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The imperative for the elite to learn from mistakes!

The imperative for the elite to learn from mistakes!

The people of Ethiopia can live a life of freedom and prosperity insofar as the elite keep themselves in check. If the elite found in, among others, universities, political parties, religious and civic organizations, governmental and non-governmental institutions, and the media Ethiopia cannot move an inch. If they cannot learn from past mistakes in charting a course which is fit for the times, if they consumed by spreading gossips instead of generating solutions informed by scientific analysis they will not be of much use to society; if they are absorbed in conspiracy theories as opposed to engaging in reasoned argument and use their knowledge to stir up problems rather than solve them, their “wisdom” will not only be hollow but a source of trepidation as well. It’s imperative for them to realize that they will have failed the nation if they are found wanting in contributing their share to improving the lot of fellow citizens. This calls for a critical self-examination on their part.

If the elite, who are regarded as the cream of society, do not tolerate differences what can be expected from the rest? If they swallow any information without chewing it whose job will it be to sift it? If they egg on trigger-happy individuals which disdain dialogue and negotiations, who is going to be responsible for rational conversations? What’s with launching a smear campaign against a perceived slight without first trying to understand the alleged offender’s viewpoint? It’s a flat out wrong strategy that may succeed for a short time only. A responsible and cosmopolitan person of the 21st century can never allow guns into politics. That is why someone who was subjected to terrible ordeals at the hand of politicians wielding guns will have paid a heavy sacrifice in vain if he consorts with politicians of the same ilk. Ethiopians should be vigilant about keeping guns out politics to ensure that the democratization process is not prematurely derailed.

Ethiopian society had always had a tradition of mutual engagement on issues important to it. It also has a slew of community-specific indigenous dispute resolution mechanisms. Sadly, the present-day elite are scared of engaging in a productive dialogue; a shocking number of them are good only at disparaging, rumor mongering and constant infighting. The way in which they go at each other’s throats when they appear on the same stage is an insult to the long struggle to secure the right to freedom of expression. The situation is far worse when it comes to social media where it’s impossible to hold intelligent and rational discussions that help generate solutions for the raft of testing challenges confronting the country. Any criticism of or support for an idea expressed on social media is grounded not in its merits but rather in the identity of the person who expressed it or the views of the network he belongs to. If the elite cannot engage in a civilized discourse so that constructive ideas instrumental to nation building come to the fore? This is the burning question of the day.

If the elite of Ethiopia are not up to playing a pivotal role in lively discussions on matters of paramount national importance, citizens capable of contributing greatly to the nation’s cause will avoid the limelight. In fact the country has been hit with a dearth of invaluable insights because knowledgeable countrymen who were brutally pounded on social media for their opinions are shunning mainstream media. The more Ethiopia is deprived of individuals willing to participate in the public sphere the more freedom of expression will become meaningless. This in turn will lead to the domination of the political arena by irrational and autocratic elements that will lead Ethiopia down the road to tyranny. If the elite are unable to extricate themselves from the quagmire they are and engage in principled debates on competing concepts, it will not bode well for the future. In their interaction with the media the elite need to refrain from viewing them through a partisan lens and actually remind them to carry out their duties consistent with the rules of the profession. As the elite deliberate on freedom of expression and the press they have to underscore the importance of the media to be neutral at all times and the harm that will ensue if they flout their professional obligations.

The saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” encapsulates the last point this editorial addresses. In Ethiopia it’s a rarity to learn from mistakes. The adage “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. A fool does not learn from his” perfectly describes the vast majority of contemporary Ethiopian elites. Lessons have not been learnt from the atrocities committed in the 1970s by the 1960s generation during the “Red Terror” and “White Terror” campaigns. In those days compatriots subscribing to the Marxist-Leninist ideology slaughtered each other on account of minor strategic differences and sometimes for the most inane of reasons. To this day brothers kill, maim, torture and displace brothers and gloat about it. There abound political merchants who play the ethnic card with intent to foment bloody internecine conflicts and exploit the resulting instability to grab power. And as forces which duped peasants into parting with their meager assets to buy arms got fabulously rich the peasants face a bleak prospect. The elite have not seen it fit to publicly speak out against this or take practical steps aimed at nipping in the bud these troubling trends however. Neither have religious leaders and elders. To make matters worse it’s become increasingly commonplace to be repeat mistakes that have cost the country dear even as meaningful dialogues on upholding the rule of law and furthering the democratization process are put on the backburner. Consequently, an atmosphere of doom and gloom has cast a shadow over Ethiopia’s future.  This is precisely why going forward the elites of the nation need to learn from mistakes and chart a better course.