Condolences have poured in from various quarters following the assassination of Girma Yeshitila, the head of the Amhara region branch of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP) and member of the 45-strong Executive Committee of the party, this Thursday in the North Shoa zone of the region. The federal and Amhara regional governments as well as the ruling party have blamed it on unnamed violent extremists and irregular forces bent on destabilizing the region. They condemned the assassination as a vile and horrible act of terror and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Some critics, however, have accused the government of orchestrating the murder as a pretext to snuff out its opponents, without offering concrete proof, while others contend it has rushed to apportion blame before an investigation has been carried out. While it is prudent to await an official account of the killing by the relevant agencies before drawing any conclusion, there can be no justification for taking away the life of a person over differences in views.
This is not the first time a government leader of the Amhara region was slain in an apparent assassination. In June 2019, the president of the regional government, Ambachew Mekonnen, was killed in the capital Bahir Dar in what was branded then as a coup attempt. These acts of violence are clear manifestations of the fact that Ethiopian politics continues to be marred by hatred, division and bickering as well as the inability to engage in real reconciliation and a civilized discourse. The pervasiveness of such failure of imagination gives rise to a set of fundamental concerns that Ethiopians need to address squarely and with alacrity. The propensity to disregard the cardinal rule of politics—committing to a peaceful and democratic pursuit of political objectives as the only rule of the game—is chief among them. In the backdrop of the uncomfortable realities of present-day Ethiopia, all political forces must internalize that the art of politics begins with an ironclad commitment to this principle. They have no choice but to earn the public’s trust by advocating nonviolently for the unfettered enjoyment of legally guaranteed basic liberties and the upholding of the rule of law.
The surest way to put an end to Ethiopia’s history of the violent change of government and fulfil Ethiopians’ aspiration for democracy, justice and prosperity is a peaceful political struggle wherein power can be assumed through the ballot box, not force. Although calls for the assumption of power through may be perceived to be motivated by the desire to prolong the tenure of the government in power, it’s a foundational principle each and every citizen needs to accept and respect. The solitary means by which the people are empowered to make an informed decision from among the array of choices tabled by political entities/individuals on different ends of the political spectrum is to solicit their opinions through constructive dialogues. Any other alternative is unviable.
Ethiopia has slid back on the promising democratic gains it made after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to office in April 2018. The release of jailed political prisoners and journalists; the return from exile of organizations designated as terror groups; and the repealing of draconian laws that curtailed the enjoyment of fundamental rights all helped to broaden the democratic space, albeit relatively, and lay the groundwork for peaceful political engagement. Ethiopians have always yearned for democracy, to lead a life free from injustice and oppression. If democracy is to be practiced in the true sense of the term, it’s of the essence to go beyond opening the door a little and make every effort to anchor it on a strong foundation. It’s also crucial to display the willingness to resolve misunderstandings peacefully through indigenous mechanisms. Why do Ethiopians keep losing sight of the importance of engaging in sensible and constructive conversations? Why do we habitually resort to force to settle political differences instead of endeavoring to arrive at a shared solution via candid discussions? Why are politicians averse to submitting themselves to the will of the people? At this critical juncture in our history it’s imperative to prevent the threats facing us with wisdom and prudence. Otherwise, the consequences will be ominous.
Aside from the intentional or otherwise failings of politicians and activists, the proliferation of armed groups and peddlers of hatred and violence on social media also constitutes an impediment to peaceful political struggle. The fundamental 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 as well as laying the basis for growth and prosperity. Using force as a means to get one’s way is not only an outdated strategy that does not belong in this day and age, but also a recipe for tyranny. In a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in Ethiopia, diversity is something that is unavoidable and should be embraced fully. It’s only then that differences can be settled in a civilized and constructive manner no matter how irreconcilable they may be.