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The Vicious Circle

October 19 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele ( Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement. )

The dictionary definition of a vicious circle is “a chain of events in which the response to one difficulty creates a new problem that aggravates the original difficulty.” That is a perfect description of the state of Ethiopian politics.

For close to half a century now, it seems like the country is going through a never-ending revolution of one kind or another with hardly any long, settled periods. Barely any of the questions get solved by the revolution that they sparked before another change dismantles the supposed solution.

What makes this all the more puzzling is that all these revolutionaries are self-proclaimed democrats. They all declare their struggle is for social justice and a more egalitarian society.

But after many young lives are sacrificed for these lofty goals, the moment they get close to power, all that rhetoric goes out the window.

It takes them no time to become all the things they used to hate in the previous oppressors. They become what they replaced in a hurry. The victims turn into perpetrators. The oppressed become the oppressors. The flaming revolutionaries turn into reactionaries.

This cycle is perpetuating itself and depriving the country and the next generation the opportunity to have a settled, peaceful life. One hopes that at some point people will wake up to the fact that unless one rises up to the greatness of forming an inclusive system that even embraces the defeated, victory will remain shallow and short lived. The true victor is the one who uses the victory as an opportunity to bring even former foes into the tent and ensure an enduring legacy. Alas, Ethiopian history is replete with a series of lost opportunities.

Take the events of last week. There was a perfect opportunity to show the world that there has been a real democratic change in the country.

There were groups wanting to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble and air their views in public peacefully.

Naturally, some oppose their ideas. Now, if both sides had come out and peacefully and in a mature manner held their rallies, and the police and law enforcement authorities, as neutrally as the Constitution envisages, ensured law and order and kept the public safe, that would have been a great demonstration of real change. And coming as it did a day after the Prime Minister was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it would have been one of the proudest days in Ethiopian history.

Unfortunately, the curse of turning perfect opportunities into dismal failures has not been broken. Law enforcement authorities and leaders at every echelon of the state structure failed to demonstrate their neutrality and discharge their responsibilities.

Political forces that are quick to take credit for bringing change and reform utterly failed to rise up to the occasion and show they could handle dissent differently than those before them. Instead, as many movements before them have done repeatedly, they used their organisation and current upper hand to suppress free expression. That is disappointing.

Suppressing ideas does not work, because, as Victor Hugo said, there is no army that can stop an idea whose time has come. And if people come out with ideas of yesterday, they will not change anything. Either way, they should not be stopped from expressing their ideas.

Disenfranchising a portion of the population, even if they are a minority, does not work. Turning the state apparatus into an enforcement branch of one party is a recipe for disaster. The triumphalism and feeling of invincibility that comes with a seeming victory is only fleeting. And it usually guarantees failure. We should know that because we have witnessed it more than once.

Einstein is quoted as saying "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Going by that definition, Ethiopian politics is insane.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 19,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1016]

Tibebu Bekele (, who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.

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