Comments on Tecola Hagos’s June 22, 2011 article, “This Way Ethiopia: Constitutional Monarchy or Liberal Democracy …” by Abebe Haile
In the last few years or so, I have come to appreciate a few Ethiopians whose on-line writings and opinions are quite relevant for our times. One of these opinion makers is Prof. Tecola W. Hagos. This doesn’t mean he is always right, but there is no question that he writes with conviction and passion and makes remarkable good sense. In this time of divisive and fragmented politics, I find his constant search for unifying themes for all of us quite admirable. Hence, while some may find a sinister tribal motive behind his latest proposition, I view his invitation for public discussion of constitutional monarchy in a constructive light. I particularly appreciate the passion he has for a sovereign, united and prosperous Ethiopia. If anyone thinks I may be a fellow traveler of a tigre or amhara line for saying this, I assure you that I am neither of them. Living in the good new USA, enjoying the freedoms, camaraderie and friendships of the diverse “tribes” of America, I just hope that the tribal division plays a lesser and lesser role in our daily actions and thinking.
I believe the concept of tribe in the 21st century has gone out of fashion except in the backwoods of Africa, Ethiopia among them, where its effects keep the continent exposed to constant conflict, poverty, disease and ignorance. That has been what Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his partners have been propagating for the last 20 years just to keep themselves in power, or as others would have it, to dismantle the Ethiopian state. Such a nefarious desire by a national leader may sound far-fetched and preposterous, but that was exactly what Isaias Afeworki said when victorious Meles Zenawi rode into Addis Ababa in May 1991. Isaias predicted that Eritrea will be a major power in the newly re-drawn map of the Horn of Africa, but for that to happen he would ensure that Ethiopian must be divided up into tribal states and so that she will no longer be a threat to Eritrea. Asked by foreign reporters about the future prospects of Ethio-Eritrean relations, he boldly declared that Ethiopia will not exist in 15 years. We can’t know for sure if Isaias, who at the time was a soul mate of Meles Zenawi, did not mean what he said had not the TPLF split into the nationalist and Meles camps, thus aborting such an eventuality from occurring.
Coming back to Prof Tecola’s proposition for a constitutional monarchy, this is something I believe should be seriously debated by all fair-minded Ethiopians for what it may be worth. The idea of a constitutional monarchy in Ethiopia is nothing new. It was suggested by several Ethiopian scholars, including Negadras Gebrehiwot Baikedagn, one of the foremost intellectuals of one hundred years ago. In fact, warning against the wholesale copying of western concepts, Gebrehiwot advised that Ethiopia selectively adopt the Japanese governance and development model, choosing only those aspects appropriate for the Ethiopian situation. It now seems constitutional monarchy may not be such a bad idea at all if some of the most stable, tranquil and prosperous countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Japan, England, etc… all use it as a unifying tool.
If a constitutional monarchy were to be established in Ethiopia, I have no doubt that the descendants of Atse Haile Selassie would fulfill the requirements simply because they represent the bloodlines of the major ethnic groups of amhara, oromo, tigre and may be others too, not to mention a long national history. However, now after nearly 40 years of unremitting negative propaganda by the Mengistu and Meles regimes, I have my doubts if a bold and open-minded debate on the monarchy can be undertaken. The monarchy has been demonized so much so that it may be hard to hold a fair debate that will satisfy the sectarian mind-sets, self-appointed tribal ideologues, the habitual naysayers, and pseudo-marxist remnants like myself. Likewise, I fear that our current infatuation with western democracy in Ethiopia will be as confused, dangerous and futile as Marxism was for my generation.
My hunch is that without a clear understanding of how democracy works and how it is implemented we may try to cut and paste it, thus risking a never ending turmoil because democracy is a culture that needs to be developed and nurtured. True democracy is powerful and important, but to succeed it should be merged with the cultural norms and practices of the country. I fully agree with Prof Tecola’s assertion that, “Election in our type of society is a polarizing process for it often is a fog-screen of fundamentally flawed society due to horrible economic and cultural distortions, anomalies that need first serious consideration and fixing.” Wasn’t a Marxist People’s Government what we wanted decades ago without bothering to understand how it works? And what did we end up with? Confusion, internecine massacres, imprisonment, starvation, exile, political oppression, massive corruption, brain drain, and shameless so-called national leaders trumpeting annual double-digit economic growth while endlessly begging for international handouts. That is why it is important to seriously think about and consider Prof Tecola’s constructive suggestion.