Wash Laundry in Public

Dec 7 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele

This past week was dominated by the news of a seeming rift between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and his long time ally and friend, Minister of Defense Lemma Megersa. Even though revolutionary comrades parting ways is not new, either on the international scene or closer to home, people were still shocked. That is surprising since this is a population familiar with the stories of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro, Mengistu and Atnafu and indeed Meles and Siye to mention just a few.

Revolutionary friends falling apart is par for the course. I do not think that is where the shock came from. I suspect it is from the fact that a member of the cabinet with an important portfolio in government and perhaps an even more important one in the party went public with his major differences with the sitting Prime Minister and Chairman of the party. This simply was not done in the past. One may have differences, but they cannot be aired in public. Should one be foolhardy enough to try it, there are severe consequences. The warning went: “No washing of the families’ dirty laundry in public.”

There was also another public meeting in Meqelle where political forces opposed to the Prime Minister’s move to form the Prosperity Party by merging the majority of the member parties of the former EPRDF held open discussions on the current state of affairs in the country. Some of the meetings that were aired to the public were strongly critical of Abiy and the direction he is taking the country.

This has also raised the temperature of the always heated debates in the Ethiopian social media corner. As usual there are those who support everything their hero says and does and oppose everything others are saying or doing. Leaving these aside, as there is no point engaging with such persons, a significant number were just trying to understand what is going on and predict the implications of such moves. This is what is relatively new and interesting.

At the risk of jumping to conclusions too quickly, as it is still a fluid situation, I still think it is great that these things are happening. It is a measure of progress that airing political differences in public is possible. It is a step forward that those concerned about the direction the government is taking are holding public meetings with out harassment to discuss alternative views.

Hopefully, in the near future, such events will be everyday occurrences that carry no shock factor. This will serve as a demonstration of a budding democracy. If carried forward in the same manner and all parties stay the course in pursuing persuasion to grow their idea instead of force and destruction, it will be good news for Ethiopia.

Politicians having the courage to compete in the marketplace of ideas have been a rare species in Ethiopian politics. Leaders willing to tolerate dissent of any kind have been non-existent so far in the country’s history. If this transition were to start such a culture, it will be a tremendous contribution.

It is true this is hardly a beginning. There is still only the faintest of lights. The public debates are long on slogans and short on facts. There is a dearth of analysis and deep thinking. Fairness to the views of an opponent is still a rare commodity. Outright misrepresentation and simplification of opposing views is still the order of the day. This is all true.

But however faint, there is a light that is kindled. It should be given all the air possible, so it can catch fire. It is important not to forget that this kind of thing was unthinkable only a few years back. It is no bad thing for political leaders to wash their laundry in public. They should do more of it.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 07,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1023]

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

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