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Priority to safeguarding lives and livelihoods of citizens!

Priority to safeguarding lives and livelihoods of citizens!

As the community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates in Ethiopia with devastating effects it portends an even heavier humanitarian and economic toll. The unprecedented challenge the outbreak constitutes calls for prioritization of tasks at the national level. Why is it proving to be impossible to hold civilized discussions and reach a compromise on the mandate of the government following the prolongation of its stay in office due to the pandemic-induced deferment of the August elections despite the absence of an agreement regarding the process which led to the decision? What is the use for the country of engaging in a politics of provocation? Why do politicians and activists professing to have the interest of the nation and its people at heart seldom suit their word to action? Is it the lives and livelihoods of Ethiopians that should concern them more or the prospect of taking the reins of power? Destabilizing the country in utter disregard of the obvious answers to these questions is morally reprehensible and harms the public interest.

Invoking the public’s name in vain is not something new in Ethiopia. Countless atrocious acts have been and still are being committed in its name. Forces that habitually swore in the name of the people have for long engaged in killing, incarcerating and torturing real or perceived opponents; oppressing and impoverishing citizens; waging bloody conflicts which have rendered a nation endowed with vast natural resources synonymous with backwardness and penury; forcing intellectuals and elites who could have contributed a great deal to improving the lot of fellow countrymen to flee en masse; and robbing the nation blind. It’s grating on the ears to hear individuals and groups who have perpetrated a plethora of egregious injustices as well as minions on their payroll claim that they alone know what’s good for the masses. Unless they are brought to heel immediately the future will not bode well for Ethiopia.

Similarly, elements which had gained an undeserved reputation for “advocating” human and democratic rights have been plotting to incite intercommunal conflicts, abandoning the very objective they set out to accomplish. They are bent on roiling the nation even as the trauma of the ethnic and religious strife they instigated continues to haunt many. Though exposing the government’s faults and striving to stop rights violations is a legitimate endeavor, spreading half-truths in a bid to score political points is a dangerous pursuit. Peddling day in and day out vitriolic propaganda to delegitimize the government in anger over the extension of its term is the sick act of power-mongers which only serves to bring about chaos. As the Coronavirus outbreak wreaks socioeconomic havoc and Egypt throws everything except the kitchen sink to stop the filling of the Great Ethiopian renaissance Dam (GERD), prudent politicians ponder on how to navigate these trying times with an eye to the future as opposed to endangering the lives and livelihoods of the public and collaborating with enemies. It’s also incumbent on Ethiopians from all walks of life to undertake constructive dialogue regarding the best way forward on how to tackle the testing challenges staring the country right in the face and take the appropriate measures resolutely.

In spite of the fact that Ethiopia lacks the ability to match the strong health systems of wealthy nations the government needs to ramp up testing, contact tracing and treatment capacity. Lessons should be drawn from countries which managed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the event community spread takes long to peak, thereby overwhelming quarantine centers and placing undue burden on medical professionals. Doctors and nurses have repeatedly complained that several of their colleagues have contracted the contagion owing to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment in hospitals and temporary isolation and treatment centers. The government and other relevant stakeholders must work together to address the problems attending the health sector before irreparable harm is done. Grumbling or bad-mouthing does not solve problems; only face-to-face engagement does.

The catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on the economy is all too obvious. It has constrained the delivery of essential services to the most affected segments of the population and dealt a crippling blow to the private sector. The service sector, which accounts for a considerable share of GDP, has particularly felt the pain with the hotel and tourism sub-sector hit the hardest. Though the government has passed a stimulus package to the sub-sector to help it stay afloat, it continues to struggle. Unless the spread of the contagion is arrested or significantly reduced, thereby resulting in a tick up in economy activity, its chances of recovering lost ground are slim. The same is true for other sectors reeling from the precipitous economic decline. More worrying though if the pandemic were to hamstring the agriculture sector—the mainstay of the Ethiopian economy—the consequences are certain to be dire. The government can only do so much in providing assistance to citizens who have lost their livelihood. Once its coffers run dry it’s every man for himself. The extraordinarily difficult times Ethiopians from all corners of the country are facing make it imperative for them to come together like never before instead of invoking the public’s name to advance the narrow interests of certain individuals or groups. In the meantime disputes which could detract from the efforts to combat COVID-19 need to be resolved through indigenous reconciliation mechanisms that have worked for centuries. Priority to safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of citizens!