Citizens Will Choose Certainty, No Matter the Consequences

Apr 6 , 2019

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is proud of his achievements during his year-long stay in office. Indeed, he should be. Abiy may like to show off and may have made a number of mistakes, but it is hard to imagine that anyone else in his shoes would have done a better job.

He has performed as well as any capable leader in a time of uncertainty, polarisation and anger coulde do. He may not be the perfect leader, but he has offered the nation a level of sincerity unseen in the country in recent years.

Abiy comes with baggage. After all, he is a key EPRDF member. He is not the “messiah” sent to save Ethiopia, as many academics as well as common folks have said. But there are still no indications that he is acting in bad faith or that he has designs to stay in power indefinitely.

The Prime Minister is not immune from personal flaws like any of us, but as the past year has shown, he is a man who is trying to do his best. Whether this is enough to steer the nation out of a myriad of crises will have to be left for history to decipher.

The current uncertainties created by the crises cannot be sustained for a long time, however. The public is fickle, much more affected by feelings than anything else and is not disposed to reason out its predicaments over time.

The different forces within society have a surprisingly strong tendency to push matters to extremes unless conflicts can be cushioned by calming forces, such as professional media and independent institutions. The daily and weekly reports of losses of lives, conflicts, dispossessions and displacements are unhealthy. They are eating away at the sociopolitical discourse, which may have never been liberal but used to be held in check by traditional values of conservatism.

The nation is in a state of near anarchy. Parents are scared to send their children to school, adults are unwilling to take long trips in the country and investors are unwilling to invest. Everyone is scared as a result of the uncertainty that has reigned over Ethiopia in the last year.

The scene is set for a dictatorship to flourish, and the public, after years of demanding political freedom, may now be persuaded that stability and safety must be regained at any price.

This is because unlike in movies and poetry, people will choose safety before freedom when confronted with chaos. Faced with an uncertain future, they will pick a leader they believe can reinstate a semblance of stability. They will disregard the economic, judicial, political and bureaucratic maladies that plague them.

It is chaos and uncertainty that compel ordinary citizens to resign to a government that is autocratic as long as it provides security. The only thing scarier than a bad government – at least for me - is a mob.

The mob is a blind and irrational creature, unlike an autocratic government that only seeks to destroy those that threaten its survival. The public will turn to a dictatorship if presented with such a choice, because it is impossible to survive in a state of complete anarchy where a mob makes the rules, while an average person may live and thrive under autocratic rule. We should know - we have done it many times before.

Abiy should indeed pat himself on the back for averting what would have been a state collapse a year ago. But the current degree of uncertainty cannot be sustained. His main job should be persuading citizens that there is a government capable and strong enough to guarantee the safety of citizens, ensure the survival of the nation as a whole and a state where they can live, learn, work, raise children and prosper no matter how this transition pans out.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 06,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 988]

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