Ethiopia: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?
From among the fairy tales I heard and know about, the making of Ethiopia and the body politic that accompanied it always creates a unique feeling to my conscience. The splendid construct of the story garnished with colorful stripes of fabricated tales has a magical power for everyone-from a king to political elite, and to an ordinary subject to fall in to the deepest love with the state.
The story writers of the state from time antiquity to this day has the unmatched dexterity that surpassed any storyteller on this earth in making fictitious things appear real. That is why we are now in conflict with this ‘fictitious’ world to come to terms with the reality as it is happening now. However, everyone is now happy to overlook the ‘fiction’ by striped of its fake swathe.
We have grown up hearing and reading ‘fictions’ about the mightiness of the state of Ethiopia and the loving nature of the Ethiopian culture. We are socialized both by the church and the state to accept and live with the story of the hospitability of the Ethiopian people ; the caring and loving nature of the Ethiopian people –with a kind of ‘utopia’ that had never existed any time in history. Now, time has come to judge on and expose the true nature of the people and the state.
I have never heeded any book of whatsoever and any story of any nature pertinent to the history of Ethiopia and its people. I have always reservations on the same matter. What I know about their nature is that they are both rich in intricacy, secretiveness, and stringency. But earthly and heavenly fairytales dictate opposite to what is scarcely known about. They told us enough about the ‘utopian’ nature of the state and its people.
Now, the people began to contradict its own history only to affirm the truer nature of its own. The solidarity, hospitality, caring, loving and several other nature of the people which are only the constructs of the religious, political, cultural and economic elites of its own are now negating its own real nature-canning, envy, discord, unfriendliness and other features that contradict the fairytales.
Ethiopian history both as a state and a people is characterized by constructions, deconstructions, and reconstructions. This vicious circle of our history is mainly based on forged accounts and fairytales about the individuals and groups involved in the drama every single time. It is based on distorted stories and counter stories of grudge, resentment, and love.
All are not true, and legitimate. In the process, the mass has never been in a position to record their history and hand over to their respective generations the way it happened. That is why Ethiopia experienced untold ups and downs; and its people become the victim of its history until now. The kings, queens, lords, and other elites were and are the only legitimate writers and storytellers; and made it all the way to help them satisfy their lust for power, dignity, and reputation.
Along its alleged long history, the state has taken both forward and backward steps. Stories of success and civilization have been counteracted by stories of failure and ‘de-civilization’. Despite its long history and few episodes of admirable civilizations, the country is still among the poorest in the planet.
The present state of the country and its people is the direct result of the process of the making, unmaking, and remaking of its history whose accounts are grounded on fabricated lies and counter-lies made by its elites who happened to be selfish and hypocrite.
As the people were continuously deceived and coerced to believe by the elites of the time to finally become prisoners of their own history. It is legitimate to raise claims of whatsoever when one system is replaced by another usually by force. As a result, the state oscillates on the same orbit without sustaining positive changes. Open your eyes and try to look at the history of our heroes and heroines, great civilizations, ‘famous’ kings and queens; and try to figure out how each were replaced by their respective successors and how the story of each one is recorded, if any, by another.
You would now recognize the role of conspiracy, war, animosity, disrespect, feud, fabrications and many other inventories of issues that delegitimize the predecessor and the successor. No one’s success history or part of it would be credited and glorified by another unless doing so serve the interest of one of them. And there is no intention of building up on it to sustain continuity unless doing so serve its purpose; no matter is the interest of the general public. This makes Ethiopian history only one of its kind in the world.
Once again, history seems to repeat itself. The enemy of our history is the history itself; particularly our fashion of making, remaking and unmaking history is replete with distorted accounts of one-another. This time is an opportune moment for everyone to interrogate Ethiopian history.
In a time when one, both as an individual and as a group, hates another based on the social, religious, economic, geographical, or ethnic origin, and declares war of mass cleansing either tacitly or officially, on that particular group, one should question how this come to happen, and why. I believe this is particularly the function of the making of our history and they way it is told.
There are signs of going backward from where we are now. I am not arguing in favor of the status quo nor denying the existence of serious challenges. I am rather opining that there are several problems we need to address if we need to map a different route of history than we, the state and the people, have come through.
There are two types of problems in today’s Ethiopia. The first group of problems is intimately related to the nature of the government and its solution is within the reach of the government. Thus, requires immediate solutions. The second one is structural problems fundamentally related to and emanated from our own history. Our history of inequality, prejudice, contempt, mistrust and several other ills among ourselves basically created by distorted and exaggerated images of self and others has worked out to create mutual misperceptions among each other. The problem is inherently structural and requires structural solution and demands the concerted action and cooperation of the whole public, governments, the international community, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and other concerned bodies.
Where Are We Heading?
A threat of chauvinism and narrow nationalism is looming in our doorsteps and backyards. One can imagine the bearing of those forces on the whole nation. Particularly, entities of chauvinism that have an irredentist and expansionist sentiments are taking deep root and ever extending mass base in some parts of our country, especially in Amhara regional state. No matter the triggering factors for the development of such sentiments, the whole ramifications of every move made to realize such interest will overwhelm the entire nation. In the mean time, a degree of human lives and material possessions will be destroyed.
There are rumors of inter-party feuds among the parties constituting EPRDF. This situation is believed to have existed since few years back. And we are now witnessing the unfolding of the last produce of the tragedy. Shockingly, the chauvinist muscle has already begun warming up to kill, intimidate, loot and displace civilians. The situation is alarming to everyone in and around the country.
The recent and ongoing demonstrations undergoing in Amhara national state is the first signals of this chauvinist circle of leadership. It particularly focuses on one ethnic group – The Tigrayan people. But this sounds only its start, and a potential to extend to other groups with the intention of robbing their identity and swallow their existence. What is unfolding in Amhara and that targets the Tigrayan ethnic group is a political and military exercise or showdown which intends to convey message to the entire adjacent ethnic groups such as Benshangul Gumuz, Afar, and the Oromos. There is no guarantee whether or not neighboring countries such as Sudan are in the list of the chauvinist expansionist agenda. But the current moments has much to indicate its ambitious plan of reviving the ‘Greatness of Amhara’.
The greatness of Amhara or other people cannot be realized in the expense of the oppression, marginalization, and killings of others. Greatness can only be realized through cooperation, mutual understanding, and respect. And greatness should not be based on fairytales and distorted accounts of history, but should rather be based on the true image and history of oneself and others.
There is an apparent sign of collaboration between the internal and external forces in the contemporary demonstrations going on in Amhara regional state. The themes and intensity of the demonstration, and the ammunitions used suffices to invoke the above fact.
Throughout our long history, external factors have little or no significance in affecting the basic nature of our domestic political, social, and cultural affairs. This is not to say that our leaders, both ancient and modern, use external forces as a pretext to shape and reshape the nature of Ethiopian politics. The foremost enemy of the Ethiopian state comes from within. Internal forces, for one or other reason, often align or cooperate with external or foreign forces in the detriment of the peace and development of the state and its people.
Our history is replete with the same story of treason, betrayal, and subversion all in favor of a foreign adversary. The succession of one by another is usually effected by soliciting help from an outsider who in return would acquire more than enough concessions from the winner. In another cycle of power struggle, the loser would mobilize on full scale everything including trading off the sovereignty of the state for a bunch of arms and fleets. Everything possible could be done to quench the power-thirsty rulers and their loyal servants. That is the least one could say about the degree of hypocrisy of Ethiopian rulers.
While each ruler has happened to get the full support of foreign powers to fight and depose a ‘brother’ at home, they always claimed to have an external enemy. This is a typical feature of virtually all rulers in Ethiopia history. They stab a brother from back with a foreign force on their side, and claim that foreigners are enemies of the state and the people. This is how politics has been working during the whole Ethiopian history. And it has been successful in terms of diverting the attention of the people from the internal problem which is real to the external factors that is elusive.
This strategy is an inseparable part of the prolonged history of power politics in Ethiopia, and it has been in place until very recent time. The fall of Derge is considered by many as propitious moment to change the flawed perspective our governments has had about our history and the basics of power struggle enmeshed with it.
I was hoping that the inside-out policy of the EPRDF-led government is a complete departure from its predecessors; and I was hoping this time is a historical juncture where our people and state will undergo a complete divorce from the past characterized by internal feuds, mutual mistrust, and undemocratic relationships. Generally, the possibility of stepping back on the ‘back of history’ has never crossed my mind even for once.
Now another round of internal power struggle seems to explode. This time, the explosion would not show mercy to the state, the elites and the people. It will consume everyone messing around. Unless managed skillfully, the flame will devour even the generations to come.
As usual, our history is doing its job very well. We are all the progeny of our fathers in particular. It appears that we cannot unlearn what we have learned from them over a quarter of a century. It is really a disaster. Now, one group is trying to remake or rewrite history, and the other resists, or vice versa. All in all, the current problem is fundamentally the continuation of our past. That is why the state still remains being a hotbed of power contenders thriving to acquire support from pockets of constituency and mobilizes against the other. In the meantime, the majority people are wobbling in the middle hopelessly; and few are honing their swords to slaughter one other.
Now perceptible signs of illness are surfacing that would disintegrate the nation once and for all, to say the least. We start packing our possession to commence our journey backwards, both as a state and people, never to see each other in the foreseen future, unless God intervenes.
The Project of Diagnosing the State
It is a big deal for Ethiopians to see our country being healthy and functions its day to day errands. This is the alpha and omega of our survival as a people and a state. In this endeavor, the contribution of several actors is more than necessary. In doing so the main purpose of the project should be focusing on bringing back the state on its right track while ignoring the engineering of ephemeral solutions targeting on easing only the symptoms of the problems that overlooks its root causes.
I am of the opinion that there are a number of stakeholders who have the real and potential capacity to contribute in the national search for solutions. I will try to outline the role of those stakeholders in the following pages. But I don’t believe that this list of stakeholders is an exhaustive one; and readers can add an inventory of their own suggestions in this regard.
1. The Youth
The youth is a power house of change. It has an insurmountable potential for both development and destruction. Thus, the fate of a country is contingent on the proper deployment of this energetic section of a society.
Similarly, the youth part of the society in Ethiopia makes up the major part of the people. It has the necessary resources either to build or destroy the country. That means no matter the political situation of the country, the good will of the youth can play greatest part in advancing the interest of the general public and deliver the nation from this perilous time or become instrument of the political elites and push the nation to the brink of chaos and disintegration. It is up to the youth to decide on which side of history it likes to stand by.
However, there are few conditions the youth should meet if it should and could play historical and positive roles in this country at this time.
1. It must be independent thinker free from emotions, conspiracies, and short term interests.
2. It needs to develop the readiness to discuss with other youth from different racial, ethnic, political, religious and other backgrounds. Generally every youth should believe in democratic way of dealing with others.
3. It should disregard propaganda spread by elites from same background; and should demonstrate objections for such kinds of mischievous activities.
4. It should engage in and preach about peace and peaceful ways of conflict management and resolution.
5. Should show compassion and protect victims of any kind around him.
6. Be ready to embark on a new phase of democratization process and outline timetable for its commencement.
7. It should negotiate and compromise based on the principle of mutual public and national interest.
8. It should place public and national interest before and above individual and ‘group interest’.
9. It should feel equal ownership of the country and its people.
10. It should believe in the point that unity is source of our strength, and we fail if divided.
2. The Government and the Incumbent
The government and the incumbent party is the one at the front-line in the national project of mitigating current problems. And there are few measures it must take to do so. The following are some of things it must accomplish in this regard.
1. It should first demonstrate a political will to solve the problems evident in the country.
2. It should avoid internal differences and misunderstanding, if there are any, that hamper it from exercising its duties and responsibilities.
3. It should open up the political arena and be receptive of alternative ideas, voices and concerns of different bodies.
4. It should committed itself to creating political, economic, and other opportunities for the youth that make up the major part of the public.
5. It should work closely with the public through creating different forums and laying down principles of transparency and accountability.
3. Political parties
There are close to a hundred registered political parties in the country. In addition to committing themselves to respecting the constitution and other laws of the country, they should fulfill the following conditions to fully contribute to the end under discussion.
* They should recognize and respect the constitution as the highest law of the country fairly and squarely do their business within this framework.
* They should refrain from the politics of hate and focus on our shared or common elements.
* They should consider themselves as complementary to the other parties and the incumbent that a rival or adversary.
* They should focus on and have a vision of long and wide spectrum than excessively targeting on means of controlling state power.
* They should build internal democratic atmosphere to build public thrust.
* They should make sure that they are not prone to any internal and external predators that may weaken their integrity and causes further national instability.
* They should be receptive of diverse voices from within and without; and outline common regional and national goals to be shared with other political parties.
* They need to extricate themselves from dependency syndrome on external supports.
4. The General Public
The public as the main owner of the whole affairs of the state and an embodiment of the sovereignty of the nation has a rather critical place in the project. Therefore, the following are few of the major responsibilities it has to undertake on its own part.
* It needs to rally around building a state based on the spirit of equality, solidarity and fraternity.
* It needs to be vigilant to respect, protect the constitution from both internal and external forces.
* It needs to develop a democratic and political culture wherein all demands and questions are entertained according to the law.
* It should began assuming itself as the highest body who dictates the actions and behaviors of the state and its institutions.
* It should mobilize both an individual and a group to tap its full potential in nurturing the political process of the state through participating in local and national decision making process optimally.
* It should recognize the fact that our unity is more important than otherwise; and this will only preserved by its own will.
* It should never allow any entity, both internal and external, to manipulate it; and demonstrate its rights peacefully and democratically.
5. The Mass Media
The media is largely perceived as the significant factor in determining the nature and relationship of a state and a society. In this respect, the media of our nation, both private and public, has much to do in the process of delivering our country from the current crisis, and play a part at this the time and the time to come.
1. It should involve in the production and dissemination of information based on facts, and dependable and authorized sources.
2. It should focus on fostering common values and objectives than fabricating and exaggerating differences, and fomenting crisis.
3. It should relieve itself from being excessively business minded.
4. It should allot resources that help facilitate nation building process.
5. It should never reproduce and disseminate views that has the potential of causing and instilling instability and fear.
6. It should accommodate and reflect diverse opinions coming from different angles and backgrounds.