The perils of failure to listen to each other!
Ethiopia has been undergoing a sea change ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power a year ago. While most of the reforms undertaken by his administration mark the beginning of a new chapter in the nation’s historyand as such have been greeted with wide acclaim, a raft of troubling developments have transpired during the premier’s tenure. The fast-paced political reforms spearheaded by the Prime Minister have sparked hope. Restrictions on freedom of expression have been entirely removed; the draconian anti-terrorism, civic society and media laws have either been or are in the process of being replaced by supportive legislation; political parties and media organizations no longer face systematic intimidation at the hands of the government. The optimism generated by the measures intended to broaden the political space has been overshadowed though dueto the outbreak of intercommunal violence which has led to the death of thousands of innocent civilians and the displacement of millions more. Meanwhile, on the economic front chronic unemployment, the foreign exchange crunch and the rising number of citizens requiring emergency assistance continue to blight the country. Ethiopia needs just one thing to overcome the gravechallenges confronting it: to communicate, to listen to each other.
The worst scourge that for long has been besetting the political culture of Ethiopia is the inability to listen to each other, engage in constructive dialogues. These days partisan politicking has reached such fervent levels that the political class is loath to lend an ear to views which do not conform to theirs. Even though there are more things that unite rather than divide Ethiopians, failure to communicate has laid a fertile ground for the fabrication and dissemination of lies and hate speeches. In an abject display of the reluctance to forge unity on issues of common interest through the accommodation of differences, it is becoming commonplace to spew vitriolic rhetoric aimed at sowing ethnic and religious rifts. Hot-headed elements incapable of carrying on a civilized conversation are working at eroding the values Ethiopians have developed over centuries. If only they knew that Ethiopians always watch out for one another no matter what!
Let’s make mention of an example here in support of the point we are trying to make. The kindhearted Ethiopians living in the vicinity where Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 went down on March10 demonstrated the same grief they show for family members for the victims, the majority of whom were not Ethiopians, as though they were family members even if they did not know any of them personally. They also raised whatever they could to hold a vigil at the crash site in memory of the victims. Such display of compassion was an expression of heartfelt sorrow; it certainly was not a publicity stunt. This is just one instance of the empathy Ethiopians show for fellow citizens and human beings at large. While extraordinary feats can be accomplished together with such compassionate and far-sighted people, politicians and activists visibly lack the courage to talk to each other with civility and mutual respect. It can be gleaned from the history books that Ethiopia has suffered from more than its share of wars. The country has been synonymous with poverty and famine owing to the absence of political stability. It’s imperative to break the mutually reinforcing cycle of violence and poverty once and for all. Failure to listen to each other exacts is bound a heavy toll.
Opacity has been and continues to be one of the principal shortcomings of all the governments that have been in power in Ethiopia. They always respond to a crisis after it has assumed grim proportions. A recent example is the tardiness with which the government reacted to the controversy surrounding the ownership of the capital city. The fallout over an issue which, truth be told, does not figure prominently among the plethora of pressing challenges facing the residents of the city and its environs has been severe. Who should have been held to account if lives had been lost on account of the deliberate whipping up of emotions by activists while the government and political parties were fast asleep? The president of the Oromia regional state rebutted what he calls a smear campaign against him long after considerable damage was done. Many compare his robust defense as closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Given the government has always been found wanting when it comes to addressing contentious matters as soon as they arise, it’s no wonder that people tend to express an opinion on them on the basis of the information they get first. Who should political parties blame but themselves when they are excoriated for ceding their duties to activists? Developing the habit of responding promptly to the public’s demands is instrumental in averting the specter of pent-up resentment from boiling over. This calls for a deliberate effort aimed at strengthening the culture of respectful dialogue.
Ethiopians have no problem in co-existing in love and harmony. If they cherish diversity, renounce hatred and intolerance, leave grievance narratives to the annals of history, and endeavor to build a knowledge economy Ethiopia is sure to become a great nation. Using force to settle differences is a recipe for death, destruction, suffering and social dislocation. If democracy is to take root in Ethiopia, it’s of the essence to instill in every citizen the value of listening to one another. As democracy is a marketplace of ideas, it cannot thrive where people are disinclined to hear each other out. The “my way or the highway” attitude is not only backward, but also an abnegation of what it means to be a human being. Whether we like it or not we have the obligation to listen to a point of view we do not subscribe to. Suppressing the expression of an opinion by labeling its holder is a tactic that is not befitting of contemporary times. In this regard it’s particularly incumbent on influential social media actors to desist from fomenting violence through lies or venomous rhetoric and instead promote peaceful discourse. It’s not in the interest of anyone to be consumed by ethnic politics at a time the urgency to join hands towards ensuring freedom, justice and equality has never been starker. Failure to listen to each other is a tragedy Ethiopia ill affords!