Editorial | Jul 03,2021
December 5 , 2018.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) sat last week before leaders of the political opposition and members of his coalition to launch the much-awaited dialogue to restructure democratic institutions. It includes the possibility of exploring laws long blamed for constraining competitive politics and opening negotiations to fix them.
No doubt it was a powerful and enduring symbolic significance, where groups with diverse interests were allowed to be represented. Little should it matter that the initial meeting did not seem much more than ceremonial. Providing a platform that brought groups with extreme worldviews together is a remarkable gesture by the administration of the Prime Minister.
The ambiguity and confusion exhibited by opposition parties last week will hopefully evolve and lead to sober and mature reflections in the months ahead. Few seemed to have the clarity of goal or a prepared political program. Even an understanding of the importance of the occasion and opportunity it presented in shaping the character, institutions and laws of the country seemed to have been lost by the representatives present. The nature of the gathering as a space for discussing the rules of engagement, and not to come to terms with each other, was lost on many of the attendees.
Unfortunately, some engaged in hollow optimism. Agendas that could not be addressed in such a gathering were presented, failing to see the point of agreeing to the reasonable recommendation forwarded to form coalitions in the best interest of the country.
Others chose to dawdle in concepts such as the supremacy of the law after it had been repeatedly made clear the subject was not on the agenda. Many failed to grasp the importance of discussing matters directly related to the rules of engagement and the autonomy of the federal agency entrusted with administering the electoral process.
The first impression of the gathering was not a promising beginning. There were barely any signs that the dialogue was more about the Ethiopian state and not about the political parties themselves. This is a grand bargain that would more likely be shaped by the incumbents and few of the opposition parties that have recently entered the country from overseas and revolve outside matters not directly related to the electoral board and electoral laws.
Pledges related to the lack of independence of the law enforcement community, the judiciary, the electoral board, the public media and the bureaucracy may be held at arm’s length. Faced with opposition parties that may fail to see the broader picture of institutionalising power, the burden may ultimately rest on the shoulders of the incumbent. Here, there are much more promising beginnings than how the opening of dialogue between the parties at the Prime Minister’s Office went.
One such sign was the appointment of Birtukan Mideksa to chair the Electoral Board. No doubt, the criticism that her election comes before the political parties have had their say on who should chair the institution needs to be pointed out. But the symbolism of putting a former political figure that was sentenced to life in prison during one of the most contested elections in this nation’s history cannot be disregarded.
Birtukan is a highly-trained lawyer who exudes articulation and integrity. She has an honourable record for being determined, fearless and independent-minded against the might of an authoritarian state that tried and failed to break her will and resolve. She has sufficient political capital to speak up or make a statement simply by walking away.
By putting her in charge of electoral contestations, it speaks volumes of Abiy’s resolve to see a crucial democratic institution become autonomous of partisan political bias.
No less bold was Abiy in nominating Meaza Ashenafi, another formidable and independent-minded person, as Chief Justice. She comes with no prior history of affiliation to any political party, and her appointment by Parliament is promising. In taking such a step - in the right direction - the Administration has taken a course against the long-established sway the executive has had over the judiciary. In putting into place another person whose opinion and presence grabs the attention of the public, it can be the beginning of an increasing assertiveness by the judiciary, removed from partisan meddling.
Indeed, no holder of public office should be beyond reproach. Reputations should only matter as far as past events are concerned. There are too many iterations of saintly individuals that have either been compromised or began to lose sight of the overriding public interest once in office. This peculiar impact of political power on human behaviour is why elections, a multiparty system of government, and checks and balances are most crucial.
Appointments to high offices would also be of little significance if institutions, such as the courts and the electoral board, are not impacted. Democratic institutions in Ethiopia do not command the trust of the public, due largely to political interference and subservient leadership. Most are seen to be influenced by the executive, and if there is no direct evidence of this, the perception is along a similar line, which is just as damning in politics.
This would mean having to reorganise bodies such as the Electoral Board in a structure that the opposition parties have signed off on. This process would inevitably be time-consuming and requires a great deal of dialogue, negotiation and compromise among the contending parties.
Neither should the Chief Justice’s task be any picnic. The most significant step would be instituting a system for vetting judges against political affiliations or biases along layers of identity. No less significant would be making the judicial system efficient from waste of time and resources that dissuade citizens from seeking legal recourse.
Prime Minister Abiy has his work cut out for him just as the new heads of democratic institutions do. Nothing is set in stone until power itself is institutionalised. Even then, sustaining it will not be a walk in the park. The United States, the oldest democracy in the world, remains an imperfect system.
But putting into place independent-minded professionals, such as Meaza and Birtukan, in leadership positions of democratic institutions is an impressive feat, indicating Abiy’s resolve to see a credible election. It will remain inscripted in the pages of history, in gold.
It is indispensable to ensure that this process is to be led by people that have enough political capital to act independently and are knowledgeable of the functions of the institutions that they are leading. Nonetheless, strengthening institutions will require input from the public and transparency.
In the face of what may be myopic opposition parties, informed, progressive and non-partisan individuals in leadership positions can be the best defence against the shortcomings of the grand bargain between contending parties.
PUBLISHED ON Dec 05,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 971]
Editorial | Jul 03,2021
Fineline | May 11,2019
My Opinion | Dec 10,2018
Viewpoints | Nov 02,2019
Fortune News | Feb 09,2019
Fortune News | Nov 14,2020
Fineline | Nov 23,2019
Fineline | Jul 27,2019
Fineline | Sep 24,2018
Sunday with Eden | Mar 23,2019
Fortune News | 43403 Views | Jul 18,2020
Fortune News | 36826 Views | Sep 01,2021
Photo Gallery | 32764 Views | May 06,2019
Photo Gallery | 29637 Views | Mar 17,2019
Queuing for in-demand basic goods and services is not an unfamiliar occurrence in Eth...
Leaders of the National Election Board are in a charm offensive mood, of a sort. Last week, they organised a rare tour for members of the me...
When the country’s most senior diplomats and envoys return back to their posts after two-week debriefings, they leave behind a point or tw...
November 27 , 2021
Against my will, I have witnessed the most terrible defeat of reason and the most sa...
November 13 , 2021
Plans and reality do not always gel. They rarely do in a fast-moving world. Every act...
October 16 , 2021 . By HAWI DADHI
Residing in a country with no capital market, an organised marketplace for trading se...
August 28 , 2021 . By HAWI DADHI
The streets of Addis Abeba are as varied as they are many, although too many of them have yet to be named. From the narrow alleyways of the...
PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) at a Gala Dinner Called for the Awarding of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
May 6 , 2019
I lived in Tanzania some time ago, working on a project. I met new people who came f...
There is a popular saying in Ethiopia. It goes, “esuma aquam yelewim,” referring to a person without a firm stance on a given issue. The...
January 22 , 2022
The faithful lean from a Sidist Kilo sidewalk in bright white threads to catch a whiff of frankincense. The occasion was Timqet, a religious...
January 22 , 2022 . By HAWI DADHI
The federal government will likely toss fuel subsidies entirely by the middle of next year. The Council o...
January 22 , 2022 . By TSION HAILEMICHAEL
Abay Bank has availed 50 million Br in short-term loans to two cooperative unions, pioneering lending ser...
January 22 , 2022 . By HAWI DADHI
Ethiopia wants to know the whereabouts of a businessman abducted in Nairobi two months ago. Ethiopian aut...
Or see contact page