Quo Vadis Ethiopia? Yet Again By Melakou Tegegn
Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia who ruled the country for over twenty years with iron fist is now dead. Ethiopia is yet again confronted with the erstwhile question: quo vadis Ethiopia? (Which way Ethiopia?) A number of political coincidences and opportunities have occurred in that country to forge national unity since the overthrow of the military regime in 1991 but none have been seized upon to bring about the political sanity required. All previous opportunities have been squandered one by one mainly by the ruling party headed by Meles Zenawi. The opposition has also had its share in this when it squandered the political opportunity created as a result of the 2005 elections. Like many politicians in the continent, Ethiopian politicians are also amazingly doggedly. They easily opt for rejections, come what may.
Despite the claims for an 11% annual economic growth and the eulogies by Mr. Cameron, Ethiopia is still one of the 10 most impoverished countries in the world. Its people still live in abject poverty of biblical times. On top of this, they have never been crowned with any sort of dignity but ruled by a series of regimes whose rule has been characterized by gross political and human rights violations. Despite the claim for a history of three thousand years, Ethiopians have never had any sort of freedom and practiced any of their civil and human rights even those proclaimed in the three Constitutions that they knew. The country has been at war of one sort or another for the last four hundred years. One can easily imagine the prevalence of the culture of violence which is most often reflected in the functioning of governance. The country has never seen and experienced a comprehensive peace. Reigning over such a situation, literally all governments, both of the traditional and the self-styled ‘modern’ governments, have practised extreme forms of violence to enforce their rule.
Freedom, democracy and human rights did not exist in the vocabularies of these governments and the people have been ruled by iron fists (political repression, mass imprisonment, torture and official state terror against outspoken individuals and institutions) while the West (the champion of human rights and democracy) looked the other way. The consequence of such authoritarian rule has been grave: it threw the country into a perpetual beggar even amidst of the government’s claim of a bumper harvest. Poverty and under-development have been the hallmarks of Ethiopia if not famine and starvation. The political rule has been and still is the main culprit behind Ethiopia’s poverty. To undo poverty and under-development, the key is freedom and democracy.
To generate social change in Ethiopia, i.e. in face of such colossal poverty and extremely repressive rule, there is no way out except creating an enabling environment for everyone, i.e. political parties, civil society organizations and social movements. Opting for the single will of one political party to prevail has always constituted a recipe for disaster and it will continue to be one. Ethiopia is a huge country with a large population (85 million) and is multi ethnic and multi-religious. Heterogeneity in all its forms is Ethiopia’s description. Amidst such heterogeneity, claiming the prevalence of one over the rest is simply unnatural. No wonder why Ethiopia has all sorts of conflicts the more various political forces attempt to enforce their single will. They have all failed one by one. That is why the salvation of Ethiopia lies in democratization and prevalence of freedom as a guarantee for the respect for heterogeneity. A social change can only succeed if only it is based on democracy. The country has gone through feudal autocracy, military dictatorship and ethnicization of politics that have all denied freedom. They have all failed.
More than ever now, Ethiopia needs a national reconciliation. Despite official assurances for calm and composure, it is in a deep political crisis marked by the pitting of society as a whole against the government, danger of religious fundamentalism looming over as legitimate religious demands are met with killings and clamp down, colossal poverty still prevails, the apathy of the public is worrying, prevalence of armed rebellions and possibilities of more break outs of rebellion, and worst of all, an ethnic cleansing targetting the Tigrean people is a major threat once hell is let lose. In face of such crisis, national reconciliation between the ruling party and opposition parties on the one hand; and between the ruling party and the nascent civil society (professional associations, private media, NGOs, etc…) on the other is absolutely essential.
If Ethiopia has still to restore the respect it deserves internationally, play a more constructive role in regional peace processes and crown its own people with the dignity they deserve, its politicians have the greatest historical responsibility ever. Both the ruling party and opposition parties have to realise this and be prepared to retreat from their ossified positions and views and be ready for a national reconciliation. Repression and armed resistance have to give way to a peaceful political transformation.
The main goal of the national reconciliation must be to restore the pre-2005 status quo ante as a minimum to create rapprochement between the warring factions. For this to be attained, the principal initiative should come from the ruling party. It has to declare its readiness for a national reconciliation. It has to take a few confidence building measures such as rescinding all post-2005 laws and proclamations that limited freedom in general (anti-terrorism law, press law, NGO law, etc…), release of political prisoners and journalists, declare amnesty for refugees and invite them to return to the country, and express its desire to sit in a national conference to discuss the country’s political future. The opposition on its part, has to resort to cessation of all sorts of hostilities and propaganda war and express its readiness for a national conference of all parties.
If Ethiopia’s politicians fail to seize the time and opportunity for a national reconciliation once again, let there be no doubt that the ruling party will never reconcile with the people hence invite more rebellions; and opposition politicians will never lead society towards democratization. In that case, the current opportunity will once again slip out of their hands in which case they will eventually lead the country to astray and we won’t cease asking “Quo vadis Ethiopia?”.