(Engineer Magertu Regassa)
Since the demise of the Dergue regime in 1983 EC, we Ethiopians have been witnessing heartening developments in virtually everything and in the country as a whole. Some of the benefits that we have been enjoying from during the past 27 years include, among others, the following:
1/ Autonomous Administration: The various nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia were able to self-rule themselves with no or little interference from the Federal Government. This privilege enabled the people use their respective languages in their day-to-day lives and develop their languages and cultures as well as build their economy and improve their living standards.
2/ Democratic System: Though democracy in Ethiopia is still rudimentary and at its infant stage, we have been exercising several ingredients of a democratic nation such as freedoms pertaining to speech and expression as well as organization and multi-party system and the like that were completely inconceivable and considered illegal under the defunct Derg regime.
3/ Fast-Growing Economy: The Ethiopian economy under the defunct Derg regime was predominantly agrarian. Prior to 1983 EC, public and privately owned large manufacturing businesses, service giving establishments, construction companies and so on were either completely lacking or they were very few in number and concentrated at the capital city and/or at very few other cities. Fortunately, the current regime had lifted the Ethiopian economy from virtually nil to something bigger and promising so much so that we have now all sorts of businesses throughout the country and industry is anticipated to lead agriculture within the coming few years.
While we citizens sincerely eulogize the ruling party for its superb achievements thus far, I personally believe that the ruling party must embark on introducing some reforms that could put the nation in a better position than before. The reforms I venerate most and would like to see are the following:
I/ Revitalizing EPRDF
A political party, as I believe, is stronger and better if and only if there is democratic centralism that upholds party discipline and unity of direction which all party members strictly adhere to. During the reign of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, EPRDF was stronger and better than the EPRDF we have been observing for the past three or more years now perhaps because Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was able to keep intact the aforementioned attributes of a stronger and better political party.
It has now become abundantly clear that the four major parties that make up EPRDF go on their own and that EPRDF has no control over them emphasizing the fact that there is no democratic centralism, which serves EPRDF and its members as a guiding principle. The OPDO-ANDM conspiracy against their mother party, the fierce and unconstitutional struggle for power and the recent resignation of the former Prime Minister and his replacement by a new one substantiate my argument that there is complete absence of party discipline and unity of direction within EPRDF.
I only pray to God that this will not become a precedent in Ethiopian politics. Besides, other EPRDF-affiliated parties that are perhaps considered minor are not able to actively participate in important decisions that the four major EPRDF parties make in particular and in the overall political environment of the country at large.
Such “minor” EPRDF-affiliated political parties might feel that their political participation is being severely truncated because the other four “major” EPRDF parties deemed that the roles “minor” EPRDF-affiliated political parties could play are inconsequential. I am of the opinion that this feeling by the many “minor” EPRDF-affiliated political parties might have destructive ramification on EPRDF as well as on the country’s politics in the long-run.
I feel that it is now time for EPRDF to transform itself from FRONT to ONE and UNITED PARTY, which is made up of the current four “major” parties as well as the many “minor” EPRDF-affiliated parties whereby all members of the new party have equal rights (such as the right to vote) within the party and that democratic centralism is strictly adhered to by all members of the party.
Formation of the new party entails dropping old names like TPLF, ANDM, OPDO and the like as well as replacing all flags, which all EPRDF-member parties and regional states have been using so far, by one and the same flag that represents the new party. The one party that I am visualizing will have, among other things, the following advantages that are deemed to inculcate stronger Ethiopian sentiment in the heart and brain of each and every one citizen:
1/ For the past three or more years now, we have been observing a big rift among the four major EPRDF-member parties owing to conflicting interests, lack of trust and confidence on each other, conspiracy and thirst for power by some leaders of the EPRDF-member parties and the like. Besides, we have been observing supporters of OPDO insulting supporters of TPLF and ANDM, supporters of TPLF insulting supporters of OPDO and ANDM, supporters of ANDM insulting supporters of OPDO and TPLF and so on, though all these political parties are EPRDF-member parties.
Therefore, a highly unified, stronger and better party will come into being so much so that ordinary citizens and politicians in the party will not be divided along ethnic lines and hence ethnic tensions in the country will be completely eradicated or significantly reduced.
2/ The party will be able to put the right politicians in the right place and, therefore, only capable and highly qualified politicians will come to the highest echelon of the party’s leadership irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds. Just to be succinct, appointment aimed at maintaining balance among the various ethnicities will become obsolete and merit-based appointment will leave each and every one citizen equally content.
3/ So far, EPRDF didn’t have the confidence to punish its leaders and members for their wrongdoings. For instance, EPRDF leaders feel that, if they punish an ANDM leader, ANDM and the Amhara people will not be happy. Likewise, if a TPLF or an OPDO leader is punished, TPLF and the Tigrian people or OPDO and the Oromo people will not be happy.
Therefore, I believe that democratic centralism, party discipline and unity of direction that guide the new party will enable leaders of the party reward and punish all politicians within the the party exclusively on the basis of their individual performances and without concern to their former political affiliations and ethnic backgrounds.
II/ Enacting essential laws
All Ethiopians would unanimously agree that current laws had overlooked several crimes that have a catastrophic effect on the country as a whole. Corruption and embezzlement of public resources, which are being committed by government officials at all levels (in all regional states and in the federal government) and business owners, have already become rife in the country.
Such misdemeanors have been making the poor poorer and the rich richer and hence widening the already wide gap between the poor and the rich resulting in a very excruciating distribution of the nation’s wealth. I strongly believe, therefore, that it is now time to stop such social vices altogether.
Many government officials receive kickbacks from purchases of huge and substandard items (machinery, medicines, food stuffs and so on) from domestic and foreign suppliers, certifying inferior quality roads and other long-term structures, assisting business owners to evade profit and other taxes as well as to make illegal imports and exports and the like.
Establishing an “Anti-Corruption Office” at the federal and regional government levels might be a necessary condition to fighting and eliminating corruption and embezzlements. However, the nationwide fight against corruption and embezzlements certainly entails one essential condition: supporting the fight with stringent laws, including death penalty.
If such laws are not enacted now, the misdemeanors that I am speaking about will persevere and the long-term survival of the government will be highly threatened. All prior corruption and embezzlements might be unheeded under the new law but all such crimes after the law is officially enacted must be severely dealt with.
Lack of good governance, nepotism and clannish attitude by government officials are also among the crimes that have been incubating genuine public complaints against and distastes for both the ruling party and the political parties affiliated to it.
Putting capable and highly qualified leaders in government posts that require regular interaction with the general public, shortening the processes involved in getting things done, job-rotation of government officials at reasonable intervals could be some of the tools that could help avoid, if not minimize, the aforementioned crimes. However, even these crimes must be supported by stringent laws that include long years of incarceration.
III/ Resolving the Ethio-Eritrea stalemate
The geo-political environment of the Horn of Africa is highly volatile and susceptible to ethnic and religious conflicts, disagreements over territory, wars aimed at controlling basic resources such as water and proxy wars having various goals. All Middle East countries as well as superpowers like the USA, European countries, Russia, China and others have keen interest in the Horn of Africa for one reason or another.
Presently, Saudi Arabia is using Eritrean territory in its war against its enemies in Yemen. Egypt has recently obtained a military base in Eritrea. The absence of peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea had severely damaged the Eritrean economy and hence Eritrea is leasing its territory out to other countries simply because it wanted to alleviate itself from the acute and chronic financial crunch it has been facing with owing to its virtually dead economy.
I am of the opinion that undue presence of foreign forces in Eritrea, especially those countries that have outstanding issues with our country, might have harmful repercussions on Ethiopia now or in the future. Moreover, we know that Eritrea is a safe haven to Ethiopian insurgents who frequently attack Ethiopia.
Several years had elapsed since the time when our country had fought and won a deadly war against Eritrea. Since then, Ethiopia is in a no-war; a no-peace situation with Eritrea. The people of both countries certainly need peace and harmony. Therefore, it is now time to employ PM Meles’s “Give-and-Take” strategy pertaining to the Ethio-Eritrea crisis or any other strategies that are acceptable and mutually beneficial to both countries.
Restoring peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which were historically one country and one people, is the only way out to minimize threat from other countries as well as avoid Ethiopian insurgents attacking our country and bring them to negotiations.
IV/ Broadening political freedom and dialogue
Opposition (I hate this name) political parties are not enemies of the nation. They rather are political parties that have alternative programs, strategies, policies and vision pertaining to our country’s politics, economy, society and the like.
First of all, I recommend their names to be changed from “Opposition Political Parties” to “Alternative Political Parties”.
Second, all opposition political parties and insurgents operating outside Ethiopia must be unconditionally allowed to come back to their homeland and peacefully participate in the country’s politics.
Third, there must be conducive atmosphere for them so that they could promulgate their programs, strategies, policies and vision without any duress. They must be able to do so not only in gatherings with their supporters but also via state-owned televisions, radios and printed media.
Fourth, the ruling party must candidly involve leaders of opposition political parties in major policy issues and decisions that are of paramount importance to the country and the people.
Fifth, there must be a regular and unconditional dialogue between the ruling party on the one hand and the opposition political parties on the other.
As per my observation, there are many issues on which the ruling party and the opposition political parties have diametrically different positions and hence such issues merit dialogue. The issues include, among others, the following:
1/ Laws related to the operations of the alternative political parties.
2/ Election code.
3/ Anti-terrorism law.
4/ Laws that are stipulated in the Ethiopian Constitution such as the law on self-determination up to secession as well as law pertaining to land ownership, just to mention. We must not see the Ethiopian Constitution as a Bible or Quran that are not subject to any form of amendment. The constitution must be revised in light of new developments and demands in the national, regional, continental and international arena.
5/ The national flag is another subject of disagreement between the two political camps. As there are many citizens who deeply despise all prior national flags, there are also some citizens who don’t like the current national flag of the country.
6/ The ethnic-based federalism that EPRDF had introduced is also one major area of disagreement between the two political camps. Many ordinary citizens and politicians maintain any one or more of the following three positions:
(a) The ethnic-based federalism is dividing the nation.
(b) The ethnic-based federalism is not fully implemented as it is stipulated in the constitution.
(c) There are other better options than the ethnic-based federalism.
As this article is exclusively meant to indicate the reforms the ruling party must introduce, I will not mention here the many flaws of the “Opposition Political Parties” in Ethiopia. I will soon come up with, in a separate article, an in-depth appraisal of the “Opposition Political Parties” in Ethiopia and the reforms I believe that they must consider making.
V/ Assisting and encouraging the private media
An amicable and virtuous government-private media relationship is highly crucial to building full-fledged democracy. The private media is not only a source of information to the general public but it is also a source of essential information that could enable the government draft new policies or amend existing ones, make judicious and accurate decisions and take appropriate actions.
Therefore, I strongly believe that the government must assist and encourage the private media if it really is eager to accelerate the pace of the democratization process and obtain the maximum benefit out of the private media. The government’s assistance includes, among other things, earmarking some money that would be utilized in reinvigorating the private media in Ethiopia.
My conviction is that all citizens would be more than happy if the government performs the following activities that are directly relevant to the operations of the private media, both electronic and printed:
1/ Creating a conducive atmosphere where the journalists in the private media could set-up a formal association of the private media and elect their leaders/representatives without obstructions and intrusions of any kind.
2/ Introducing a new private press law that is accepted by and implemented in countries that are known for their democracy. This could be attained by employing any one of the following two different options:
OPTION-1: It would be better if the new private press law is prepared and self-imposed by the association of private media itself. This might require sending some private press journalists, who are selected by the leaders of the association of private media itself, to countries that are known for their democracy so that they could meet and discuss with private press journalists in those countries with the aim to obtain international experiences as well as assemble essential documents and laws pertaining to the operations of the private media in those countries.
This will enable the association of private media draft a standard new private press law which it will abide by. Of course, before the law is ratified by the government, the association of private media must carry out an in-depth discussion with representatives of the ruling and opposition parties and make essential amendments, accordingly. The government must, therefore, be willing to cover all costs associated with the short-term visit of private press journalists to other countries.
OPTION-2: If the new private press law is prepared by the government itself, it must be thoroughly discussed with representatives of the association of private media and leaders of opposition parties and essential amendments are made before it is actually ratified by the government.
This participatory approach to enacting the law will make both the association of private media and the opposition parties feel that their voices are being considered by the government and hence they will abide by the law.
I will not mention here the many flaws of the Ethiopian Private Media. I will soon come up with, in a separate article, an in-depth appraisal of the Ethiopian Private Media and the reforms I believe that it must consider making.
VI/ Candid communication with the diaspora
Almost all Ethiopians in the diaspora are victims of fabricated info that are disseminated by opposition political parties, various media outlets and former ruling party officials and ordinary members. It is, therefore, for this reason that we have been observing many Ethiopians in the diaspora blindly opposing the ruling party and showing reluctance to acknowledge and commend the ruling party’s comprehensive and marvelous achievements thus far.
If the Ethiopians in the diaspora were fed with correct information, they would have positively contributed to our country’s politics, economy and so on. It is unambiguously correct to say that there is no strong coordination and communication between the government and the Ethiopians in the diaspora.
In this regard, I recommend the government to perform the following activities if it really wants to see productive Ethiopians in the diaspora.
First, the Ethiopian Embassies must be instructed to hold regular meetings with the Ethiopians living out there with the aim to furnish them with correct and up-to-date information pertaining to Ethiopian politics, economy and so on and hear their voices as well.
Second, high-level government officials must visit, at reasonable intervals, countries where there are many Ethiopians and undertake candid discussions with them.
Third, all Ethiopians in the diaspora must be unconditionally allowed to visit their country, hold discussions with government officials at federal and regional states, invest their knowledge and financial resources in the country and so on.