We need to set standards for political parties. They should be established on principles of equality, on the tested experiences of other countries and on the basis of modern day political thinking that guarantee national unity and inclusiveness, writes Belayneh Begajo.
The Ethiopian political system had profoundly failed for the last several decades in terms of creating a sense of equality amongst citizens. Equality between citizens is a foundation to build a nation that belongs to everyone. However, the sense of belongingness Ethiopians ought to have for their nation had been deteriorating for years and the last 27 years were the worst. In the name of ethnic identity people retreated back to their old caves and start repealing others from their villages as if others are alien beings. The practices of politics played in Ethiopia during the rule of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and before had put no concrete efforts to establish a real sense and system of equality between citizens and peoples.
When an individual citizen develops such a feeling that he or she is not considered as equal in a nation then that citizen takes the ground to develop a village thought and mobilize peoples around to have mini political forces to address their concerns. Individuals are always either the sources of the problem or the sources of the solution. It is so revealing that the Ethiopian constitution does not give due attention to the roles of individual citizens. The constitution deliberately ignored the rights of individuals and gave overemphasis to groups as part of the building blocks of the nation. Without the initiatives of individuals, society as a group can neither be a problem nor a solution in a given country. Individuals are initiators, leaders and change agents. The world as we know it today was largely shaped by individual initiatives. Individuals like Bill Gates changed the world by taking the initiative and building the personal computer. Thomas Edison took the initiative and brought to the world the first incandescent light bulb. Nelson Mandel took the initiative to reconcile with his oppressors and moved his nation forward with a new vision.
Historically speaking, the current village level political thinking in Ethiopia had its beginnings in the distant past. Before the emergence of modern day Ethiopia, the governance system was organized at village levels, each independently governing their own people. The historical signs of those days of governance systems are evidently visible in every part of Ethiopia. To mention a few, there was Abba Jifar fo Jimma, King Halala of Dawuro, King Tona of Wolayita, and many others in Sidama, Gurage, Oromo, Harar, Tigray and Amhara. At some point in time, these village governing units came together either voluntarily or by force and brought about modern day Ethiopia. Those governing forces that brought all villages together at the time maintained a tradition of governing the country by bringing their village loyalists to power and excluded other players out of the game. All the abuses of power, corruptions, killings, and human rights violations we experienced over the last decades are perpetrated by few loyalist groups who feared for their power and built the governance system on the wrong premises of village group politics. The tradition of exclusion sustained to this day had created a mentality among majority of Ethiopian citizens not to feel the ownership and belongingness to the fate of their common land. The tradition of exclusion created such huge and sustained discontent throughout the country for so many years and paved the way for village level political forces to mushroom.
This time it is not helpful to waste our time trying to find out how we came together in the past and contemplate to return to the old village mind set. We have to disconnect ourselves from the bad memories of the past and look forward and establish a new vision of our own, a vision that is to build a strong and united nation on the foundation of equality and inclusiveness, a nation that belongs to everyone and everyone sharing the burdens and benefits of the nation equally across the board.
What happened in the past led us to come together and give birth to our big and proud nation. If the coming together as a nation happened by force at that time, it happened because the order of the day was force not democracy, as democracy was not conceptualized let alone practiced. The question for our generation is therefore how we shall govern ourselves as a nation using the modern day concept of governance.
Politics is a collective force with a promise to build a common home for all citizens in a given territory. If we believe we have a common home, we should have common parties that speak for all citizens. Political parties established at the national level on the basis of equality will have a legitimate authority to speak for all citizens and their visions will have a clear path to trickle down to all segments of society just as the water evenly flows down the streams. In principle and in practice, political visions are set at the national level and not the other way around. Village level political groups cannot have national visions. Local political visions are naturally the breakdowns of national visions.
Though village level political thoughts had legitimate beginnings, it has no bright future and cannot benefit modern day society. If politicians truly believe in democracy, they should fight for true democracy that is inclusive and framed at the national level. In the context of inclusive and true democracy, no village level political party can justify its existence as long as we are citizens of the same nation. As long as a true and inclusive democracy is properly put in place at the national level and gets a smooth path to trickle down to all societies, then the need for village level political parties will vanish. The burden and the interest of one group of society in Ethiopia is exactly the same as that of the others.
The interest of the Sidama society is exactly the same as that of the Wolayita, and the Wolayita is the same as that of the Oromo and the Oromo is the same as that of the Tigrayan and the Amahara is the same as that of the Gurage. Human interests are the same anywhere. For example, if what one group of society wants its culture developed, then another also wants its culture developed. Culture is a feeling that we always love to be in touch with. People are accustomed to some kind of culture from an early age and they love that attachment and maintain it throughout their life. Culture is our psychological attachment to our villages, languages, music, food, clothing styles, events etc. Human beings have their own culture and there are no human beings in this world that do not have culture. Cultures are practiced everywhere. An adult who loves milk and milk products as he/she knew them in a ways they used to be prepared when he/she was a child, loves such foods throughout their life and always wish that food to be with him/her. That is a cultural factor. Somebody may love traditional music; others may love some kinds of social events, and so on. In the same terms, all other interests of people including economic, social, political and religious are the same everywhere in a given nation and political parties are supposed to address those same interests of citizens without discrimination.
As a nation, therefore, we need to set standards for political parties; political parties should be established on principles of equality, on the tested experiences of other countries and on the basis of modern day political thinking that guarantee national unity and inclusiveness. Political parties need to have national visions that understand all groups of society and work for all on the basis of equality. Village level political vision does not fit to national vision and it should be left for the elected community representatives or community based non-political organizations. Any perceived and/or real gaps felt at village levels can be picked up by media, activists and civil societies who can advocate and bring the issues to the attentions of national political parties and governing bodies as it is the case in any modern day democratic and free society.
Ed’s Note: Belayneh Begajo is an economist by profession. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].