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Old Habits Die Hard


July 13 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele ( Tibebu Bekele (tibebu@gmail.com), who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement. )



They say change is inevitable. So is resistance to change.

Whenever societies go through transformational change, there is a natural upheaval. That is to be expected. Sometimes, leaders that are at the front of the transition leading the march forward may feel frustrated due to a lack of appreciation. That is not all. They may completely fail to see how anyone can oppose the good vision that they are trying to implement. They think of all the sacrifices they and their families are making and all the hard work they are putting in. But when they look up and expect appreciation, getting criticised or, even worse, sabotaged throws them off guard.

That often becomes a crossroad moment that determines the future direction of a changeed agenda. The pattern in change management usually goes through stages of reform and then resistance. At that point there comes a fork in the road. A lot of initiatives for change, unfortunately, end up in relapse. It is so easy to fall for the pull of the familiar. The default setting for most human beings is the comfort of the status quo, while it is so hard to fight through resistance in the hope of rebirth. Thus, the saying goes “better the devil you know than an angel you do not.”

In a research paper called “Resistance to Reform,” Raquel Fernandez and Dani Rodrik tried to find out why governments fail to adopt efficiency-enhancing policy changes. Their finding shows that “there is bias toward the status quo (and hence against efficiency-enhancing reforms) whenever (some of) the individual gainers and losers from reform cannot be identified beforehand.” They further found that some efficiency-enhancing reforms will actually receive broad political support once implemented.

Therefore, in one sense, resistance is not personal. That is, it is not personal toward the leaders of reform. At least, leaders should not take it that way. On another, it is all personal as people are weighing what they stand for gain or lose, from the change. But the key finding is that uncertainty pushes most people to choose the status quo against change.

This instinct to fall back on the old and the familiar is also seen in leaders. When things get tough and robust resistance is experienced, leaders who started with great hope and expectation get tempted to fall back on the old ways of securing their power.

Even though challenges and resistance to the reform started about a year ago, events in the last few weeks have been exceptionally difficult. It has been a test of character to everyone. Though some are doing better than others, there are not many that have remained unscathed. There seems to be hardly anyone that will come out with their reputation intact.

A population that has lived quietly under onerous opperssion has shown to lack responsible restraint when finding an opening. Political leaders and activists have squandered the chance to raise their game when the playing field has been relatively level. Most have proven to be one trick ponies, getting lost in the absence of confrontation. But the most alarming thing is the top leadership and the government showing that old habits die hard by seeming to relapse to old patterns of repression and the curbing of freedoms under the veil of enforcing law and order.

No sane person will argue against the need for enforcement of law and order in Ethiopia today. But it needs to be done under the law. The false narrative that the choice is between anarchy or authoritarianism is outdated. If the reform is to pull through to rebirth, instead of relapsing, the government has to recommit itself to the protection of human rights and individual freedom of expression. As Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”



PUBLISHED ON Jul 13,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1002]



Tibebu Bekele (tibebu@gmail.com), who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.






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