This past weeks has been anti-climactic to say the least. We ushered in a new year, with hope, excitement, love and a very good feeling about what is ahead for the country. And then, the sad events in Burayu happened, followed by loss of life of peaceful demonstrators. We went from hopeful to shocked and wondering where we are going as a country.
The more I hear of details of the attacks that happened in Burayu, the more I get disturbed. I know I am not alone in being horrified by what the attackers did, the cruelty and the hatred that went into planning such a gruesome act.
Our hopefulness for a new dawn is based on concrete changes that we, as a country, have gone through in just a few months. The constant message of love, forgiveness and unity has really hit a chord in the hearts of many Ethiopians in Ethiopia and around the world. It has even moved to neighboring countries. What a great success this has been.
Unfortunately, there is a “but” to all of this. This great message of love, forgiveness and unity is wonderful but it is not policy. And to run a country, policy is pretty essential. The attacks in Burayu are only one in so many that have happened in the country in the past few months. In fact, on a data published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), the number of internally displaced persons in Ethiopia is over 1.4 million, making Ethiopia the country with the world’s biggest internally displaced population.
The “FÃFT” spirit is clearly a message that our government needs to keep pushing, but simultaneously we need a policy that concretizes this and turns it into actionable points by the different sections of government. This can translate itself into a prevention policy related to the attacks which focuses on understanding where the “differences” that can cause this emanates from and how they can be resolved in the immediate and long term. It is great that the government took swift action on the perpetrators, however, what we must understand is that these attacks are not simply done by what we seem to easily label as “criminals”. Some of the attacks were done by people who were neighbors and had lived in the same area for quite some time. So, imprisonment is not a good enough solution. We have to seriously consider rehabilitation.
The other policy outline can focus on including these in curricula, education facilities and government working spaces. These will really translate into shifting existing dynamics and clearly outlining the role to be played by those working in these different institutions.
Last but certainly not least, we need to take care of the victims. I am amazed by the outpour of efforts for donations in kind and in cash to support those in Burayu but also those in other regions. The government should seriously consider a program focused on mental health for the internally displaced as well as the victims of attacks so they can process the trauma.
This is not to say that there are no challenges that we are unaware of, yet the government needs to continue on a path of transparency and communications and let us know what actual steps are being taken to prevent, respond and deal with this violence. It truly is high time we move the great message of love to policy making so it becomes sustainable and continues to be impactful.