Averting rivalries stoking tensions
As is customary on the eve of New Year major media houses, non-governmental organizations and respected analysts reflected on the key events and challenges which unfolded in 2019 and what 2020 has in store. Among these a commentary published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) merits particular attention. It puts Ethiopia alongside nine other countries, including Afghanistan and Yemen, where conflicts to watch loom in 2020. The piece notes that “Perhaps nowhere are both promise and peril for the coming year starker than in Ethiopia…” Informed by an insightful analysis which accurately describes the facts on the ground, the commentary should be taken to heart. If Ethiopia is to conduct the upcoming elections peacefully and thereby build a genuinely democratic system, it’s of the essence to focus on ensuring the credibility of the process instead of its outcome. Ethiopians have to exert a concerted endeavor aimed at laying the groundwork that makes it possible to engage in a rivalry which does not stoke tensions.
The foremost task as it relates to fostering the democratization process and making Ethiopia a truly federal democratic republic is to see to it that the change underway in the country since April 2018 does not get off the track. The team leading the ongoing reform is worthy of public backing on account of its efforts to bring reconciliation between antagonistic political forces; broaden the political space; build independent institutions; and create an environment enabling citizens to better exercise their rights and liberties. This said its ideological stand and policies, just as that of other political forces, are alternatives that will be adjudged by the public. Needless to say the rules of the game have to be democratic if logic and reason are to prevail in Ethiopian politics. The usual politics of hatred and animosity cannot get the nation anywhere and is liable to cause the fears expressed by the likes of ICG come to pass. At a time the trauma of the failure to learn from the lessons of history is still raw, it’s downright foolish and dangerous to fan the embers of violence.
Political actors which are blinded by the lust for power and are entirely devoid of the desire to work together to assure democracy and national security are bent on wreaking the havoc ICG has presaged. If Ethiopia is to be safeguarded from destruction and mayhem, it’s imperative to put the interest of the nation above everything and play a positive role in the efforts to undertake free and fair elections. Given the sole legitimate means by which state power can be assumed is through such elections, each and every citizen owes a solemn duty towards this end. Winning elections is not an end in itself. The process is more important than winning in terms of deepening the culture of democracy in Ethiopia. It would take several election cycles before this goal is achieved. Although Ethiopia has conducted five successive rounds of general and regional elections in the past 25 years, they were never truly democratic. The legislative organs established since then have never been able to properly exercise their lawmaking and oversight duties primarily due to the fact that they have been the pawns of the executive branch and rubberstamped everything it submitted to them. That is why the elections have always been skewed in favor of a certain group.
The sea change underway in Ethiopia needs to be nurtured and safeguarded against anyone intent on derailing it for the simple reason that the sovereignty of the people of Ethiopia must be ensured through democratic and free elections. If this lofty ideal is to be realized the government structures and institutions of democracy need to be independent of political partisanship. The political elite of Ethiopia must not abuse the power vested in them by the public and squander the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has come the country’s way. It’s senseless to instigate conflicts that potentially destabilize Ethiopia and make life an ordeal for people even as the international community is calling for a helping hand to be extended to the nation. Ethiopia has a bright prospect. If this hope is not to be dashed each and every citizen fails to discharge his/her obligation responsibly. Otherwise, the consequences will be grim for everyone.
All political actors and compatriots who feel they have a stake in the fate of the country need to reach a consensus on a matter of fundamental importance. In politics there is no permanent friend or enemy. The inability to grasp this fact is one of the basic problems afflicting Ethiopian politics. Instead of collaborating on shared objectives by bridging differences inciting deadly violence over trivial matters has become the norm. Similarly, elements determined to take the reins of power by whatever means necessary are fueling ethnic and religion strife to win the 2020 elections. Recognizing the danger this poses ICG has warned that the elections could be violent and divisive, as candidates outbid each other in ethnic appeals for votes. It says the fraught debate over the country’s ethnic federalist system, which devolves authority to regions defined along ethno-linguistic lines, exacerbates tensions. It also noted that in a worst-case scenario, some warn the country could fracture as Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, with disastrous consequences for an already troubled region adding Ethiopia’s transition remains a source of hope and deserves all the support it can get. Focusing on things inspiring hope as opposed to wallowing in despair goes a long way towards alleviating the slew of multi-faceted challenges confronting the nation. All civilized, decent and farsighted politicians need to take a collective responsibility to ensure that Ethiopians’ hope for a better future is fulfilled. Rivalries stoking tensions must be averted at all costs.