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Putting Ethiopia, Ethiopians front and center!

Putting Ethiopia, Ethiopians front and center!

It goes without saying that if a nation is to thrive as a cohesive polity its survival must never be compromised. And its peace and stability should never be used as a pawn to settle political scores. The over 100 million Ethiopians living in the four corners of the country and abroad have an undying love for Ethiopia which they inherited from their ancestors. The proud and far-sighted citizens of the country have poured blood, sweat and tears into their beloved nation and have never let anyone to destroy it. It is incumbent on all stakeholders to be guided by the public interest in their action. If, however, they are not appreciative of the Ethiopians’ inextricable bond with each other and attempt to peddle rhetoric aimed at sowing ethnic, religious or political divisions, they are bound to fail miserably.

One of the fiercest criticisms leveled against the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is the fact that it has not worked as long and hard on promoting national unity as it has on harping differences. Though the bells of unity have began pealing in the past few months, there a slew of issues which need to be tackled holistically before things change for the better. The propensity to view political power through an ethnocentric lens has relegated meritocracy to the back robbing most government institutions of the talent and experienced hands they need to deliver the services expected of them and thereby stoke public discontent. The problem has been exacerbated by the inability of the institutions to ditch archaic attitudes and practices as well as to adapt to rapidly changing realities and technological advancements. Consequently, the nation has lost out considerably.

Justice is an ideal that every society aspires for. Justice may prevail insofar as the rule of law is upheld. Unfortunately, the rule of law is a scarce commodity in Ethiopia forcing its people to live under the rule of a few officials who can do whatever they please. The inalienable rights enshrined under the constitution are routinely violated. The law has become an instrument that the powerful and the rich use to persecute the defenseless. This sad chapter should be left behind once and for all so all Ethiopians are able to enjoy their rights and freedoms equally. A nation where some people are more equal than others and where narrow interests overshadow the bigger picture is liable to be riven with civil war and eventually collapse. This is why it is of vitally important to ensure that justice is not sacrificed on the altar of tribalism.

Although the constitution provides that everyone has the right to liberty of movement, freedom to choose his residence and work anywhere within the territory of Ethiopia, the reality leaves a lot to be desired. Ethnocentric elements that view fellow citizens as foreign aggressors and cruelly displace them from their communities and that couldn’t care less about unity and nationalism are wreaking havoc on the nation and its people. At a time when Ethiopia needs to be more united than before it’s a disgrace that a divisive rhetoric Ethiopians have never come across being espoused. A country which is home to a heroic people who have a glorious history of thwarting the expansionist designs of European colonial powers and cherish unity has witnessed numerous atrocities perpetrated by compatriots bent on inflaming ethnic and religious tensions.  It’s bewildering to see both regional and federal government officials turn a blind eye to “cleansing” of minority groups living in certain regional states. Such barbaric act has no place in a nation which has a long history of weathering adversities throughout its history thanks to the bravery of its sons and daughters.

Early this week the three-and-have-month-long state of emergency was lifted. Living under a state of emergency is grim for any rational person. Though the deadly protests that rocked Ethiopia in the past three years precipitated the declaration of emergency rule on two occasions, the discontent that has been simmering for decades owing to the prevalence of bad governance was the underlying cause. The country had to endure one of the gravest political crises in recent memory due to the government’s unwillingness to heed public opinion. The protests that broke out in different regions and the response to them led to the death of thousands, the injury and incarceration of tens of thousands, the displacement of over a million, and the destruction of both private and public properties of unspecified value. Although the imposition of emergency may have brought about relative peace and stability, the socio-economic impacts of the unrest have proven to be devastating. Tourists and investors have been scared off. The country is facing an unprecedented foreign exchange crunch. And inflation has soared into double digits. All this is the result of the inability to address satisfactorily the basic demands of the public. Given that lasting peace cannot be realized by instituting a state of emergency, the best way to go about achieving it is to be responsive to the needs of the people.

The most important thing Ethiopia now needs is a paradigm shift to a new set of thinking that is reflective of contemporary realities. Such thinking may come from anyone. The important thing is that it is viable and garners public support. Since the public embraces an idea it deems to be superior in terms of advancing the national interest, one cannot win its heart and mind with a potpourri of recycled ideologies. While it’s too early to judge if it can bring about peace as the government hopes it would, the announcement this week by the EPRDF’s executive committee that Ethiopia would fully implement the Algiers Accord, which brought to an end the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the decision of the boundary commission demarcating the border between the two countries is the kind of fresh initiative that many Ethiopians may rally around. If Ethiopia is to epitomize the rule of law, justice, democracy and good governance it has no option but to forge national consensus on a broad range of fundamental matters. There is no use for an agenda that does not put Ethiopia and its people front and center.