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Harmful customs demand a reality check!

Harmful customs demand a reality check!

Ethiopians possess age-old cultures, traditions and mores they are proud of and are manifestations of their identity. Values that serve as a foundation for the survival and harmonious co-existence of the diverse communities of Ethiopia, succeeding generations have ensured that they survived to date. At the same time though harmful customs have exacted a heavy toll on the country and its population. Presently Ethiopia seems to be on the dawn of a new horizon heralding the gradual demise of harmful customs and a renewed appreciation of and commitment to build on positive traditions. The unwillingness of the political elite to set in motion such a process and do away with regressive attitudes has prevented the nation from realizing its potential. Unless Ethiopia’s politics is anchored in the national and public interest it will be extremely difficult to break out of the vicious cycle characterized by visionlessness and egocentrism.

There is a broad consensus that political parties should have the have the freedom to organize and the obligation to engage in a lawful and peaceful political struggle. This said if political parties are devoid of a coherent and well-articulated program expounding the objectives they intend to accomplish, do not have an agenda which the public rallies around and are behind the times what purpose do they serve?  If their leaders are stuck with an obsolete mindset what good are they? And if their members and supporters are blind followers who lack the interest be critical or inquisitive why did they take up politics? On the other hand, if parties do not enjoy the rights and protection they are guaranteed under the law while going about their business how can the rule of law prevail? The government, in particular the legislative branch, owes a solemn responsibility to see to it that Ethiopia is a country of laws, not of men. It is high time to do a reality check and scrap harmful traditions that have been holding the country back.

Although freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, the exercise of the right is fraught with a raft of problems. The distorted meaning ascribed by the government to this right has had a chilling effect with many compelled to censor themselves and landing in jail or fleeing abroad on account of the content of the views they expressed. Despite recent signs of improvement in this regard, the vast majority of the public still has doubts over the depth, extent and sustainability of the change. It’s not the government alone which is guilty of trampling on freedom of expression though. Individuals and groups lamenting that they cannot voice their opinion freely pillory anyone who does not subscribe to their belief as if they are the exclusive beneficiaries of the right. As a result only a handful of citizens have the guts to pay a price to come out in public to get across their viewpoint.

Another disease blighting Ethiopia is the routine violation of the right to get access to information. In spite of the enactment of Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information proclamation over nine years ago, accessing information especially held by public bodies is a nightmare denying the media of the ability to present news reports and articles that are timely and fact-based. The problem is exacerbated by the preferential treatment accorded to certain media outlets in obtaining information. Even mundane information that should be readily available is disclosed on the whim of individuals. The fact that no public official has been held accountable for failure in his duty to provide information in his custody as though it is his personal property and in doing so infringe a legally protected right. Such a custom is harmful by any standard.

Since he came to power early April Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Dr) has been on a whirlwind tour to different parts of Ethiopia where he exchanged ideas with various sections of the public. As engaging the public in dialogues is essential in terms of discerning its needs and rebuilding trust the premier’s tour is bound to engender political dividends. Similarly it is incumbent on members of his administration to hold frank deliberations with the staff and other stakeholders of the sector organizations they lead if they are to find sustainable solutions to the multi-faceted challenges making life an ordeal for the public. In particular if the senior leadership continue to be found wanting in developing and executing policies and strategies that help roll back harmful customs all the rhetoric about a new beginning will ring hollow. Given that the role of leaders is not just to hand down instructions to underlings but rather to lead by example, they must abandon the old habit of excluding citizens when making decisions affecting their interest and see to it that the decision making is truly inclusive.

As we have said time and again Ethiopia is a great nation which is home to a proud and far-sighted people who share exemplary values. They have co-existed for centuries in love, harmony and unity despite cultural, religious, linguistic and political differences. Moreover, they have indigenous dispute resolution mechanisms that not only formed part of traditional systems, but also played a vital role in maintaining peace and stability. Sadly the proliferation of harmful customs like intolerance, backstabbing, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and sycophancy, more so within the political elite has subjected a people endowed with such attributes to tyranny and poverty. Ethiopia cannot afford to countenance these and similar other customs that are liable to take it backwards in age when keeping pace with contemporary thinking is a matter of survival. That is why it is imperative for Ethiopians to do a reality check and get rid of customs which only do us harm.