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Stop invoking “the people” in vain!

Stop invoking “the people” in vain!

The political dynamics presently playing out in Ethiopia are stark reminders of the dangers of glossing over the existential threats confronting the country. Administering a palliative to a critically ill nation requiring intensive care only jeopardizes its unity. Just as physiotherapy cannot cure infectious diseases so cannot rationalizing make the crisis roiling Ethiopia go away. At a time sectarianism is rearing its ugly head and causing a bloodbath organizing “reconciliation” conferences lacking clear objectives is useless in bringing about peace. Ethiopia is reaping the seeds of hatred and division sown for decades by the elite. The solidarity and shared values Ethiopians had forged over eons have been suppressed due to the espousing of division ad nauseam in the name of instituting the particular brand of federalism being implemented in the country. Burying one’s head in the sand while run of the mill disputes between ordinary citizens and political elites escalate into deadly ethnic or religious conflicts that prompt the death of innocent people and mindless vandalism is utterly foolish. As such it’s imperative to identify the root cause behind the turmoil and tackle it decisively through the concerted effort of the public and the government. Perpetuating the victim narrative permeating the air is counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating. The elite’s preferred means of winning the hearts and minds of the people — to appeal to their bias — is a lose-lose strategy that only begets mayhem and destruction.

Ethiopia is home to some 110 million citizens with different ethnicity, faith, culture and ideology. If this diversity is properly managed, it will pave the way for greater unity given their harmonious co-existence for millennia through thick and thin. Thanks to the common psychological make-up Ethiopians have developed over centuries they have always come to defend the sovereignty of their motherland despite their differences. The heavy sacrifice they paid at the Great Adwa Victory in vanquishing the colonial Italian army is testimony to their bond. Similarly, they were uniformly subjected to the oppressive rule of tyrants with the exception of a favored few. Even these did not come from a certain ethnic group; like modern-day business partners the trappings of power and wealth brought them together. The inescapable conclusion that may be drawn from this is that the problem lies entirely with irresponsible elites, not the masses. That is why the nation is going through one of its darkest moments in history.

The people of Ethiopia have a long tradition of providing refuge to fellow citizens who had lost loved ones or were uprooted from their homes due to internecine conflicts. Time and again they have shown that they are willing to extend a helping hand to compatriots in need of assistance regardless of their ethnic background. Even as the elite rush in the aftermath of the recent conflicts to hold “peace” conferences whose sole purpose is whitewashing, religious and community leaders have exposed the truth. It’s clear why conflicts arise soon after such pointless conferences conclude with the usual declaration that the affected communities have vowed to defeat the anti-peace elements responsible for the skirmishes. Evil forces harboring ulterior motives are toiling day and night to exploit ethnic, religious, ideological and other differences as means to foment instability. True to form, these cowards light the fire from afar and use naïve individuals as cannon fodders to do their bidding. Totally alien to the notion that respecting diversity of views is vitally important to the unfettered exercise of freedom of thought and expression, conflict entrepreneurs harp on differences to destabilize the nation. How long should these state of affairs be countenanced?

Federalism is the sole system of government suitable for Ethiopia’s unique conditions. As the constitutional order, founded on the principles of federalism, is put into practice all citizens are duty-bound to contribute their share towards building a democratic order which assures the rule of law, equality before the law, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, free and fair elections, independence of the judiciary, impartiality of law enforcement organs as well as a level playing field where everyone plays by the same set of rules. It’s only then a healthy political rivalry can take place in Ethiopia. Why do the political elite choose to go down the path of destruction instead of engaging in constructive politics? Why are they loggerheads over narratives about both real and perceived slights for which the present generation bears no blame? Why do they bicker over trivial matters which only serve to take and its people backwards instead of deliberating on how to build an inclusive federal system? Why do they defenseless citizens have to become victims of the needless conflicts they instigate? They should come back to their senses and engage the public constructively as opposed to wreaking havoc across the country. Something has to give. We cannot go on like this forever.

Ethiopians have seen enough of bullies, megalomaniacs, narcissists and recalcitrant throughout their history. Sadly, they continue to suffer at the hand of such individuals to this day. The gruesome death of some 86 compatriots the previous week on account of a disagreement between the government and a certain individual is beyond unconscionable and has left Ethiopians horrified. Incensement, frustration and shame are some of the emotions citizens are experiencing as the government’s failure to maintain law and order results in a crisis which not only endangers national security, but also deal a blow to the nation’s international standing. The prospect of letting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Ethiopia got slip through its finger is infuriating to say the least. No one should doubt that all that is happening did not come about accidentally and is actually part of a masterplan. If the desire exists there is still time to turn back from the precipice. Ethiopia must never be held hostage to the whims of the reckless political elite. They need to be told in no uncertain terms to stop invoking “the people” to further their nefarious agenda.