The rule of law is a foundational principle on which a democratic society is built. The rule of law is the concept that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to the ordinary laws of the land that are fairly applied and enforced. An arbitrary or discriminatory use of power under the guise of upholding the rule of law is bound to engender resentment, instability and eventually anarchy. In the past fortnight thousands were arrested in a crackdown following deadly clashes that claimed the lives of scores in Addis Ababa and some of its environs. Out of these over 1,200 youth have been sent to a military camp in south-western Ethiopia and are undergoing “rehabilitation education”. None have either been brought to court within 48 hours of being arrested or charged. How can such mass detention advance the rule of law? Is it legitimate to jail anyone deemed to be “guilty” and subjected to forced “rehabilitation” without due process? The government is duty-bound to take steps that are in keeping with its obligation to respect the rights of persons arrested. Otherwise, outcries that its action constitutes rights violations will grow and earn it opprobrium.
The change underway in Ethiopia has enjoyed widespread support primarily because it has inspired hope for millions who have been suffering from injustices for decades. Ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) ascended to the throne in April tens of thousands incarcerated in prisons have been released after the government decided to drop politically motivated charges or grant pardons. At the same time several exiled political parties which have raised arms against the government have returned home to engage in civilized politics in hopes of a better future. Many believe that if Ethiopians can make proper use of the exciting opportunities before them they can do wonders. In the meantime though countless citizens have been killed, maimed and displaced from their homes in conflicts instigated by forces having an axe to grind. At such critical juncture in Ethiopia’s history the government has the responsibility of enforcing the rule of law and stabilizing the country consistent with its obligations under the constitution. Failure to do so will rob it of public trust and support opening the door for another cycle of violence. Therefore, it is imperative that the government abide by the rule of law if it is to deliver the leadership that the times require.
On their part Ethiopians need to realize they can no more afford to waste the chances that come their way and start today the job of building tomorrow’s Ethiopia. A generation that shook off the yoke of oppression must not allow itself to become the blunt instrument of individuals and groups intent on derailing the ongoing change by wrangling over inconsequential matters. Given that the youth are particularly vulnerable to the venomous rhetoric of evil elements peddled on social media, the government and parents should see to it that they turn out to be law abiding citizens. Sadly a great number of the youth have been incited into perpetrating ethno-centric violence or become victims. If Ethiopia is to be restored to its former glory through the collaborative effort of its people they must first be able to accommodate their differences in a civilized manner. It would be naïve to think that attempting to institute a system where “some are more equal than others” will succeed. The “my way or the high way” attitude has no place in a well governed nation.
Political parties have to bear in mind that the only way they can sell their ideas to voters is to abandon the politics of hatred and intolerance they have been practicing and commit themselves to the peaceful, democratic and creative pursuit of their objectives. Ethiopian politics has been dysfunctional for quite some time now. Why is it proving to be difficult to nurture the change that could potentially spell an end to this terrible chapter? Who stands to benefit from mutual provocation using partisan media or activists? History tells us that labelling fellow Ethiopians as enemies only begets mayhem and destruction. The animosity and vengefulness that has characterized the relationship between rival parties has to give way to mutual respect and the willingness to compromise. It’s only when political parties and their supporters play a constructive role and abide by the rules of the game that it would be possible to rule and be ruled properly.
Mistakes are certain to be made during any transition. However, it is wholly unacceptable to repeat the same mistake over and over again. Sacrificing the national interest for the sake of one’s ideological stand is a recipe for disaster. Ethiopia’s history is replete with incidences that have led to the death, injury and traumatization of innocent people as well as the incalculable property damage. From ordinary citizens to political parties everyone has the responsibility of learning from such appalling failings and take measures aimed at ensuring Ethiopia’s very survival. This would go a long way towards addressing the public’s demand that the government provide the kind of leadership appropriate for current realities.
It has been shown on far too many occasions that when cooler heads do not prevail over hot-headed individuals the country is beset with a devastating political crisis. Now is the time to use the great opportunity that the change Ethiopia is presently undergoing represents together with Ethiopians’ centuries-long record of maintaining their country’s sovereignty through a display of solidarity and unity to write a new chapter in the nation’s history. The surest way to help the Prime Minister succeed in fulfilling the promises he made to the public, to realize the renaissance of Ethiopia, to enable citizens live in freedom and peace, to consolidate democratic gains, to forge consensus on matters of national importance, to broaden the political space so that it accommodates a healthy rivalry between strong competing parties on alternative platforms, to ensure that the national interest has primacy over narrow individual or group interests, and to foster an environment where despair is replaced with unbridled hope it is of the essence to do whatever is necessary to uphold the rule of law. It’s only then that the government can duly govern and the people be duly governed.