Opportunity for Enhanced Unity
Teshome Beyene Berhe
Congratulations to us all as citizens!
The deadlock is now broken; and broken in a delightful way. Fingers crossed, we won’t witness the day-to-day death and maiming of citizens of the last three years. One thing, we have now a leader, apparently of great consequence. However rugged the process may have been internally, the public showing of the party and parliament in the nomination of Dr Abiy for the premier position is full of civility. The new PM is received with applauses and cheers. Who would have thought so?
I am trying to rein in emotion. All the same, I say it is a special day of civility. And, Haile Mariam, immediate past PM, has gone with a dignity of a statesman. First, his resignation was done in a composed and responsible manner. Then, for 45 days, he carried out official duties with no sign of a leaving PM. And, today, he has had his charm around while handing over the baton of power. So, fabulous.
The scene of the appointment of the new PM is moving – unprecedented for the country. The PM appointee, a young man of early to mid-forties, made a calibrated and principled speech. Honestly, never have we witnessed such a unifying moment as this one on the parliament floor. Just for once, the parliament has been gripped with electrifying turn of event. And, for citizens, it is a big sigh of relief from three years of uninterrupted unrest and uncertainty. For our children, it is a lasting lesson of civility.
To start with the mundane, Untypical of Ethiopian politicians, Dr Abiy’s speech had a personal streak to it. He praised his late mother and wife. There is an observation to make here – a personal story of fortitude and love embellishing a political sermon. This is a fresh example of EPRDF’s long traditions getting a jolt, only to be surpassed in its freshness by the manner of Abiy’s ascendency to power.
Dr Abiy covered many salient issues of the nation; and with the right tone. He dwelt on the meaning of democracy and its innateness for us all, irrespective of where we hail from. By implication, he did away with ‘democracy is a luxury for Ethiopia’ kind of sophistry we often are subject to. To put it briefly, what stands out in the acceptance speech is the heralding of hope, and a hope that radiates more so in full coming as it does when hopelessness has taken the grip for long.
He has scaled the concept of ‘Ethiopian Patriotism’ to a new height. It is a clean break from the transactional definition of the country by the EPRDFites. For almost three decades, the bulk of the narrative was one of nations and nationalities, effectively precluding the grand concept of ‘Ethiopia’. Ethiopia, in EPRDF’s political treatise, is reduced to a convenient alliance of nations and nationalities, as agreed upon through the constitution of 1994. Not as if Ethiopia has trudged through a couple of thousands of history, but as an oversized concept of grandeur. The EPRDF in fact goes to the extent of espousing the idea that Ethiopia was re-born in 1991 and lifted out of the edge of an abyss. Abiy so rightly described Ethiopia in the context of sacrifices in blood. For that, he mentioned great places of martyrdom, Metema and Karamara among others. Once again, diverging from the mainstream party predilection of painting Ethiopia as a preferred unity of purpose, he couched it in a language of abstraction of romantic love and glory.
He also dealt a mighty blow to hatred, division and prejudice. He did not need to use the twin over-used political clichés of the EPRDF, narrow-mindedness and chauvinism, to wage an assault on these human disorders. We should be happy to hear what we for so long were longing to hear, a speech cleansed from ideology-infested murky terms of the last 43 years. This is a departure of and in itself. It presages that the government, under the new PM, is in for an inclusive and least alienating political path. That is what we lacked for so many years and something that sidelined so many in the country.
Let us not get it wrong. It is not as if one should stand against the significance of the right of nations and nationalities. These are realities to fully acknowledge and in fact to celebrate. However, the celebration of the right of nations and nationalities should never come at the expense of individual freedom and patriotism on a large scale. Actually, I go beyond contemporary thinking and stipulate that there is a better way of promoting the values and cultures of communities than what the EPRDF takes pride of. One could put forth the challenge of why we should think cultural values of the Wolaita community belong only to the Wolaitas. They must be cultivated in such a way that all others in the country would willingly embrace them as Ethiopian values. Are not we richer as a country by so doing? Cannot we think of a system that caters better to the aspirations of our communities than the dogmatic point view of the EPRDF to treat communities as ‘stand-alone’? Why should the language of the Tigray people be confined in geography and application to the territory of the region of Tigray, when it could well be embraced by the rest of the nation? Is not Kitfo now a national dish graduating from the narrow confines of the Gurage community?
Equally striking is the fact that Dr Abiy, as a point of departure, referred to the political opposition as partners in nation building and not as detractors which many in the political mainstream tended to depict as. In referring to them in palatable Amharic term, he showed a human face of a statesman in the making.
It threw to the wind the opportunity provided to it coming with the winning of war with Eritrea. Unfortunately, victory was soon followed by a wide fissure in the dominant party, the TPLF; chipping away at the significance of victory for building of unity. It also squandered the opportunity provided by the nationwide grieving over the death of Meles Zenawi; with a tedious hymn of ‘Meles’s legacy’.
It is apparent that Dr Abiy has come to power with a sense of independence- nothing of the sort of legacy that Haile Mariam was ‘suffering’ from. He is also ages separated from the generation imbued with marxism, lending to them a bend for a ferocious struggle. I seriously think that he will put his own mark on the political ground. It looks likely he will broaden his personal space of leadership, not yielding to the overwhelming political tradition of collective leadership of the EPRDF.
Ultimately, however, it is about walking the talk. That is the test of Dr Abiy as a leader.
Long live Ethiopia ! Long live Unity