Enhancing capacity essential to becoming viable alternative!
Much has been said about the absence of an even playing field plaguing Ethiopian politics and the difficult challenge it poses for a peaceful political struggle. While political parties that have proven to be a thorn in the side of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic (EPRDF) have come and gone during the twenty-seven years it has been in power, so have parties which existed in name only and were used as vehicles for the enrichment of the individuals at their helm. Without denying the limitations they suffered from, the legal and administrative hurdles the EPRDF put in the way of parties that stood or continue to stand firm in a daunting environment has had a detrimental impact on peaceful political struggle. Persevering in the face of conditions which have led to many to fall by the wayside is in itself a victory that can be translated into political dividends if it is scaled up. The important thing is to remain resolute.
The invitation Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Dr) extended to citizens who have ideas to organize and present themselves as alternative forces during a speech he gave last weekend as well as the fact that he said the EPRDF would graciously hand over power if it lost in elections merit special mention here. Ethiopian political space has been devoid of such constructive rhetoric for far too long. The acknowledgment of the imperative to realize free, fair and democratic elections through which the people the people exercise their sovereign power to install in office whoever they want deserves support. At the same time it places on political forces which believe they have a say in the fate of Ethiopia the onus to display the strength needed to ensure that democracy takes root in this historic country. Opposition/rival parties can demonstrate that they are not dens of sore losers and are in fact patriotic and committed democrats when they formulate coherent governing philosophies they can get across to voters. Although the political space must naturally be broadened to allow them to compete on an equal footing, it is incumbent on them as well to embrace the peaceful pursuit of political goals if such fundamental ideal is to be realized. They should not make the same mistake the EPRDF is accused of— constricting the democratic space. In view of this therefore, they must take up Prime Minister Abiy on his invitation and strive to emerge as strong institutions capable of developing cross-cutting agendas behind which the public can rally. Then they can mature into viable alternatives.
Politics is not a part-time job; it is a full-time occupation requiring passion, commitment and clarity of thought. Aside from recruiting politically savvy and motivated members, political parties need to tap individuals and organizations that provide them with technical and financial support. As the new premier travels around the country with the stated goal of listening to the opinions of different communities in a bid to restore political stability the leaders of opposition parties must do everything they can to make use of the opportunities that the new era of change and optimism that seems to be on the horizon. One would be naïve to think that standing on the sidelines or heaping criticisms without proposing concrete solutions can in way help open up the democratic space and thereby lay the foundation for the building of a democratic order. The public has unequivocally shown that it is receptive to uplifting rhetoric and the actions that match it. As the Prime Minister has intimated ideas precede action. Hence, it is mandatory to adopt a set of well-articulated ideas before holding oneself out as a viable alternative.
Inasmuch as the principle of give-and-take is a hallmark of a civilized politics all actors on the political scene have to be willing to engage in genuine dialogues and negotiations. Intolerance, animosity and vindictiveness have characterized Ethiopian politics for the past fifty years. This sad chapter can be left behind insofar as hope and open-mindedness triumph over stubbornness and the tendency to reopen old wounds. Should domestic political parties take the lead in moving forward in this spirit there is no reason why compatriots who have strayed from peaceful political struggle will not change their minds. All this requires patience and wisdom on the part of everyone active on the political arena. The more civilized and inclusive dialogues and negotiations become norms the likelier the chances of easing the tensions griping Ethiopia and bringing about enduring stability. Arm-twisting rivals during negotiations or political contests is a zero-sum game that is in no one’s long-term interest. This is why it is of the essence that cooler heads prevail in charting the course for the future.
If all political vying for power are to turn into forces for good gain the ideological high ground they are duty-bound to cleanse themselves of such unhealthy traits as bigotry, bellicosity and blind hostility towards opponents. Identifying the multi-faceted shortcomings besetting Ethiopia’s political landscape is instrumental in seeking solutions. The first step on the road towards the solution is to break the vicious circle in which the country’s politics is trapped under. As opposition parties urge the ruling party to play by the same rules as them they have to work tirelessly towards creating an environment in which they have a fair shot at being competitive. This calls first and foremost for a fundamental transformation in terms of ensuring clarity of purpose and enhancing organizational capacity. They cannot emerge as viable alternatives if they keep on blaming others while possessing neither the vision nor the resolve to become serious players.
The people of Ethiopia are telling their leaders in no uncertain terms that they covet change. Any political party worth its salt will endeavor to be part of and shape the change rather than sit on the fence and be swept aside by it. One cannot win the hearts and minds of Ethiopians through motivational speeches alone; they also want the speeches to be accompanied by concrete actions on the ground. As such it is vitally important to come up with innovative solutions anchored in the interests of the nation and its people instead of fixating on real or perceived injustices going back centuries. The masses, particularly the youth, yearn for astute politicians to control the levers of. Such politicians are guided more by reason than emotion, serve as beacons of light in darkness and mobilize people around a worthy cause. It’s only then that Ethiopia’s politics may awaken from its decades-long slumber and be revitalized.