According priority to civilized, democratic resolution of the Oromia unrest
The months-long unrest in some parts of the Oromia region shows no sign of abating and continues to lead to loss of lives, injury and destruction of property. Just as everybody thinks that it had been put under control, it flares up again unexpectedly. Instead of seeking peacefully a shared solution, violence and other devastation have reared their ugly head. Since the circumstances leading to the unrest have been simmering over the years without either addressing, through dialogue, their root cause or reaching a common understanding on their nature, it is very difficult to stop them once they have erupted. This makes it imperative to come up with civilized and democratic solutions that help put the genie back in its box. Let’s examine those we believe are of critical importance.
Creating a peaceful environment should be a priority task. In this regard the regional government and other interested parties must facilitate forums where they hold frank and participatory deliberations with community elders and civil society representatives on fundamental issues. The views of anyone who has gripes with the regional government and the ruling Oromo People Democratic Organization (OPDO) need to be heard without fear of reprisal so that public opinion can be correctly gauged. The outbreak of another round of deadly conflict despite the shelving of the Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone integrated master plan, which had initially triggered the protest, calls for a thorough analysis and comprehensive disclosure of the precipitating factors.
It is primarily up to the regional government to deal with the problem promptly. It is a gross dereliction of duty to sit idly by when the four-month long protest rocking a region home to over 35 million people threatens to pose a risk to national security. It would be prudent to look for a multi-pronged solution rather than churning out the usual rhetoric and issuing statements that the problem is under control. The attempt to extinguish the protest through the use of force, which has resulted in the death of scores of security forces as well, is bound to exacerbate the situation.
It is to be recalled that long-serving officials of both the regional and federal governments had held a slew of talks with the general public on the pervasive bad governance gripping the nation. In one of these discussions Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn acknowledged that it was futile to confer with pro-government mass organizations and individuals alone. If the government really wants to listen to the public’s heartbeat it has to look outside its support base. It is incumbent upon it and the OPDO as well have to admit openly that they are in a bind and undertake a credibility audit with a view to respond effectively to the demands of the populace. This applies to the federal government and the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
If it were not for the existence of deep-rooted problems, the EPRDF-led government would not have encountered the fierce protest it has since November 2015 barely six months after sweeping all parliamentary and regional seats in the May 2015 general elections. A government which claims to have secured the consent of one hundred percent of the electorate should be able to work out in a civilized and democratic manner what truly elicited the feeling of disenfranchisement in the public and respond to the problem appropriately. Otherwise, the types of crises that devastated Libya, Syria and Yemen in the wake of the Arab spring revolutions may well occur here. As a country which is still shedding eons of historical injustices and on an accelerated development trajectory, Ethiopia can ill afford conflicts that roll back hard-earned gains and subject its people to misery.
The key to getting a handle on the political, economic and social chaos unfolding in Oromia lies in faithfully upholding the rule of law. This requires of the government to display political commitment in taking such measures as facilitating the peaceful expression of views, bringing to justice anyone trying to further his political objectives through violence, resisting the urge to crack down heavily on peaceful protestors, releasing anyone who was imprisoned for demanding his legitimate right, reopening all the schools which were closed, and launching an independent investigation into and compensating the victims of the violence. On the other hand, elements bent on inflaming the violence for the sake of power and on the bidding of their foreign puppeteers should desist from adding fuel to fire. They must stop using children and the youth as cannon fodders to stoke ethnic and religious conflicts. The public on its part has to turn its back to them even as it pressures the government peacefully to answer its legitimate questions.
All in all the government, political forces and other stakeholders have no option but to respect constitutional provisions guaranteeing fundamental rights and freedoms. These political actors need to see to it that they neither engage in acts which prevent citizens from participating fully in the affairs of their country and from leading a productive and prosperous life nor exploit public discontent to foment cataclysmic conflicts. Meanwhile, the public is duty-bound to compel the actors to adhere to constitutionally sanctioned alternatives and shun any form of violence. It’s for these very reasons then that priority should be accorded to a civilized and democratic resolution of the unrest in Oromia.