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In DepthJiggling political landscape, unmet hope

Jiggling political landscape, unmet hope

The period since the political transition of 2018 has been marked by social, economic, and political challenges. War, civil unrest, inflation, unemployment, drought, and disease have ravaged the country over the last six years, largely deflating the public optimism and support that swept Abiy Ahmed (PhD) into power in 2018.

Although the northern war concluded with a peace agreement in November 2022, violent conflict persists in regions like Amhara and Oromia, alongside sporadic unrest and ethnic tensions elsewhere in Ethiopia.

A recent visit from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team concluded without a staff-level agreement for a financial package desperately needed by the federal government, highlighting the enormity of the economic challenges at hand.

The problems are contributing to a prevailing political turbulence, and the federal government has been engaged in a series of dialogue panels since February in an attempt to address the growing discontent. Senior federal officials, including the Prime Minister, have been engaging in public discussions with regional representatives, religious leaders, regional leaders, and large taxpayers, among others.

Officials claim the talks are genuine discussions aimed at finding solutions to the nation’s ills. But critics argue the meetings are superficial, with some alleging they were nothing more than a show for the IMF, which is under pressure to withhold a crucial financial bailout until the Ethiopian government engages in political dialogue with opposition forces.

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On April 1, the Prime Minister convened a meeting with political opposition leaders, marking the 12th such meeting. The leaders of no less than 59 of the 68 political parties recognized by the National Election Board (NEBE), as well as numerous opposition figures, were in attendance. Fifty-two of them are formally united under the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council.

Most of the remaining 16 parties have opted to establish a distinct focus forum focused on the National Dialogue, citing predetermined criteria and concerns regarding trust.

Following the deliberations, the Prime Minister announced via his official Facebook page that the discourse aimed to solicit feedback on past actions, identify essential policy adjustments, and foster avenues for future collaboration. He underscored the significance of these dialogues in “rectifying past deficiencies and forging a cooperative path ahead”.

Meanwhile, the talks have sparked both commendation and critique.

Advocates applaud these gatherings for providing a platform where diverse political voices can converge, offering an opportunity for expressing concerns, sharing ideas, and proposing solutions.

This sentiment was evident during the discussions, with some party leaders expressing support for the government’s efforts in organizing such conferences as a positive stride toward fostering dialogue and mutual understanding among political factions. They underscored the importance of involving opposition political parties to ensure a comprehensive array of perspectives is taken into account.

Desta Tilahun, head of the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council and secretary-general of the Ethiopian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), was optimistic about the discussions.

She argues the talks mark a positive beginning as they were previously uncommon in the country’s political landscape. Desta sees the roundtable discussions as instrumental in addressing and resolving differences among the parties.

“Inclusivity fosters democratic participation and ensures a broader spectrum of viewpoints are considered, facilitating the potential for consensus-building and finding common ground among stakeholders,” she told The Reporter.

Still, Desta recognizes that while these discussions are a positive development, they may not offer immediate solutions to the issues plaguing the country. She argues that the complexity of the issues requires political solutions, indicating that the outcomes of the dialogue may not offer immediate remedies, but hopes to see the talks lay a foundation for cooperation in addressing political challenges.

Belete Molla, minister of Innovation and Technology, was also present at the conference. He later described the talks between the PM and party leaders as a “positive beginning” via a social media post.

But the Minister criticized some of the remarks from participants as “inadequate.” He characterized the forum as indicative of the challenging political landscape of the country and urged for improvement.

“I believe that we have numerous issues that require refinement, alteration, and advancement,” he said. “Otherwise, nothing comes from nothing.”

Detractors raise doubts regarding the efficacy of these conferences in effectively addressing Ethiopia’s complex challenges. They argue that without concrete action plans and a genuine commitment to implementation, these gatherings will fall short of producing tangible results or adequately addressing the nation’s immediate needs.

Skeptics question the government’s resolve to follow through on the outcomes of these conferences, citing a lack of substantive actions taken in the past as cause for concern.

Jiggling political landscape, unmet hope | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Merera Gudina (Prof.), a seasoned opposition figure and the leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), recognizes the need for discussions in finding tangible solutions but argues similar discussions over the past six years have so far yielded no positive outcomes. Merera contends Ethiopia’s crises have only been exacerbated over the period.

Jiggling political landscape, unmet hope | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

He notes negotiations have taken place with Prime Minister Abiy and federal representatives both domestically and internationally, including in countries like the Netherlands and South Africa. However, these discussions have yielded no results as the government has been reluctant to address fundamental and pressing issues, according to Merera.

The OFC was among three notable absences during the discussions this week, and Merara said members of the forum chose not to participate to avoid giving their supporters “false hope.”

“With a failed political transition, discussions with the government often seem superficial, lacking substantive outcomes,” Merera told The Reporter.

He argues that any conference must produce tangible results and commitments to implementation, with essential discussion points serving as a necessary foundation.

“It’s imperative that all parties engage in dialogue to seek peaceful resolutions. However, if the government remains unwilling to negotiate, achieving peace may prove challenging,” he said. “The safety and well-being of those affected by conflicts must be prioritized, but persistent discussions without policy changes will yield little.”

Political figures have also noted that the country’s political sphere has been characterized by volatility in line with the recent waves of unrest and armed conflict. Both Desta and Merera highlight the ongoing narrowing of the country’s political landscape, especially over the last two years.

Merera observes the shrinking political space has exacerbated tensions, leading to armed resistance as suppressed groups find their plight increasingly intolerable. He asserts the situation is growing worse and emphasized the need for a shared roadmap to foster consensus among all stakeholders and make progress towards building a peaceful and sustainable nation.

Desta noted there was a positive shift towards political openness and freedom of expression following the political reform. However, she highlighted these freedoms have grown ever more restricted over the last couple of years.

During the joint discussions, the country’s diminishing political space was among the topics Desta brought up, addressing the Prime Minister directly. He responded by suggesting to her that the political space should neither be “excessively wide nor excessively narrow.”

Desta notes the importance of aligning a country’s political space with its internal realities, emphasizing that the Joint Council was formed to peacefully combat such restrictions and strive for increased political space and democracy.

“As victims of suppression, with our party president still held captive by the government, we remain committed to peaceful resistance,” she told The Reporter.

Desta advocated for the respect and protection of citizens’ rights, emphasizing the need for a peaceful environment that enables free movement for all. Furthermore, she underscored the importance of collaboration among stakeholders to foster political inclusivity for the country’s benefit.

Addressing the concerns raised by political leaders, the Prime Minister dismissed certain issues and categorized them into three distinct sections.

He deemed some questions as stemming from a “lack of knowledge and misunderstanding,” while others appeared to be directly tied to “election campaigning.” The PM identified others as a subset of issues as indicative of “activist-oriented perspectives.”

Consequently, he proposed that to effectively govern, a political body must possess “political power,” “policy influence,” and the “ability to shape political views and effect cultural changes.”

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