By Selamu Alemu March 6, 2018
Some five years ago, a sister magazine of Jeune Afrique, the African Report featured a special article on Ethiopia titled “The rise and rise of Ethiopia.” Today, to the regret of many that narrative is changing and changing not for the better but for worse. That is very unfortunate indeed. The logical question to raise is what went wrong and why? Who is responsible? How is accountably is ensured? And what and who are responsible for the state of affairs the country finds itself in? These are critical questions that need to be addressed head on, urgently and without any further delay.
There is a strong sense of uneasiness, hopelessness, frustration in Ethiopia. The tension and violence since 2015 is unabated and does not show any sign of ending and it warranted the reinstating of the state of emergency. While there are divided opinions on the necessity of the measure, many strongly believed that the country needed it badly to get some space and to undertake the political reform initiated by the party and the government. There is rampant lawlessness in the country and law and order are in disarray. Lack of respect for law and law enforcement agencies are not signs of political maturity and civilized method to address grievances. The country cannot afford to destroy its hard-won infrastructure and investments. More importantly, Ethiopia, cannot afford to destroy the values, unity and solidarity forged by Ethiopians over the centuries.
The ruling party, in a soul-searching exercise of deep renewal, attempted to define how and why things went wrong. Only a year after, the situation not only remained unresolved but worsened by day. Apparently, the deep renewal did not take the country far enough. Understandably, the Executive Committee of EPRDF met for over two weeks and concluded its appraisal of the state of affairs the nation finds itself in. In a rare self-confession of any democracy, liberal or otherwise, the Executive Committee boldly and squarely put the blame on itself and admitted that it was responsible for the mess the country faced with today. This attribution, although not new to EPRDF, still reflects its revolutionary democratic character. That is hope to capitalize on. Secondly, in a rare approach, it did not stop there but also apologized for the electorate from the bottom of its heart for the low point where the country is in. However, that alone is not sufficient enough, only action will count. That is what the public would like to see happen on the ground. In this case, each day counts and there is real need of sense of urgency. Members of the ruling party did also go through their rituals of self-appraisal as per the direction set by the EXCOM. According to the head of the secretariat of the EPRDF Council, the stakes were very high, and expectation of the public was also raised very high. Some even defined the meeting as make or break! In the words of the leadership, the country is at cross roads. Whether the outcome of the 17 days marathon meeting, as stated in the press release, was the right direction or not, opinions varied from support to blanket rejection, revealing the typical polarized Ethiopian politics.
Of course, one point must be reiterated, what responsibility and accountability measures were taken by the Executive Committee of EPRDF after making such a brutal self-criticism? That is when and how the public would take the leadership seriously. To continue in the business as usual manner will not help ally the concern of the public. To that effect, the resignation of the PM from both party and government leadership set an ultimate measure one could impose on itself, which was a rare one in Ethiopia and in Africa at large. It was welcomed by both his party and the ruling coalition. By any measure, the decision is a responsible one and will go down in history. However, it is mind boggling and disturbing that his comrades both in the government and in the party, both at the federal and regional states levels, buried their heads in the sand and wanted to let it go just like that. Unashamed of their actions or inactions, we observe some of them are positioning themselves to succeed the prime minister and engaged in power struggle, which they condemned in their appraisal meeting. Is it morally and politically right and acceptable for those who have been taking collective decisions with the PM sparing themselves from the political crisis as if they were not responsible for any of the debacles in the country? Can they really wash their hands and apportion all the blames on one person? How do they want the public to really put their trust on them? How do they want the cadres and rank and file of the party see them as role models?
There should be accountability and responsibility and the least they could do is refrain from presenting themselves as candidates for the leadership position in the party and in the government. I do not think they can do anything better than the Prime Minister who actually was victim of the power struggle and network within the ruling party. I do not believe that they can do anything different now that they could not have done so far. Resignation of one person alone is not enough and others in the inner circles both at Federal and regional level should also take a lead from PM Hailemariam.
The hard question to raise again is what is the countries real problem? What are the root causes of the challenges Ethiopia is currently encountering? What are the genuine and legitimate issues that the public are demanding from the government? And why the government did not or could not address them head on? These are the real questions that require real answers. Therefore, there is a need to agree on the definition of the problem. As they say identifying the problem will take half way to a solution. The country and the peoples of Ethiopia cannot afford the usual rhetoric from the leadership. While the bold admission and apologies by the leadership are the right declaration, only action on the ground can mend the broken trust between the government and the public.
We are in an extraordinary situation that requires an extraordinary leadership. Live and let live approach has no place now. Time is of the essence to display the true revolutionary and democratic character of the EPRDF. Those who have faulted should account and hold responsible. The culture of impunity must stop. The leadership should distinguish between the good and bad apples among its ranks and files. That is why the subsequent appraisal by member parties of EPRDF appears to be not deep enough. Clear, difficult and hard choices must be made, either to siding with the system and the public or saving the faces of individuals. I hope, the leadership, in the name of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the cause of peace, democracy and development, would choose to be on the right side of history. Both history and the peoples of Ethiopia will judge the leadership favorably or harshly depending on the choice they make.
As the ruling party, the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front is under the scrutiny of its members, supporters and the general public for obvious reasons. All eyes are now on the council of EPRDF. Now, all eyes are watching the immediate action to be taken by the leadership. EPRDF is not only a political party but a government leading a nation of over 100 million people, a nation characterized by multiple identities and diverse cultures, languages and religious beliefs, political orientations and ideologies, among others. The organizing principle for the governance of Ethiopia is stipulated in the Federal Constitution of 1995. The constitution provides for not only a federal republic but also a democratic one. The choice of federal democratic republic was inevitable, given the political history of the country. The country in its long history was a unitary state governed from the center, the center far from the governed. The center was also undemocratic and was unable to respect fundamental human and democratic rights. The deprivation of fundamental rights and the state of abject poverty the masses found themselves in, was intolerable and hence the revolt by the peasants led by several armed groups, many of who were national movements who fought for the liberation of the nation they represented. EPRDF is a coalition of four such fronts and movements.
The ruling coalition is led by a revolutionary democracy program, a program mobilizing the mass in a democratic manner to overcome the huge challenges of backwardness and poverty. No doubt, the country under EPRDF witnessed unprecedented growth and progress in all social, economic and political frontiers. With clarity in policy and strategy, and implementation of same, the living standards of the people improved steadily. That trajectory is still being sustained. Despite the gains made, the last three years have been exceptionally demanding and challenging both for the party and the government. No one would disagree that Ethiopia is at cross roads. But why? What went wrong? What are the public demands? The Federal Republic has all the necessary fundamentals that could serve as a guiding principle for building new Ethiopia. The constitution of the land that provided for the federal and democratic republic, guaranteed basic and fundamental human and democratic rights, decentralized the governance structure and allowed self-administration and self-determination. These tested in practice and delivered results, however not to the satisfaction of all constituencies. People are expressing their dissatisfaction and anger in different ways and manners, from street violence to prayers, the implication of which is how desperate the situation is. What choices do we have as a nation? Obviously, we are not yet at the end of the road! I believe the nation has the wisdom and the resilience to pull itself out of the current abyss. The belief is not out of context, because the Ethiopian nation survived all odds let alone now even in the past. Against all odds, Ethiopia can still prevail.