity Party (PP) as the right representative of the people of Tigray would be suppressing the dignity and rights of the people of the region. As still the biggest party in Tigray, he argued, TPLF needs to be part of efforts towards national dialogue.
Finding a way to stop the war should be the first step towards averting the danger for Prof. Merera. He outlined preparing the negotiating format as the next step in which the modalities of holding the negotiations and listing the parties involved would be done. For him, transitional and national unity governments may be products of the dialogue.
Although the perceived level of danger may vary from person to person, the internal and external problems of the country represent a clear and present danger to its survival. Instead of being consumed in day to day bickering along political lines, political forces need to find a common ground to see beyond their groups’ interests and find a way to come up with the right formula for neutralizing the danger.