Winning hearts and minds through superior ideas
Democracy is not an option for Ethiopia; it’s a necessity. Absent democracy it cannot be a land of peace, equality, justice and freedom. Democracy can take root in Ethiopia insofar as there is a space in which everyone can operate freely. Such an inclusive democratic space may be created when plurality is embraced. If fundamental rights including freedom of thought, expression, association and movement as well as the principle of equality before the law are respected the aspirations of the people can be realized. As the member parties of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) proceed apace with the process of merging into one unified party, other like-minded political parties forge coalitions, and the playing is level for all actors Ethiopia’s prospect is bound to be bright. Once the democratic space is broadened, it’s the party or a coalition of parties which garners the necessary vote through superior ideas that can form a government and implement its agenda. Ethiopians need and indeed deserve someone who wins their hearts and minds through a civilized discourse, not rabble rousers.
If Ethiopia is to make perfect use of the opportunity that it was presented with in the past year, it’s imperative that the political parties operating in the country ready themselves for a civilized form political engagement. Anyone among them who is incapable of appealing to the intellect of voters and thinks that it can accomplish its objectives through force or subterfuge is sorely mistaken. The EPRDF ought to be encouraged if it sheds its dictatorial trait and transforms into a party which upholds the tenets of democracy. Should it refuse to stamp out its deficiencies, however, the public is sure to dump it once and for all. The EPRDF’s opponents also have to mend the errors of their ways and demonstrate that they are willingness to submit to the will of the people. A peaceful political struggle requires a strong organization, a well thought-out program and the belief that the people are the ultimate repository of power. These conditions can be fulfilled through a continuous education of members and supporters, abiding by organizational bylaws and the formulation of a clear set of political goals. It’s pointless to dream about assuming the reins of power without doing this homework first. The time when party lacking ideas which can win over the electorate can con them is long gone.
The single most important thing all individuals and groups active on the Ethiopian political scene need to understand is that Ethiopia can never go back to a dictatorship. Claiming to be the sole defender of the national interest without mapping out a well-defined path forward is a bankrupt strategy belonging to a bygone era. Likewise, inciting the public to violence along ethnic, religious and ideological lines for political gain and shunning constructive deliberations and negotiations—essences of a civilized politics—are hallmarks of a backward and defeatist mentality. Politicians afflicted with these shortcomings would do well to appreciate that it’s the ability to manage competing interests through persuasion as opposed to coercion that is the best way to the public’s heart. Anything else is an exercise in futility.
Ethiopia’s critically ill politics is in urgent need of intensive care. The zero-sum mentality which has characterized it continues to beset politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. As such it’s incumbent on them and the parties they belong to do everything possible to regain public trust. Both the EPRDF, which has ruled Ethiopians with an iron fist for some 27 years, and its rivals need to learn from their mistakes and ready themselves to play a constructive role in the general elections due to be held in 2020. Regardless of the time when polling gets underway utmost priority must be given to ensuring that peace and stability prevail before conducting the elections. This requires on the part of the government an unswerving commitment to uphold the rule of law and bring to heel conflict mongers whether they are within its rank or outside. In this regard, it’s paramount to see to it that law enforcement agencies and the security apparatus discharge their duties consistent with the constitution and other relevant laws. Meanwhile, compatriots willing and able to contribute to the democratization process have to be provided with an all-round support. If these tasks are duly carried out the public will be able to make an informed choice as to who should be voted into office.
As the EPRDF heads down the home stretch of its merger process other parties too must embark on reinventing themselves into strong contenders committed to assuring peace, democracy and prosperity in Ethiopia. Self-serving forces which put their selfish above Ethiopia and have no qualms about fomenting unrest to further an anti-Ethiopia agenda need to come back to their senses before it is too late. Any politician worth his salt has no illusions that in politics no one can get everything he wants and that he has to be willing to forego some things in order to get another thing of value so long as this does not result in compromising his convictions. Refusing to budge an inch and thereby lose everything instead of seeking solutions from which everyone stands to benefit. Ethiopians are keenly aware of what is going on in the country. They know well who truly has their interest at heart and who is invoking their name in vain. It’s for this precise reason that the parties which can win the hearts and minds of the people are those offering Ethiopians a coherent and pragmatic alternative they easily relate to.