A Nation of Smokers

Jan 11 , 2020

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that, when they are really ambitious, they are often not within our grasp. And yet, the most ambitious resolution Ethiopians can collectively make, political stability, is within our reach.

Say I want to buy a car or a house this year. It is a much more complicated resolution than, for instance, quitting smoking. To make such an expensive purchase, I would need to have to get a job that pays well more than half a million Birr annually or make a score so big that some people will wonder if I stole it somehow.

Saving is not an option. Inflation catches up to my savings much faster than the banks will reimburse me in the form of interest. I can borrow from a bank, but the lending rate and requirements are ridiculously high. It is prohibitory. It is not an alternative.

Thus, as a New Year’s resolution, owning a car or a house anytime soon is really not practical for most Ethiopians. For most of us to get that kind of property, a bank, a family member or a generous employer should also make the resolution to lend, give or pay us the money.

The resolution to compromise and bring about political stability is like the decision to quit smoking rather than to own a car or a house. Smoking is a terrible habit. It feels fantastic, but it exacts a terrible cost on our health. Like every indulgence that has ever been known to humankind, it gives temporary pleasure but harms us in the long term.

The same can be said for political instability. It is merely a symptom of a citizenry with diverging interests with an inability to compromise. When everyone wants to win 100pc of the way, no one gets to win, at least in the long term. Like an individual craving the sweet embrace of nicotine but deathly scared of the health consequences, political instability is a sign of a people that want to have their cake and eat it too.

All the debates and discussions at forums, workshops and round-tables are senseless when we know that each side comes to the table deeply entrenched in their own prejudices. Neither side has the interest to compromise. All we see them do is protect their own side with about-faces, outright lies, deflection and when the occasion calls for it, go to the depths of making statements so foolish we can see on their faces that even they do not believe it.

Our collective outlook when it comes to political matters is a lot like what smokers tell themselves every day. In their minds, that cigarette is the last one. But deeper down, they know that it is not. They are sure that these resolutions never work and that if they wanted to stop smoking, they would stamp out the cigarette and quit right there and then.

If they really wanted to stop, they will not allow themselves to be tricked with that temporary guilty pleasure. They will compromise, put down their feet and persuade themselves that they cannot have the best of two worlds: health and regular tobacco intake.

That is the attitude that we need to collectively have if indeed political stability is a goal for 2020 and onwards. This is not a resolution that is likely to be had by political players. For these people, instability is a great deal more profitable than the alternative.

The rest of us - who are looking to make an honest living, thrive and live in peace - our only option is to compromise. Like a smoker that is determined not to delude herself, we need to realise that we will never have every single one of our political preferences met if we ever want to live in a peaceful country. We need to give in even when it comes to matters that have to do with our (let us face it, bloated) sense of self-importance and historical memory.

This is a resolution that is within our reach. The only thing holding us back is the flawed view that political stability can be maintained when each of us believes that our worldview is the ultimate truth and that even the tiniest deviation will resemble the end of the world. It is about time we come out of our reverie.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 11,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1028]

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