Ethiopia in Trouble: No Time to Beat Around the Bush

Nov 2 , 2019

I wanted to react to what I thought was a very balanced and insightful analysis penned by Tibebu Bekele under the hadline “Misunderstanding Civil Disobedience” in this paper’s opinion section published on October 27, 2019[vol.20 No. 1017]. He is absolutely right in pointing out how much the youth have been manipulated by politicians whose goal was to achieve power by resorting to whatever means might be available, regardless of the consequences on the youth and on society at large.

This has been happening in our country again and again. What took place in the '70s, the example that Tibebu has zeroed in on, is perhaps not the sole tragic experience we have had. In the final analysis, while the government and the ruling party were also part of the problem during the 2005 election, one cannot nonetheless overlook how much the opposition had resorted to the manipulation of the youth, leading many of them to perish. That, in parenthesis, is an episode in our political history that awaits serious scholarly treatment.

All this must prod us to look critically at the role our political elites have played during the critical transitions that the country has had to go through. This is no mere theoretical exercise. It is very much germane to the current situation our country finds itself in.

Let us be frank and also realistic—realistic in the sense of assessing the magnitude of the challenge faced by our country to ensure its very coherence as a nation-state. Let us admit it: we are in deep s*it.

It is absolutely ridiculous to think, though it appears to be shared by many, that the whole problem we have today is the creation of one individual—Jawar Mohammed. This might be a good approach to mobilise a certain segment of society, and it might be very easy to sell as well. This is how public anger is generated and people are led into a frenzy. But it would never help the country maintain balance. I do not want to be misunderstood. Jawar is not a saint, and that is an understatement.

But the problem the country is facing at present is bigger than Jawar. Having worked, including at fairly senior levels, for two Ethiopian governments, what I have come to conclude is that wisdom has always been in short supply within both those two governments, including at the highest level. Nor was the Emperor’s government free of that folly.  Nor have opinion-makers in civil society and leaders of opposition parties, in the majority of cases, been any better.

Let us not hide the truth—the Ethiopian people have rarely been blessed with leaders they really deserve, in all areas, I must say. The fact that they were betrayed by the former leaders of the EPDRF is no longer a point of contention. The party leadership itself has admitted as much.

All that is again almost in the realm of academics. What is critical now is the need to look at where we are today in terms of governance and the challenges the country is facing. In all honesty, the problems that our county is facing today, though not easy by any means, are nonetheless not that insurmountable. But they need wisdom and also humility, and I might add, a patriotic commitment to be handled properly.

Let us all recognize that there is no one, individual or entity, that has the magic key or a monopoly over knowledge with respect to what the county needs at the moment. Thus, it is absolutely critical that moving at breakneck speed toward a solution for some of our political differences needs to be avoided. That, in my view, is the beginning of wisdom. All attempts at making certain approaches to governance a fait accomplion those who might have serious reservations concerning the approach could only be slated to cause trouble and growing misunderstanding.

Whether justified or not, there is now serious concern about the possibility of the federal system being abandoned among those who continue, without being opposed to the amendments of some parts of it, to be committed to upholding the Constitution. Under these circumstances, the total jettisoning of the Constitution right away or an approach that appears calculated to do that is simply not likely to lead to a modus vivendiamong contending parties.

Wisdom seems to suggest that one must be careful with respect to how differences surrounding the constitution are handled. A brazen handling of this matter, irrespective of the motive, can only lead to deepening the rift within society. It must be realized that the constitution is not the result of mere academic debate or even consultation among political leaders. It was largely the result, whether one likes it or not, of protracted struggle, including armed struggle. The country cannot afford to go through that experience again or the level of destruction that we have been witnessing in the process of “civil disobedience” in the last three years or so—including last week.

Dispensing with the Constitution or an act which is open to such interpretation would be a course of action that would cause trouble. Politicians that are wise cannot believe otherwise. It is not only social media activists that cavalierly disregard this serious matter.  Even some of our politicians including those at very high levels, with very worrying pomposity, are not very mindful of the magnitude of the challenge we face in connection with the present Constitution. I might add, this is true with respect to the debate surrounding the federal system too.

Let us be frank and avoid beating around the bush. The latest descent into bloodletting that we witnessed last week is very much related to the lack of wisdom at all levels that we encountered regarding how these issues are being handled. Reducing them to the behaviour of one individual, no matter how disagreeable he might be to some, does not help.

Addis Fortune has withheld the identity of the writer on request.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 02,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1018]

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