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Qe’Na: a move towards national harmony and integration

The Amharic word Qe’Na is a versatile one with diverse connotations, depending on which part of the word emphasis is put upon when pronouncing it. The same word denotes several meanings as it expressly summarizes a characteristic, an action, an outcome, or an emotion.

ቀና (Qe’Na): The quality of being positive and maintaining a constructive outlook

ቀና (Qe’Na): Standing straight and unbent in gait and stance

ቀና (Qe’Na): Success

ቀና (Qe’Na): Exhibiting envy or jealousy

While there could be additional dimensions to the word, the richness of meaning contained within a two-syllable word has beckoned me to explore these dimensions through the lens of national harmony and integration.

I personally believe that Ethiopia has yet again arrived at another crossroad in its modern history. Which way to proceed and what path to follow will ultimately be defined by the course of action or inaction each and every citizen – including the leadership takes.

Over the past two and a half years, we have witnessed political will at the highest level, laying the foundations to a functioning democracy and prosperity. A nation that has been gripped within the fists of authoritarianism now finds itself demanding to instil democratic values that eluded the nation for years. The political, economic and legal reforms undertaken in the past two and half years have ushered a new dawn to help realize democracy in its truest and fullest senses. A long road awaits to reach the desired goal and one can only wish this road to be ቀና qe’na.

Reforms in essence are evaluative and progressive. By this, I refer to the process of taking stock of historic systemic dysfunctions that have been hampering national progress and benchmarking against the desired outcome. Amending or improving what has been wrong, corrupt and unsatisfactory indeed begins with the political will to do so. In the case of Ethiopia’s reforms journey, this political will at the highest level has been the engine behind the series of policy, legislative and institutional reforms, forging a path to unlocking systemic bottlenecks at the national level.

I have been very privileged and honored to see this high-level political will and vigour in action up close and daily. It is true and it is there. One should not, however, lose sight of the complex political, social and economic landscape that is Ethiopia. If one had expected that with the advent of a reformist administration, the accumulated ills that have plagued this nation for years will cease to exist in a fortnight, then such an expectation only constitutes naiveté, if not outright ignorance for the complexity of change processes. Moreover, this opening up has allowed for significant questions and demands, which have simmered for years, to surface simultaneously. Expectations to receive immediate responses to these longstanding questions have also built up. Yet, this anticipation that all demands and problems can be attended to within the very short period in which, for example, an infant becomes a toddler – two and half years – is unrealistic if we look at it from a systems thinking perspective!

Without a doubt, there is a necessity to address, in a timely fashion, the challenges we have carried as a nation; some of which have entrenched themselves so deeply within our systems and psyches. The damages they have caused are irreversible but nevertheless bridgeable - with a mix of time, foresight and constructive engagement - among many other necessary ingredients, to solidify gains made in the initial stages of the reforms. If all stakeholders rally behind this nation building exercise, there’s no doubt that the final outcome will be ቀና qe’na.

Our nascent democratic culture in which free speech is beginning to reign has also seen a plethora of analysis and discussions emerge through various mediums. However, an element I often find absent among analysis by pundits and critics on pre-existing and newly emerging challenges, is the human factor in unlocking systemic problems. There is much analysis and debate on structure, form and policies to explain potential remedies to existing problems, but very little about those behind ‘the doing.’ Every system is governed by a complex web of need, greed and creed, which defines the form, pace and speed at which change occurs within a system. To take stock of systemic bottlenecks, identify their root causes, develop responsive measures and implement these responses in alignment with the spirit of reforms, is not a task for the faint-hearted. Throughout such a process, divergent interests take shape in a dynamic environment and ever-shifting global order. These interests could be governed by legitimate needs and concerns, but also by the desire for short-term gains and dominance, which have a direct bearing on the form, pace and speed of desired results to be delivered.

Reforms, in my opinion are quintessentially disruptive in nature. At the policy stage, it is an acknowledgement at the executive level that whatever is being reformed has been deeply problematic. Hence, any change agenda advanced will be met with resistance by those that have benefited and unjustly enriched themselves from maintaining the status quo. Perhaps this is where I can introduce one of the definitions of ቀና: Qe’Na, to mean jealousy and envy – the expression of dissatisfaction with personal stature in comparison to perceived gains of another or the feeling of hostility towards the success of others.

As humans, we are plagued with such expressions, that if not redirected when they arise within us, can be quite dangerous and disruptive, not only to self but to nations. The seemingly personal nature of this emotion may make it seem too far-fetched for consideration in spaces of politics and governance, but is a critical factor that needs to be deconstructed. As humans, we take ourselves and our baggage wherever we go, hence the emotion cannot be dismissed in such spaces.

Prevalent in political hegemony, envy and the brinkmanship that follows, is a destructively powerful force that cannot only derail reforms, but bring down nations. If we are to bring about national integration, it is crucial we all reflect in the small and big ways we enact this violent emotion to the detriment of Ethiopia’s progress and prosperity. The collective buildup of such an emotion is counterproductive to national integration efforts, often manifesting in the forms of regionalism, communalism and fanaticism. Such internal fracturing facilitates externally orchestrated threats to penetrate and poison unity. Hence the need for the second definition of ቀና: Qe’Na, to mean standing straight and unbent.

Beyond the image of physical posture that this word conjures, within the context of national integration, our collective progress is dependent on being firmly rooted in similarities than our divides. Standing straight in recognition of our collective self-worth – that we are deserving of unity and prosperity, if we choose to think and act constructively.

Perhaps the all-encompassing definition of ቀና: Qe’Na - the quality of being positive and maintaining a constructive outlook – is critical for national integration, and directly correlated to the last meaning ቀና: Qe’Nasuccess. A mindset and attitude that is predisposed to opening doors that are closed; solution seeking over hair splitting; generative instead of speculative; and earnestly giving of self in the interest of the task at hand over pushing a personal agenda, is the antidote to some forms of reform paralysis. The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor is one of my favourite quotes, which epitomizes the significance of a constructive and hopeful outlook in manifesting a desired outcome.

As Ethiopia has stepped up powerfully onto the international stage and is playing an important role in regional integration, national unity and a shared and common purpose is the bonding agent that will materialize a peaceful and prosperous society across the Horn. This cannot be fathomed if we do not unshackle ourselves from the chains of an outdated mode of thinking and retreating to our respective corners and silos. It requires every individual, young and old, educated and layperson, in private sector and government, to choose in every moment to be constructive. It requires individuals who choose to bridge divides over magnifying differences. Let that be the collective path we take!

ቀና ይሁን: Let it be successful

ቀና እንበል: Let us stand straight

ቀና እንሁን: Let us be positive

Ed.’s Note: Billene Seyoum is spokesperson for international media in the Press Secretariat of the Office of the Prime Minister. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.

Contributed by Billene Seyoum