Joining the discourse
The third installment of Addis Wog (meaning new discourse), a periodical discourse platform organized by the Office of the Prime Minister, attracted various scholars as well as big shot government officials this week, including former Oromia and Amhara regional presidents and the newly appointed defense and foreign ministers, Lemma Megerssa and Gedu Andargachew, influential figures in all-out political reform process started in Ethiopia a year ago.
The front-row seat was reserved for other ministers including Sileshi Bekele (PhD), Minister of Water and Energy, Adanech Abebe, Minister of Revenues, Getahun Negash, Minister of Innovation and Higher Education, Tilaye Gete, Minister of Education, and Umer Hussein, Minister of Agriculture. Minister of Peace Muferyat Kamil and Chief Justice Meaza Ashenafi were among the panelists.
The latest Addis Wog, which was held on May 10, 2019 on the theme “The Rule of Law in Democratic Transition,” entertained a series of discussions on national issues.
The discussants of the panel, which lasted a little more than three and half hours, have underscored that, currently, Ethiopia is making the transition from ‘rule by law’ to ‘rule of law’.
While introducing the subject of the discussion, Yonas Tesfa (PhD), the moderator and an international law and development expert, explained that, in ‘rule by law’, the law is used to elongate the government’s stay in power while putting citizens’ rights, freedoms and livelihoods at secondary level. The ‘rule of law,’ in contrast, stands for citizen’s rights and freedoms and it is respected both by the general public and the government.
“With its all positive achievements, what has been prevalent before one year was ‘rule by law’, and with all its drawbacks, what has been done is to bring about the ‘rule of law’,” Yonas pointed out.
One of the panelists, Dagnachew Assefa (PhD), a philosophy professor at Addis Ababa University, asserted that, as literatures indicate, politics and monopoly of violence are inseparable. Hence, the problems that the country is facing now emanates from lack of understanding of the nature of the government, which is its territorial integrity and monopoly of violence.
According to Dagnachew, the purpose of nationalism is either to feel belongingness, look for one’s home, or entertain the feeling of victimization. While the first two are positive attributes to nationalism, the third one remains to be challenging and a source of conflicts in the country.
Getachew Assefa (PhD), a constitutional lawyer and a professor of law at Addis Ababa University, stressed that the ‘rule of law’ itself can also be seen from the perspective of procedural and substantial aspects.
In this regard, he asked to what extent the ‘rule of law’ should be respected mentioning the case of repressive and discriminatory laws.
But, for Meaza Ashenafi, ‘rule of law’ entails respect for the law whatever the nature of the law might be, and having the option to organize and struggle to change the law if need be.
“Citizens need to respect the law, even the ones they do not like,” she stressed.
While Dagnachew criticized the government for showing appeasement than take actions, Muferyat refutes by saying that the government is opting for engagement than force to bring about respect for the ‘rule of law’.
“Our transition is from negative peace to positive peace; we had relative peace and security but it did not have structural depth. We made a policy shift to change this and what we said is let engagement of the public come first; engagement is not appeasement,” she asserted.
Reflecting on the points raised, participants said that the situation in the country has the potential to bring about philosophical crisis as people are longing for dictatorship because of persistent violence.
A surprise guest at the meeting hall, PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), made a concluding remark saying that if we are brave enough to entertain ideas, action is easier. And this needs training of the general public to entertain ideas and to practice democracy.
“We heard about democracy, we have not live it yet,” Abiy stressed, adding that, “we have to give incentives for the public to slowly internalize peace and democracy by tolerating the pinching.”
“There [Ethiopia] are people of varied interests and it takes time if we want to be inclusive of all.”
Abiy also said that, the previous way of punishing citizens won’t bring any change and that there are no gains to be had from violence.
“There is no country which has inflicted its citizens with so much hurt like Ethiopia. This has brought nothing to us except making our country practice a democracy less than any African nation; what we are doing is trying to change this,” he stressed. “There might be some threatening situations in today’s Ethiopia but we can build irreversible democracy.”