Old, Tired Politics in New Colours

May 11 , 2019
By Hintsa Andebrhan

It is unfortunate how the democratic exercise of the last three decades produced more fragmentation, injustices and moral perversion of the youth than it addressed. It is just as worrying that we may be heading in exactly the direction set out previously despite the promises of the new administration in government.

We are seeing a dangerous political game playing itself out, as we have seen previously. It is one that is trying to disenfranchise a certain group in the name of addressing past injustices. It is evident on both sides of the political aisle.

This is a game that the incumbents have played impressively. From Emperor Haileselassie to the Dergueand the EPRDF, loyalty to a certain set of principles and ideals has spelled the difference between economic and political inclusion and exclusion.

For a little while, it seemed that this was a terrible habit that would be tempered by a political philosophy determined to be inclusive of all Ethiopians. But forces that have been instrumental in bringing the change in Ethiopia are now cutting alliances and are at each other’s necks. This is a dramatic repeat of what has occurred before, especially in the politically transformative years of the mid-1970s.

Three years of resistance against the EPRDF were tempered as a result of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), who appeared to be a symbol for a country in need of a uniting ideal. But the failure to protect innocent civilians from violence and displacement as well as an unclear position on a number of hot-button issues have dealt a blow to his popularity. This is an unfortunate development worrying to many.

Behind the political crisis of Ethiopia is an elite class at odds with itself. Everyone was too overtaken by the need to oust the incumbents, no one thought to ask what the future of this country should look like. What we are left with now is a political class unwilling to compromise with itself. It has contradictory ideas on a number of political, economic, cultural and historical matters.

Democratisation has been impossible to grasp in Ethiopia, because of an inability to have an all-inclusive compromise. We thought it would be different this time, perhaps because it seemed there will not likely be a second chance. Or because we are bad students of history and failed to see this coming a long way away when we gave our support to an unplanned political transition.

Fortunately, not all is lost. If we are sufficiently aware of the historical forces that have led to our current predicament, then it would be possible to address the challenges facing us today.

No golden bullet can save this country from disintegration or civil war. But the impulse and insistence to delegitimise those that have differing opinions as enemies of the state should cease. This is the rabbit hole from which we have been trying to escape since the dawn of modern Ethiopia.

If there were easy answers, we would have found them by now. What we require is a democratic culture and the forbearance to allow institutions to strengthen instead of trying to address every perceived injustice in one swoop.

The rule in Ethiopia’s politics seems to have a zero-sum mentality, where the gains of one is depicted as the loss of the other. The future is full of promises if greed for power can be stemmed and each group is willing to be accommodating of the other to a justifiable degree. Both of these are possible and should inform our politics going forward.

If we fail to do this, then it is proof that modern Ethiopia has always been a disaster waiting to happen.

PUBLISHED ON May 11,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 993]

Hintsa Andebrhan (hintsa1974@gmail.com) worked as a researcher with the United Nations Population Fund and IPAS International Ethiopia. Interested in history and politics, his work was on social affairs.

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