Any observer following contemporary Ethiopian politics appreciates that the future holds welcome opportunities. If these opportunities are to yield dividends it is imperative to display wisdom and smartness while maneuvering the political minefield. It’s of the essence to have a clear idea of what the end goal of the change underway is and shape the process through which it is achieved prior to embarking on a specific course of action. This requires thinking hard about the direction the nation is taking, the challenges and opportunities encountered along the way and the matrix of options by way of which the intended goal is achieved. Such effort must of course be primarily informed by the vital interests of the nation. Such effort should naturally be underpinned by the exigency to promote peace and democracy. If the change Ethiopians are seeking is to be all-inclusive and grounded in clear-eyed principles peace and democracy need to be the foundation on which it is anchored.
While there is nothing wrong with wishing for the positive tidings Ethiopia is currently enjoying to engender permanent benefits, it is prudent to prepare for the testing challenges that are bound to occur. Things that may be thought of as being easy to accomplish may actually prove to be much harder than they are anticipated. The ongoing scheming going in the political arena, the sad state of the government machinery, the apparently irreconcilable rift between the member organizations of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the EPRDF’s rocky relationship and negotiations with rival political parties, and the still unhealthy attitude towards freedom of thought and expression area few cases in point. On the economic front the chronic foreign exchange crunch, the debilitating external debt bearing on the country as well as the precipitous fall in production and productivity constitute a set of taxing problems. These problems are exacerbated by the pervasiveness of abject poverty, the spiraling cost of living and the unremitting housing shortage. In the face of such seemingly intractable challenges it is criminally negligent to squander opportunities that seldom come along.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and his administration are confronted with the solemn responsibility of bringing about transformational change in the political, economic and social spheres. Though the duty of extricating Ethiopia from the abyss lies first and foremost with the premier, the people of Ethiopia also shoulder the grave obligation of providing him with an all-round support. It’s naïve and indeed counterproductive to expect Prime Minister Abiy to do miracles. The transition to a better future can be wisely managed when Ethiopians join hands to find a shared solution. If the change citizens are looking forward to is neither participatory nor institutionalized it is liable to fail and even result in unintended consequences. Above all peace, democracy and the rule of law are critical factors to guarantee the attainment of the intended objectives of the change.
A sensible change process driven by leaves no room for irrationality and rashness. In fact it is inspired by the needs of the people and as such ensures inclusiveness and public participation, whether directly or through elected representatives, in national development endeavors. Opportunities may be exploited to the fullest insofar as each and every citizen is well aware of his rights and the duties he owes to his country. This makes it incumbent on the political leadership to enable the public to have a clear grasp of the goals of the change and the role it ought to play. Needless to say the leadership must refrain from making promises aimed at gaining cheap popularity and instead set pragmatic goals. It’s then that the winds of peace and democracy blowing in Ethiopia can take root. This said it should be kept in mind that there are obstacles in the way. The deadly conflicts that hit some parts of the country recently serve to illustrate this point.
On the other hand views expressed as regards the atmosphere of change that are wide off-mark abound. Some compatriots wonder what is meant by “synergize”, the latest catchword. The answer differs widely. The Prime Minister though explained the concept the speech he gave to Parliament after he was sworn in when he said, “Unity does not mean uniformity.” This implies that synergy is all about playing a role in the change without giving up one’s beliefs. Revoking Parliament’s designation of some opposition groups as terrorists, inviting forces intent on toppling the EPRDF using force to give up their arms and join the political fold, and allowing individuals who had to flee overseas in fear of their lives to return to their beloved nation point to a fresh beginning of working together towards a common goal while respecting diversity. Synergy does not, as some argue, mean that everyone has to think and act the same all the time. There is no reason why a broad consensus cannot be reached on issues pertaining to the national interest despite differences of opinion on other matters. Just as the EPRDF has a set of political agendas so do rival parties and other parties. So synergy in no way denotes mashing everything into one. Understanding the concept in this spirit goes a long way to the realization of peace, democracy and prosperity.
At this critical juncture in Ethiopia’s modern history intellectuals schooled in political and social sciences must steer the public as well as the instigators of change into the right direction. They have a lot to contribute in terms of informed decisions are made as the country strives to bring about fundamental reforms across the spectrum. If everyone riding on the change train knows only the point of departure but not the destination the journey would be pointless, Change does not materialize out of thin air; it requires action guided by well-tested principles. This calls for, among other things, strengthening of institutions, upholding the rule of law, ensuring that the change process is not hijacked by elements which are bent on profiting from it, and instituting a system of checks and balances so as to prevent abusive of state power. But in particular it is of the utmost importance to facilitate the unfettered exercise of freedom of thought and expression in view of the fact that certain compatriots who had been vocal advocates of this right are now trying to silence anyone who does not subscribe to their belief. Voltaire’s famous saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” reminds us that holding diverse views is something that should be cherished and jealously guarded. This is precisely why nothing should come before peace and democracy.