Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Drawing lessons from commissions’ unceremonious demise

The controversy over the apparent dissolution of the Reconciliation Commission and the Administrative Boundary and Identity Issues Commission raises a host of questions that need to be addressed and serve as lessons for the future.  Ever since a local media outlet reported that the two commissions were disbanded and that they had been instructed to vacate the premises they use as headquarters, the absence of clarity as to whether the government had formally decided to end their tenure and what, if any, achievements they had registered has led to unnecessary speculations and distrust towards the government. From the outset criticism has dogged the manner in which members of the commissions were appointed as well as their composition, fueling doubts about their independence and neutrality. Moreover, the commissions’ lack of visibility has not helped them gain credibility in the eyes of the general public.

According to the establishment proclamations of both commissions, their term runs for three years with the possibility of extending it, albeit for an unspecified period, when deemed necessary. Although the government was officially requested to prolong it, it has not given any indication if it would be renewed or otherwise. This brings us to what concrete accomplishments the commissions can speak of to warrant a new lease of life. There can be no denying that the respective objectives of the institutions have not been achieved in the relatively short period they were in operation: to maintain peace justice, national unity, consensus and reconciliation among Ethiopian Peoples in the case of the reconciliation commission and for the administrative boundary and identity issues commission to submit recommendations regarding the causes of conflicts that arise in relation to administrative boundaries, self-government and identity issues. Nevertheless, they have undertaken a range of activities that they say go a long way towards the attainment of these objectives. They also argue that their work was constrained by legal gaps pertaining to their mandate and government inattention. Be that as it may the government needs to explain the rationale behind its decision to dissolve them and communicate same to the public.

The winding up of the commissions has elicited opposite views. Advocates of the decision maintain that the three years and budget they were given was enough to carry out the duties entrusted to them, saying their track record does not justify the allotment of additional time and money better spent elsewhere. Detractors, however, argue that though the members of the commissions may be reproached for falling short in delivering on their responsibility, the government must also share the blame because it dragged its feet in terms of providing them with the support they deserved. They further point out that scrapping institutions tasked with seeking solutions addressing the fundamental challenges facing the nation is as much a damning indictment of its failure to help them succeed as proof that they were set up to fail. As such they are urging the government to extend the terms of the commissions and capacitate them so that their lofty goals are realized. Whatever decision the government finally arrives at it’s incumbent on it to be rational in how it goes about it.

The unceremonious dissolution of institutions which the public had pinned its hope on does not augur well for the recently established Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission. As an institution charged with such monumental duties as facilitating consultations between the various segments of society by identifying the root causes of the difference on fundamental national issues; establishing a system of deliberations that enable the creation of new political dispensation that is marked by mutual trust; building a democratic system of trust between citizens, the government and the People at the national level; developing a political culture that can solve internal problems that have been simmering for centuries; and laying a firm foundation for national consensus and the building of a State with strong legitimacy it’s of vital importance to ensure that it is spared the shortcomings which had afflicted the putatively defunct commissions. If the government does not heed lessons from the mistakes that led to the demise of the very institutions it established, the national dialogue commission is bound to face the same fate.

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