Friday, January 27, 2023

Meeting the public’s demands

Governing a nation is a grave responsibility which requires of leaders to personify wisdom, far-sightedness, integrity, leadership skills and an unswerving commitment to peace, democracy and development. A government cannot be deemed to be populist just because it claims that it possesses these attributes; it has to demonstrate in action that it is willing to submit to the will of the people and to conduct its affairs in a transparent and accountable manner. It’s only then that its response to any public demand can be prompt, reasonable and consensus-oriented. Even if the response is not to everyone’s satisfaction, the very fact that the process is participatory lays the groundwork for further dialogue. Such kind of thinking needs to take root in present-day Ethiopia. Anyone who tries to act contrary to this principle is bound to collide head on with the public.

The various structures of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) teem with self-serving individuals who give precedence to force over reason when the public demands its rights, impede the free flow of ideas, crave power more than the national interest, are prone to hurl insults instead of engaging in dialogue, contribute directly or otherwise to undermining the rule of law and prevalence of lawlessness, and make no bones about their distaste for democracy. The organization’s reluctance to conduct a critical self-assessment and house-cleaning in no way helps to resolve the grievances some sections of the public harbor toward it. Offering flimsy excuses rather than heeding the legitimate demands of the public is liable to have unpleasant consequences for the country and the public at large.

Like the governments of other civilized nations the administration here must take it upon itself to make responsiveness one of its mantra. Responding democratically to the appropriate demands of citizens can go a long way towards ensuring that peace, prosperity and democracy prevail instead of conflicts, destruction and authoritarianism.  Though the people, of Ethiopia, estimated to number around 100 million, are a kaleidoscope of different cultures, languages, faiths, and political outlook, there is more that unites them than divides them. And they have a proud history of celebrating their diversity and peaceful co-existence. If a polity as diverse as Ethiopia is to forge a stronger unity anchored in mutual tolerance, respect and trust, all citizens ought to be able to enjoy equally and fairly treated without exception. The existence of a political space which fosters the accommodation of different interests through democratic means is instrumental in averting conflicts.

As in any period during its history the present generation in Ethiopia has unanswered questions. Regardless of whether the questions are rational or not the ultimate arbiter is the public. Issues pertaining to identity, equitable distribution of resources, respect for human and democratic rights, access to justice, employment opportunity, etc. need to be in accordance with the applicable law. Needless to say, the way the questions are raised as well as the response to them is important in that it has to be peaceful and not impinge the legitimate rights of others. The public shall pass judgement on those who tend to be irrational and offensive, are bent on inciting internecine violence to further their sinister agenda, and act as the errand boys of the nation’s sworn enemies even as they claim to represent it. After all, it knows very well what is in its best interest and what is not. Hence, it is dead wrong and indeed undemocratic to suppress the legitimate demands of the public while dealing with such elements.

The ruling EPRDF should view the questions the public raises on paramount matters from the perspective of such fundamental considerations as freedom of expression and equality of access to economic opportunities. Refusing to heed the public in disregard of these principles is not only unwise, but also legally questionable. That is why it should abandon its age-old habit of externalizing the reasons behind the types of unrest which recently rocked the country and start looking inward. With the exception of demands that run counter to the law as well as the national and public interest, the government owes a constitutional duty to lend an ear to and provide solutions for all grievances voiced by the public. It is incumbent upon the EPRDF to bring to heel members and supporters who are unwilling to submit to the will of the people and have no inkling about how to serve the public. The fact that these characters have enriched themselves illegally having infiltrated state structures and mass organizations and are steering the country on a perilous course thanks to their misdeeds requires of it to take firm measures including dismissal from membership and criminal prosecution. The nation certainly does not need in position of power individuals who are woefully behind the times, incompetent and liable to hand, wittingly or otherwise, foreign adversaries an opening which they can use to wreak havoc.

Transparency is one of the mechanisms which ensure it is held accountable in the conduct of its affairs. The more the government opens up and facilitates dialogue forums the more it can filter genuine public opinion from views distorted by pseudo representatives and respond effectively. The demands made by citizens over the years are often characterized as actually being driven by forces behind the scene is a result of the failure to accord due attention to the needs of the public. However irresponsible or absurd an idea may be, it should not be repressed for the public is wise enough to embrace a viewpoint that advances its interest and reject that which does not. The demands made during mass protests in Oromia a bout a year ago and in the Amhara region in the past month have to be heeded properly so that it is possible to get a handle on the true intention of the protestors. If the government, as it is wont to do, is committed to respect the basic rights of citizens then it is imperative for it to address the public’s demands democratically.

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