Dialogue sole panacea to Ethiopia’s problems
Ethiopia’s multi-faceted problems have been exacerbated over the years due to the absence of the willingness to engage in a constructive dialogue. Ethiopians have long had indigenous dispute resolution mechanisms that served them well. This disrespect for centuries-old values constitutes a manifest contempt for the public. The proud and farsighted people of Ethiopia have defended their nation’s sovereignty from aggressors and expansionists thanks to the importance they attach to matters that unite rather than divide them. Such unity was founded on mutual respect and a strong sense of solidarity. The secret behind the 1896 Great Adwa Victory—the unprecedented vanquishing of a colonial power by heroic Ethiopians—not only ensured Ethiopia’s independence, but also inspired the struggle of black people against the yoke of slavery, was their rock solid patriotism. The victory further laid the foundation for the pan-African movement and the decision to choose Ethiopia as the seat of the continental organization. Nowadays, though, the tie that binds Ethiopians is unravelling slowly at the hands of political elites. Unless they are brought to heel immediately, the future will not bode well for the country.
The five-decade-old modern politics of Ethiopia continues to be an unending game of cat and mouse. To make matters worse it’s become the stomping ground of extremists and pseudo-politicians that just pay lip service to human and democratic rights and could not care less whether citizens enjoy them. The constriction of the political space by the coalition that was in power until two-and-half-years ago has harmed the nation immeasurably. Its sweeping of parliamentary seats in elections that were far below contemporary standards was one of the glaring ailments of the system it had instituted. What better describes its abhorrence towards opposition groups than extremism? Ethiopia perennially featured among the legion of countries with abysmal human rights track record owing to the mutual intolerance and animosity besetting the political class. The lack of a meaningful progress in rectifying the problem is liable to spell trouble for everyone.
A slew of African counties have been transitioning from an autocracy to a democracy over the past couple of decades, abandoning undemocratic practices engendering instability and introducing reforms broadening the democratic space. With the exception of a notable few, the rest have been relatively peaceful and stable. How long are Ethiopians destined to be denied real democracy despite inspiring the anti-colonial struggle of Africans? Why have we failed at building a democratic system even though we have been given the opportunity to be the seat of the African Union and other prominent international organizations due to the selfless sacrifices paid by our heroic forefathers? Why is it difficult for us to respect our political or other differences and stand together on issues where our interests converge? Why can’t we put the nation before selfish political considerations? Which is preferable: the dominance of a certain political group or a multi-ethnic national unity underpinned by national consensus? Our inability to sustain the shared values which have kept us together is embarrassing us before our African brethren.
There is nothing more aggravating than to see rabble rousers conspiring to turn Ethiopia into a killing field. The political arena is teeming with power mongers which are unable to generate policy ideas, loath to learn from their mistakes or engage in a dialogue with anyone holding views contrary to theirs, and invoke the public’s name in vain to gain cheap popularity. These also have no qualms about provoking violence as well as peddling false rhetoric for political ends as they subscribe to the notion that the end justifies the means. What else can be expected from charlatans, demagogues and extremists who are alien to the fundamental tenets of democracy? That such individuals abound is a national disgrace.
The extremists spreading toxic narratives over social media are becoming more virulent by the day. Incapable of seeing beyond the interest of the groups they belong to, they excoriate everyone who does not jump on their bandwagon and inciting the youth to violence; depending on their political affiliation they glorify or vilify historical figures in disregard of the fact Ethiopia has maintained its sovereignty and unity to this date through the contribution of such leaders and citizens from all corners of the country as well. Instead of venerating Ethiopians who paid heroic sacrifices for their country, extremists are spewing poisonous narratives intended to inflame intercommunal strife. These elements avoid rational discussions and negotiations like the plague but have no compunction about beating the drums of war.
Ethiopia is home not only to its 110 million people, but also to our African brothers and sisters. The reason why Africans bestowed this honor on it is because they regarded it as a beacon of freedom and a shining star. Ethiopians though are knowingly or otherwise leading it down the wrong path. We need to root out extremism from the nation’s political culture. We also must bear in mind that as far as the 1.3 billion people of African are concerned our beloved country is a second home to them. Nevertheless, we have to realize that this privilege is not permanent and may be forfeited unless we work hard to retain it. If we keep on wrangling over the pettiest of things how do they trust us? How can we embrace others if we distrust each other? How may we build a unified nation if extremism raging within us? And how can we ensure that democracy takes root in Ethiopia if we don’t have a proper grasp of the basics of democracy? Extremism is a cancer that is antithetical to democratic rule and only begets mayhem and destruction. As such it must be rejected unequivocally regardless of what form it takes. The sooner we realize that the only panacea to the multitude of problems confronting Ethiopia, including extremism, is dialogue the better.