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Towards a civilized expression of, response to dissent!

Towards a civilized expression of, response to dissent!

A fundamental source of friction between the government and the public is the government’s unwillingness to respect the public’s demand of its rights. Given that the government assumes office courtesy of the will of the people it is incumbent on it to do whatever is in its power to fulfill the needs of its employer. Unfortunately, the reality in Ethiopia leaves a lot to be desire. The government is loath to respond positively to the demands put by the public notwithstanding the fact that the resulting disgruntlement sporadically boils over into violence that wreaks havoc. The increasing curtailment of such constitutionally enshrined rights as freedom of thought, expression, association and demonstration has had undesirable consequences that continue to reverberate to date. Why are legally protected rights suppressed? Who stands to lose from the unfettered exercise of rights? Why do practices that run counter to a civilized expression of and response to dissent proliferate?

Last Sunday the Irreecha festival, the annual thanksgiving holiday of the Oromo people held in the town of Bishoftu some 45km south of Addis Ababa, was peacefully celebrated. During the event festival goers were able to vent their anger and grievance without any incident.  News of the peaceful conclusion of the celebration came as a relief to the entire country lifting the specter of a repeat of the fatal stampede of last year. Ethiopia can enjoy the political stability that is requisite for development and prosperity insofar as each and every member of society acts responsibly while exercising his right. The consequences of infringing civil liberties and denying the public platforms wherein they can express their frustration are bound to be unpleasant. In fact when citizens who desire to vent their displeasure peacefully are allowed to do so freely violence can be entirely avoided. The Irreecha festivities of this year are proof of this.

Is it possible to talk about democracy when legally operating political parties and other types of organizations are prevented from voicing dissent through administrative impediments that severely limit their ability to exercise constitutionally protected rights like holding indoor meetings or outdoor rallies? Why does the government only encourage blind support and is dead set against expression of dissent? What is to be gained from death of scores and property destruction that is attributed to the refusal to listen and respond to the legitimate demands made by the public? On the contrary facilitating the conditions which enable citizens to peacefully let out their pent up fury can go a long way towards assuring stability. The alternative is the kind of deadly conflicts of 2015 and 2016. Similar other incidents that took place in the preceding years are stark reminders of this danger. 

If Parliament cannot become a venue where public discontent cannot be echoed through elected representatives or if indoor meetings and outdoor rallies are all but banned cultural and sports events will inevitably serve as substitutes. This is precisely what is happening all over the country. Upholding the basic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution would not only make it possible to let off steam, but also to engage in a civilized discourse. Attempts to lay a strong foundation for the process of democratization process can bear fruit to the extent that a system which operates under the rule of law is put in place. If the masses are enabled in terms of expressing their views freely and democratically through regular platforms there would be no need for them to voice dissent during traditional events or at sports venues. Disregarding this fact is akin to shooting oneself in the leg.

Time and again we have said that Ethiopians are courteous, farsighted and peace-loving people who display solidarity during trying times and are capable of doing miracles when a visionary leader comes along. The government owes the obligation to empower these proud and exemplary people so that they participate fully in the affairs of their country. Otherwise it should be held to account for dereliction of duty. Perennially blamed on bad governance, miscarriage of justice and corruption, the government’s abject failure in providing the leadership that the people deserve failure needs to be fixed immediately with a view to forge a consensus on the multi-faceted challenges facing the nation. The panacea to the fundamental problems making life an ordeal for the public can only be found by identifying correctly the nature and source of same. After all prescribing a medication for an illness that was not properly diagnosed is an exercise in futility. It will be quite easy to find a solution the moment the government starts to heed the public’s demands and act accordingly. Stifling the enjoyment of freedom of expression however will have nothing but the exact opposite effect.

Ethiopia is a nation of close to 100 million people which have diverse identities and needs. As such it is duty-bound to respond duly to the legitimate demands tabled in a lawful manner. If it truly believes that it primarily exists to serve the public it must listen to the public alone. It cannot effectively govern while it’s at loggerheads with the people—the ultimate repository of political power. From private citizens to government no one is above the law. Needless to say this requires of everyone to abide by the rule of law. Then anyone who demands his rights will know that he can exercise them when he discharges his obligations. A nation governed thus will have an enlightened citizenry which the government cannot push around and thereby be able to live at peace with itself and prosper. This is why it is a civilized expression of  and indeed response to dissent is vitally important.