Corresponding to the PM’s audacious promises of change, Ethiopians would like to see institutional establishments that can effectively put the promises on ground. Unless institutionalized, ideas of a ‘great leader’ will end up in disarray. All actions of the leader will be a dismal performance. Hence, Ethiopian leaders should practically show citizens their hopes are possible, writes Kibrom Berhane.
Unlike the past three or four terrifying years (due to the ethno-political turbulence) the past three or four months appears to be appeasing for many Ethiopians. It seems that the current ‘political changes’ in Ethiopia inspire millions of citizens to be optimistic about the future of their country. Since the coming of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the country’s political arena is overblown with keen appreciation for him. In just nearly four months in office the PM is praised by millions as an angel sent from heaven to heal the wounds of ethnic divisions and political disappointments in Ethiopia. Yet, the impulsive perceptions and keen appreciations of many Ethiopians probably indicate more radical changes are expected of him – which might almost be unbearable challenge for the PM.
Change does not simply come with the efforts of few actors while the majorities are spectators. Conversely, as we can observe from the current craving for political change, millions of Ethiopians expect the changes they sought just from their leader – while it should be an outcome of collective efforts of the general public and leaders. This essay therefore argues that both citizens and the government do have some issues to consider.
First, what will be some of the issues expected from the public?
For political scientists, such as Giliberto Capano, state change is embedded in institutional and structural contexts. No matter how powerful a leader is, she/he would inevitably be influenced by structural factors such as the country’s political culture, extent of citizens’ participation, economic power and other related factors. Considering Ethiopia’s murky political context, shambolic democratic institutions, and fragile tolerance for ethno-political differences it is difficult to aspire for changes that equal citizens’ zeal. Consequentially, it would be better if citizens understand that the changes that they aspire for cannot be achieved by the PM single-handedly.
As an extension of the aforementioned concept, change can also substantially be influenced (if not determined) by context. Meaning, our leaders cannot bring change as they please. To use words of Karl Marx, men do not make history “under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Hence, citizens should be aware that the ups and downs of the political history of the country cannot be a plain ground for changes that they sought.
Furthermore, change comes due to circumstantial causes. Concoction of challenging and promising factors would arise in the process. Hence, citizens’ fortitude, not impulsive reaction is crucial for political change. Ordinary people are supposed to enquire themselves whether they acknowledged and accepted their responsibilities. A society that places all burdens on its leader would create unbearable pressure. As Capano describes it well, “placing excessive emphasis on the idea of the highly-reputed leader, can be misleading what comes to analyzing the role of the leadership in political/policy changes.” Citizens should claim responsibilities vis-à-vis their political, social, and economic statuses.
In sum, no one ultimately comes to save citizens from their frustrations. Rather than expecting a lot from their politicians, it might be better if they expect much from themselves.
What will be the role of the leaders?
Firstly, a regular communication about endeavors in the country would be among the primary issues of successful leaders. Effective communication is crucial to get leaders in touch with the public. Since it is a good sign of transparency, effective communication with the public would enhance the legitimacy of office holders. It is through continuous communications that leaders can feel what the public feels. This would be how they can bring empathy, compassion and politics of understanding; and avoid the viscous circle of politics of revenge. Moreover, effective communication is crucial to transform the general public from spectator-ship to actor-ship. When leaders establish smooth communication with the general public, they can enhance their capacity to convince citizens about new ways of perceiving ‘reality’ or they may shape their leadership style in a way it fits to their public. For these reasons effective leaders do not rationalize their failure to regularly communicate with the public. They just keep communicating.
Secondly, because change is a process, there is a temporal factor. It needs timing/scheduling. A mere occasional outburst from leaders does not prove their qualities. Effective leaders do not promise haphazardly. They sketch the chronological order how their change plans are going to happen. They are required to objectively calculate and explain the temporal sequences of events/tasks coupled with tangible reasons.
Thirdly, citizens need to see a functional coordination among social classes, ethnic groups and political forces. The changes citizens aspire for are the result of collective enterprise. The volatility of the relationships among people both at the top and bottom of the leadership pyramid would significantly affect their hopes of change. Dysfunctional constellation of actors is a disaster. It can tarnish citizens’ optimism.
Fourthly, change partly is a matter of finding equilibrium between different aspects of societal life. Leaders might be urged to profoundly understand the roles and challenges of traditions in a change. Citizens’ hopes of progress would rely on finding equilibrium between their traditions as inputs and restraints to change. According to Gustave Le Bon “civilization is impossible without traditions, and progress is impossible without the destruction of those traditions. […] The difficulty is to find a proper equilibrium between stability and viability.” Effective leaders can proactively find solutions for such kinds of dialectical aspects of social context.
In conclusion, corresponding to the PM’s audacious promises of change, Ethiopians would like to see institutional establishments that can effectively put the promises on ground. Unless institutionalized, ideas of a ‘great leader’ will end up in disarray. All actions of the leader will be a dismal performance. Hence, Ethiopian leaders should practically show citizens their hopes are possible. Most importantly, the leaders should clear-up the antagonistic state-society relationships and substantially limit government’s lust for power.
Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]