Commentary: The Democratization Struggle of Ethiopia By Dubale Tariku
As a result of the popular unrest engulfed the Oromia kilil, it appears an interesting debate resurfaced among Ethiopian intellectuals of late. The long held consensus among the mainstream intellectuals that TPLF instituted ethnic based politics disintegrates the country, deprives the citizens to exercise individual freedom, restricts citizens movements to enclosed ethnic enclave, and encourages ethnic discrimination is challenged. What makes the current debate interesting is that it didn’t come from the usual quarter of ill wishers of Ethiopia. It came from good wishing intellectuals, notably Dr. Messay Kebede and Dr. Minga Negash (Unity Overrides Everything! – Messay Kebede January 20, 2016; Ethiopia Understanding the current protests in Ethiopia: A rejoinder By Minga Negash, February 24, 2016). In their articles the two advocated to consider ethnic based resistance as means of democratizing Ethiopia. We now found ourselves back to square one, the ways and means to create a just and fair society in Ethiopia have not drawn consensus among intellectuals.
Dr. Messay argued that ethnicity is already institutionalized in the last twenty-five years and will be difficult to go back to the ‘liberal’ type democratic systems. While, Dr. Minga argued that ethnic parties can serve as one of the civic-like institutions for safe guarding democracy as in liberal democracy civic institutions. Neither of them explained in any detail what mechanism will be implemented to shape the state of Ethiopia, if the country decided to institutionalize ethnic based administration. Without a suggested mechanism to democratically implement the recommendation, peaceful coexistence can only be assumed not assured. Drs Messay and Minga grossly underestimated the transformative power of democratic process. Both have ignored the fact that the current structural systems is a consequence of dictatorship not a process of democratization. They also ignored the fact that the Ethiopians struggle is not limited to removing TPLF but also includes removing the destructive institutions TPLF created to subvert democracy.
Ethiopia is a country with over 80 ethnic groups in varying population sizes and geographic settlements. To create the current ethnic administrative kilil, it has taken the brutal dictatorship of TPLF that would not have been created in democratic process. Without their consents, some ethnic groups have been lumped together and others have been split. To make the matter worst, resources have been unfairly divided among the killils. When ethnic killil have been created, a time bomb has been planted. By embracing the process that planted the time bomb and keeping the ethnic administrative structure that keeps the time bomb ticking will even more threatens the existence of Ethiopia.
Modern democracy has been around for long time. We should not be confused what democracy is and what it is not. Similarly, we know what democratic countries have accomplished and could accomplish. For properly functioning democracy, free civil institutions, the rule of law and democratic government are essential ingredients. All these institutions are grounded on individual rights. A step out of these principles, a democratic system simply ceases to exist and function. What Drs Messay and Minga offered Ethiopians for choices are false choices among dictatorships of one ethnic group over the other, not a true choice between democracy and dictatorship. Choosing among various dictatorships is far from reaching peaceful coexistence among ethnic groups.
For the very few who have access to the Internet, it is easy to notice that the Ethiopian social media has been manipulated by the few who mastered to exaggerate and deceive segment of population with less information supply. The few fanatics who dominated the social media solicited public support with multi-tiered of falsehood and coordinated deceit. Even the learned citizens are victims of misinformation. To counter this misinformation, the public has to liberate itself from manipulation and perversion. The capacity of various independent media outlets for collecting information from the ground is yet to be developed. The mobilization of ethnicity for taking social and political action has been effective among few ethnic groups. By any imagination, these few incidences should not have president to turn the struggle to democratize Ethiopia to different direction.
From the experience of other countries who established long term peace, the lessons to learn is that the long process of educating and rousing the public to the truth will provide the people knowledge of the true liberty and expose the myths and illusions spread by ethnic demagogues. Ethiopians should not forget, for a moment, the timelessness of liberal democracy and espouse to create institutions that protect the rights of all citizens and make them available for future generations of Ethiopia. At this critical period, what Ethiopians need is far-sighted leaders who will deliver the country from TPLF evil hands.