Concerns have been deepening for some time now over the rise in incidences of abduction in various parts of Ethiopia. The trend is particularly alarming in the Oromia region and to a lesser extent in other regional states. The situation has had far-reaching political, economic and social ramifications. Carried out by both state and non-state actors, the abductions have compromised the right of citizens to lead a life of peace and security, an dampened economic activity in the areas where they are rife, and forced thousands to flee their homes in fear that they are apt to face the same fate. The exorbitant ransom demanded by some of the abductors is beyond the families of the abductees, forcing many to sell their valued properties or seek loans to pay the ransom and secure their loved one’s release. The apparent impunity with which abductions and forced disappearances are taking place is bound to have dire consequences if they are not tackled resolutely.
The foremost casualty of the rifeness of brazen acts of abduction is obviously the rule of law. There can be no peace, stability, justice, development or prosperity without the rule of law. It’s when each and every one of us abides by the rule of law that citizens will come to truly believe in the principle of equality before the law. If the rule of law is non-existent or not duly observed, if criminals can do whatever they please and terrorize the innocent the trust that citizens should have in the law will be eroded and eventually completely lost. Such a loss of confidence in the law is bound to turn into a serious threat to national security. Coupled with the seemingly unending cycle of violence that has racked the country for over five years and led to the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, the displacement of millions from their communities and the destruction of properties worth billions of dollars, the shocking level of abductions in the country has rendered hollow the vows made by the federal government and the administrations of the regions where they occur that they are committed to put an end to them.
Protecting the safety and security of the public is primarily the responsibility of a government. However, the government cannot succeed in discharging this duty. The meaningful participation of each and every stakeholder, which owes a positive obligation in contributing their share towards this end, is of critical importance in this regard. This said it’s incumbent on the government to ensure that all the structures under its control are duly carrying out the tasks entrusted to them. The failure, in particular, of the lower echelons of the bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies to do their jobs has enabled criminal elements to run riot and pose a grave security hazard. The public has the right to know why the local administrative and security organs in the areas where abductions are endemic were unable to protect the defenseless citizens they were supposed to. If active steps are not taken to restore law and order the consequences will be too horrible to imagine.
The government must go beyond pledging to make abductions a thing of the past and take the necessary measures to uphold the rule of law. First it must undertake a thorough probe into what is driving the phenomenon and who is behind it. Once the culprits culpable of crimes endangering the welfare of the public and national security, which also happen to be within its ranks, are identified, they must be brought to justice and receive the appropriate punishment without delay regardless of the office they may hold. If the state does not live up to its obligation to guarantee the safety and security of ordinary citizens, the abductions are likely to become even more rampant and pose a greater peril for all.
Although all three branches of the government owe the obligation to uphold the rule of law, the executive branch plays an indispensable role in the observance of this hallowed principle. It is the primary actor in assuring peace, democracy, development as well as respect for the constitutional order and human rights. If it ignores or sweeps under the rug up the misdeeds of dishonest elements within its rank and their cohorts which defy the supremacy of the law, it would be a gross dereliction of its duty to defend the law and sound the death knell for the credibility of the justice system. It would also lay bare its flawed attitude towards the rule of law as well. Therefore, both the federal and regional governments must do everything in their power to safeguard the rule of law from such vile acts as abductions that eat away into it for the sake of Ethiopia and its people.