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Ethiopia afforded succor by superior ideas, not guns!

Ethiopia afforded succor by superior ideas, not guns!

Ethiopian politics has long been the battleground of two intractably opposed forces. These forces have been waging a war of attrition that has inflicted an incalculable damage on the country and its people. Ethiopians have been subjected to ordeal due to the unceasing tug of war between the proponents of the two camps of thought as though there are no other alternatives out there. Even though our ancestors had left behind heritages bearing the imprimatur of modernity, successive generations have destroyed these legacies and made the nation synonymous with backwardness and poverty. The struggle to assume the reins of power has been beset by disregard for the rule of law, incivility, the marginalization of respected elders and intellectuals as well as the disenfranchisement of the masses. Unless this vicious cycle is broken there will be no end to the suffering.

Over the past week the Council of Constitutional Inquiry organized a televised hearing where constitutional lawyers and other stakeholders shared their opinions on the interpretation of the constitution as it relates to the postponement of the 2020 general elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic and what should done going forward. An epoch-making chapter in the political history of Ethiopia, the event represents a new beginning in nurturing constitutionality. As an instrument vital to empowering citizens to have a decisive say in determining their fate, such a collective effort to bring experts and other stakeholders on board in search of a solution for a constitutional conundrum needs to be emulated for other problems as well. It also contributes to ending the centuries-old custom of resorting to force to settle differences.

The imperative to uphold the rule of law in Ethiopia rests is informed by the notion that matters requiring political or legal solutions must be resolved on the back of civilized discussions, not the barrel of a gun. If the rule of law is faithfully upheld the dividends for the country will be manifold. Citizens will be able to exercise their human and democratic rights freely; power can be assumed solely by means of free, fair and regularly held elections; where circumstances make it impossible to conduct elections timely on account of war, pandemics or natural disasters the final arbiter as to when they must take place will be the law; and difficult times like the present will be navigated successfully through broad-based, inclusive and rational dialogue. Politicians and activists hell-bent on stating everything from scratch instead of smoothing the way for the fostering of a culture of debate, discourse and negotiation are better advised to desist from their vitriolic rhetoric. Otherwise, the sacrifices paid by generations of Ethiopians would have been for nothing.

The live broadcasting of the analysis proffered by experts on constitutional interpretation on the one hand underscores the need for calm-headed dialogue and on the other heralds the opening of a new era of constructive engagement. The initiative shown by intellectuals both home and abroad to contribute their share to an enlightened deliberation on the topic is sure to encourage compatriots desirous to serve their country in other fields. Here we would like to emphasize that the contribution of citizens must not be viewed through the “federalists” versus “unitarists” divide but rather from the perspective of Ethiopians who do not fit into these boxes and possess a deep reservoir of knowledge. The narrative which lumps Ethiopians under two vaguely defined camps and characterizes the political rivalry in Ethiopia as being between these groups only serves to perpetuate the quagmire the country has been wallowing in. Anyone asserting that Ethiopia’s fate lies in the hands of “federalists” and “unitarists” does not know that it is a rich mosaic of diverse interests and shared values. It’s ignorance of or lack of desire to appreciate this diversity that has been the root cause of the misery of its people.

While the majority of political actors support the exercise to fill the constitutional gap under the framework provided by the constitution itself, a few are advocating for the establishment of a transitional or a technocrat government once the term of the current administration expires in early October. Leave alone an alliance formed by mutually distrustful forces one does not have to go far back in time to remember that Ethiopia was roiled by political instability owing to the abject failure of a government, supposedly in full control, in its law enforcement obligations. At a time a five-month state of emergency has been declared as part of the all-out fight against the COVID-19 outbreak and Egypt is exerting diplomatic pressure to stop the filling of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, allowing a hotchpotch of antagonistic parties to take the helms of government imperils the nation’s very survival; it amounts to a dereliction of duty that history will judge harshly. That is why it’s of the essence to facilitate conditions which lend themselves to civilized discourse and the accommodation of different interests. If Ethiopians’ aspiration for peace, democracy and prosperity is to be realized, political power should be assumed through credible elections in which the people express their will freely as opposed to shortcuts.

Ethiopian politics has amounted to nothing more than settling scores because it had always been anathema to the concept that ultimate sovereignty lies with the people. It continues to be a breeding ground for self-serving and short-sighted hypocrites who eschew constructive dialogue and the principle of give-and-take; detest intellectuals; and are only adept at conniving, exiling rivals, peddling hatred and sophistry. These failings have exacted a heavy toll on the country and its people. There is still time to put this shameful aberration behind us and expand the promising start witnessed in fostering constitutionality to other areas as well. Let’s demonstrate in deeds that Ethiopia is afforded succor by superior ideas, not guns!