Wednesday, February 21, 2024

No shame in accepting responsibility

An incorrigible habit that has always bedeviled the ruling class of Ethiopia reared its head once this week. It was unmistakably on display at a parliamentary session convened to vote on a motion to approve President Sahle-Work Zewde’s speech on September 28 to a joint sitting of the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of the Federation. Responding to criticisms by lawmakers that the government is to blame for the violence in the Amhara and Oromia regions, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) said the government has never instigated a single conflict in Ethiopia after he began his tenure. While the veracity of his assertion is debatable given the slew of accusations levelled against his administration and the ruling Prosperity Party for being behind some of the deadly conflicts that had racked Ethiopia since he assumed office in April 2018, his categorical denial is emblematic of the propensity of rulers to acknowledge even an iota of responsibility for their actions and failings.

Ethiopia’s history has been synonymous with war and conflict for most of its existence. True, its inability to enjoy a continuous stretch of calm is attributable to a web of complex and interwoven factors that have proven to be intractable. The primary reason though is undoubtedly the toxic brand of politics practiced by the political elite and their gross failure to discharge the solemn duties entrusted to them. The diversity of Ethiopia, which is home to scores of ethnic groups with unique languages, traditions, and beliefs, should have been a source of unity and strength. Sadly, it has been perennially mired in one form of security crisis or another that threatened to unravel it. This sad state is ascribable to, among others, the peddling of poisonous rhetoric as a strategy to assume/consolidate power; the disinclination to resolve political differences through a civilized dialogue; and the routine violation of the fundamental rights of citizens, which creates a fertile ground for security crises to emerge or worsen. All of Ethiopia’s rulers, including the present government, bear some form of responsibility, albeit to a varying degree, for the security threats that have always plagued Ethiopia.

The security situation in Ethiopia has been particularly bleak in the over five years Prime Minister Abiy has been in power. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have died in the two-year civil war in the northern part of the country, which came to end on the back of an uneasy truce in 2022, and in hundreds of senseless intercommunal conflicts and targeted attacks that saw the butchering of a staggering number of unarmed civilians including children, women and the elderly as well as other unspeakable atrocities. Millions more have been injured, uprooted from their homes and traumatized by the seemingly endless cycle of violence. Admittedly, several initiatives aimed at attaining a lasting political settlement and implementing a comprehensive national transitional justice policy have been introduced. The intended outcomes of these initiatives—reconciliation, healing, ensuring accountability, ascertaining the truth and redress for victims— are, however, from being realized as the efforts are still in the early stage and dogged by numerous challenges that may doom them altogether.

If the Ethiopian genuinely has its citizens’ interest at heart, it’s duty-bound to accept responsibility for the security crisis in Ethiopia. First, as the governing body, it has the primary responsibility to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. It owes the obligation to establish and maintain law and order, protect human rights, and safeguard the well-being of the people. Therefore, it shoulders ultimate responsibility for any security crisis occurring within the country. Second, the government is responsible for the maintenance and training of security forces. If there is a security crisis, it reflects a failure on the government’s part to provide the necessary leadership and supervision; adequately equip and train the security forces; and avail the necessary resources.

Furthermore, the government must take responsibility for any negligence or mishandling of security issues. If there were prior warnings, intelligence, or indications of impending threats that were ignored or not acted upon in a timely manner, the government must be held accountable. Negligence in responding to potential security threats can exacerbate an already volatile situation, leading to a security crisis. The government’s role in security crisis management is also crucial. It is expected to have contingency plans, emergency response mechanisms, and effective crisis management strategies in place to mitigate the impact of security crises. If the government is found wanting when it comes to effectively managing and responding to the crisis, it shows a lack of preparedness and undermines public trust in its ability to handle future security challenges.

Regardless of whether it had a direct hand in Ethiopia’s security crisis, the government must acknowledge that it has failed to tackle the root causes behind them and take swift corrective measures. Owning up to its role in Ethiopia’s dismal security situation will help the government demonstrate its commitment to addressing the grievances and concerns of its citizens. This can boost the public’s trust in it, promote dialogue and pave the way for sustainable peace and stability in Ethiopia. Accepting responsibility is not only a sign of a leadership which is guided by the principle of accountability, but also a crucial step towards reconciliation and finding lasting solutions. If the government is committed to becoming part of the solution, it’s incumbent on it to admit that it’s part of the problem and forsake the habit of denying the role it played.

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