Which way Ethiopia : Constitutional Monarchy or Participatory Democracy? An Outline. By Teodros Kiros

August 25th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Classical Ethiopia was ruled by a series of Monarchs, hereditary and

constituonal. Great were the virtues of the monarchs who ruled the ancient

petty kingdoms of which classical Ethiopia was comprised. Hence, the Ras
Tafarian Icon, Bob Marley, devoted some great songs to Emperor Haile Selassie, a Constitutional Monarch, on whom he bestowed a divinity and a transcendental status, fit only for Kings, who mesmerize us by their spiritual presences.

Emperor Haile Selassie I crowned himself as “King of Kings, Lion of Judah,” and the Ethiopian masses believed in him for over forty years. To some Ethiopians, this was the golden age of Ethiopian history; to the Marxist- Leninist dictator, who overthrew him, the Emperor was a devil incarnate, who kept the masses in abject poverty.

Classical West African civilizations share with Ethiopian civilization a belief
in divinities who carved out African states founded and ruled by Monarchs.
Whereas classical Ethiopia was the domain of Monarchs; modern Ethiopia becomes a self –conscious, ground of a totalitarian version of the single Marxist Party, which in time was overthrown and replaced by a Marxist political party, which professed to be governed by the organizing principle of revolutionary democracy. This is the governing party of EPRDF.

Both classical Ethiopia and modern Ethiopian have yet to drink from the sea of genuine democracy, governed by the principle of participation. I call this
ideal democracy, “Participatory Democracy.”

Ethiopian history is essentially a history of petty Kingdoms and reigning
monarchs, and each monarch in his own way sought to unite the petty kingdoms under a single rule. Emperor Tewodros and Emperor Yohannes were both motivated by the vision of a united Ethiopia under a single monarch. These emperors were at once, Executives, Legislators and Judges. They combined all three functions into one. In addition, they assumed an active leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Modern Ethiopia , since the radical overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie, assumed a Marxist-Leninist Ideology and professed to be governed by revolutionary democracy.

I would like to argue that the professed revolutionary democracy was not only foreign to Ethiopia , as Professor Messay Kebede has recently shown, but is also not revolutionary enough, I contend. That what contemporary Ethiopia needs is a genuinely participatory institution, in which the Ethiopian people can play a leading role, without a monarch, unless the people demand the need for a symbolic monarch, who is wise, learned and judicious. In principle, the installment of a symbolic monarch is harmless. The ultimate power, however, should reside on the shoulders of enlightened people who could govern themselves on rotational bases. I should now defend this thesis.

The key to the unfolding of participatory democracy is the willingness of the
people to actively participate in political spaces at the work place, schools
and universities, neighborhoods, and civic associations consistently and
intelligently. Such participants must be fully informed about the details of
the economy, the political structure, the Rule of Law, and much else; matters which are beyond their competence must be delegated to the relevant experts, who would perform their tasks for reasonable fees.

The participants must also be passionate about their participatory lives, since much will depend on them and much will be expected from them, as they will be extremely busy, at work and outside work. The people themselves assume political participation, which is typically the vocation of professional politicians, in representative democracies, not as professionals but as political beings, a feature of their personalities, which hitherto was
relegated to experts.

In participatory democracy, experts play a minimal role, whereas average
citizens are both encouraged and expected to actively fashion the everyday
feature of living democracy. Fundamental political virtues, such as
responsibility, obligation, duty, accountability and transparency are directly
learned by doing. A repeated practice of the virtues produces a people with
participatory political features, which become living dimensions of their
political personalities.

Participation is transformative. It transforms by practice. The result is slow,
as the beginning is sluggish, and the reward is not immediate. That is why
people shy away from participation and leave this important matter to
representatives to stand for them, to speak for them.

The participatory model does not depend on parliamentarians to do the job of participation, as is now done in the sham spaces of the ruling regime in
Ethiopia . That model is remote, as it does not directly touch the people’s
pulses, in the intimate way of participatory democracy.

On first blush, participatory democracy looks alien, abstract and unrealizable, and suitable only for small communities of a few hundred people. That is not the case. If we bring the participatory model to where the people work, live and socialize, via institutors, millions of people can participate either directly or through the media of the Internet, the radio, serious television programs, in which issues could be discussed and voted on.

The model of participatory democracy that I am outlining here can be filled by Ethiopia ’s scholars and informed citizens, and I invite you all to discuss the burning issue of “Which Way Ethiopia: Constitutional Monarchy or Participatory Democracy?”

What I have attempted here is to spark a debate and a dialogue as we map out our rendezvous with victory in 2010, or so I dream


Teodros Kiros
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music

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