Oct 22, 2010

National Reconciliation and National Development in Ethiopia - Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD.

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD
This essay intends to reach out the Ethiopian government and the opposition by way of suggesting to both parties so that they can and should make efforts to iron out their differences and create a political climate, conducive enough, to enable the two blocs to sit in a round table for dialogue and for the peaceful and smooth development and transformation of Ethiopia. Sometimes, we have to have the courage to say a spade a spade and realistically approach reality and accordingly foster interests that can benefit the larger society and not the political groupings only. We must recognize that reality and perception do not always correspond, and as a matter of fact objective conditions do not necessarily manifest subjective wishes and entertainments. Above all, reconciliation, negotiation, and dialogue are designed to bring together opposing or opposite forces and not birds of the same feather that flock together. It is in this spirit, thus, that I like to write this essay and invite Ethiopians to seriously consider the agenda of national reconciliation if indeed they are genuinely concerned about the national development of their country.

For the sake of convenience and simplification, I will classify the Ethiopian political forces into four categories: 1) Diaspora Enclave Opposition; 2) Diaspora and Home Patriotic Opposition; 3) Non-Committed Diaspora Ethiopia; and 4) The EPRDF-led Ethiopian Government.

Diaspora Enclave Opposition: these opposition groupings are scattered throughout the Diaspora and they are haphazardly organized under ethnic affiliations and not under national Ethiopian agenda, although a significant number of them uphold the name ‘Ethiopian’ as their banner. Most of these groups are organized in enclave-cum-neighborhood type organizations that claim to be political but in effect they are civic or social organizations that have degenerated into sub-regions in the making of their associations and even their membership in the churches. Ethiopians who come from the same nationality, speak the same language, and profess same religion have chosen to congregate in separate churches on Sundays. This group has extreme hatred to the EPRDF government, and more specifically to the ‘Woyane’ regime as per their routine cajoling, to the extent of absurdity, if not outright insanity. This group is imbued with narrow ethnic agenda that is inimical to national development, and quite obviously it could not make a positive input in the unity of Ethiopia and/or the progress Ethiopia ought to make in the 21st century. This group is led and mobilized by flag waving upscale charlatans, as I have defined them in my previous writings, and its own organization and constitution has already undermined the unity of Ethiopians abroad.

It stands to reason that a national unity of Ethiopia can be attained only when Diaspora Ethiopians, irrespective of their ethnic differences, work together as Ethiopians. What we have now are artificially superimposed ethnic enclaves of Diaspora Ethiopians that have seriously jeopardized and undermined their unity. As indicated above, if Diaspora Ethiopians who belong to the same Ethiopian Orthodox Tewhado Church pray in separate churches, how is it possible that these congregations revitalize Ethiopian unity and contribute for the development of their country? It is insanity par excellence to have two St Mary’s and two St. Gabriel’s churches of Diaspora Ethiopians in the same district and same city, as is now the case in North America. Apparently these churches are meant to accommodate same ethnic groups, and the proliferation of ethnic associations, civic organizations, radio networks, and churches are reminiscent of a primordial primate culture that clings together and despise others that are perceived as different from them.  And unless these Diaspora Ethiopians transcend their present state of mind and liberate themselves from their comfort zones (enclaves), they have no hope whatsoever to make a difference in Ethiopia’s progress.

The Diaspora Enclave Opposition lacks uniformity in outlook although it is rallied around the anti-Woyane front. Within this group, there are innocent Ethiopians (mostly youth) who do not really understand the complexity of the politics in Ethiopia; there are elderly men and women who could careless of who governs what, but by virtue of their ethnic identity they stick with their artificially fashioned community; there are sensible professionals and intellectuals (insignificant in number) who advocate an inclusive Ethiopian agenda but would not want to be ostracized by their extreme enclave comrades; and finally, there are elements who are morally retarded and psychically equipped with appalling ignorance and arrogance.

Some elements in this group are slick and have played double standards in their dealings with the seating government in Ethiopia. On the one hand, they have ostentatiously exhibited themselves in public squares, along with the innocent multitude of their brethren, in the condemnation of the ‘Woyane’; on the other, they go to Ethiopia “for a visit” and buy land, houses, and also open up businesses. Yet, some of this group has surprised their own comrades for being renegades and for joining the rank and file of the EPRDF. These hypocrites are loud enough in drumming their comrades-in-arms in the Diaspora that ‘Ethiopian wealth has been and continue to be transferred to Tigray at the expense of Ethiopians’ although deep down in their hearts they know that Bahir Dar, Awassa, and Nazreth equally, if not more, have flourished and have shown economic transformation in recent years. Even if we believe their perception to be true, what these blindfolded politicians seem to have forgotten is that Tigray is also a quintessentially Ethiopian state that must, as a matter of course, share the dividends of the Ethiopian wealth.    

Diaspora and Home Patriotic Opposition: A significant number of Ethiopians who organized themselves in the form of civic organizations in the Diaspora and political parties at home in Ethiopia, and who relentlessly and without flinching defended the unity and sovereignty of Ethiopia; struggled for the establishment of broader democracy in their country; and who made sacrifices of the Ethiopian people belong to the Diaspora and Home Patriotic Opposition. This Ethiopians are the torchbearers of freedom and heirs to the fallen heroes whose bones have littered the four corners of Ethiopia.

This group includes well-meaning Ethiopians including scholars and professionals, civic organization leaders, Ethiopian community leaders, advocacy groups and activists, political parties and coalition organizations that are not allowed to operate in Ethiopia. Of these groups, however, the oppositions that played a crucial role in Ethiopian politics are the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) during the 2005 election and the Federal Ethiopian Democratic Forum, popularly known as Medrek (forum in Amharic), in the 2010 election. Both organizations have enjoyed substantial support from Ethiopians at Home and the Diaspora, and although following the 2005 election CUD leaders were arrested, released, and then encountered fragmentation, they still had a good following. One solid group that carried the banner of CUD is Andinet, a formidable group that ultimately joined Medrek.

Following the 2010 election, the eight-party coalition Medrek has merged into a single party and vis-à-vis the current politics of Ethiopia, this was a very important move but it could have been more effective had the Coalition done it before the election. In any event, the current merger would still enable Medrek to garner more support from the Ethiopian people in the future because it would mobilize its forces as one party and not as eight splinter groupings.

The Patriotic opposition, both at home and the Diaspora, is relatively strong compared to the enclave group, but the Home opposition has countenanced major shortcomings due to lack of funding, lack of media access, and its inability to organize conferences and/or rallies due to government contravention of rules that permitted Ethiopians to organize and assemble freely. The shortcomings of the Diaspora Patriotic that belong to this group, on the other hand, are manifested in many ways. Unlike the Home front, this group enjoys broad democratic rights including staging demonstrations, freedom of speech, access to media, access to congressmen/women in the US and member of parliaments in Europe, and also its ability to raise funds easily. Despite these distinct advantages, however, this group was not able to forge a united Ethiopian organization. It is splintered into plethora of political entities, and despite repeated efforts made by some elements within this group to bring about its many organizations under one overarching organization or under one coalition party, some of the coalition in fact suffered faction degeneration and amoeba-like fission politics. On top of this debilitating problem, the intellectuals, scholars, and professionals who belong to this group were reactive for the most part and not proactive with respect to Ethiopian politics. They are unable to fashion an organic political program for Ethiopia, as other parties have done during the heyday of the Ethiopian revolution in the 1970s and 1980s.

Moreover, the Diaspora and Home Patriotic Opposition did not exhibit acumen in politics especially in its dealings with the ruling party. Instead of employing the art of politics in promoting its interests, its overall performance was tainted by principle at best and ideology at worst. Ideology indeed is a guide to action and principles cement the infrastructure of a patriotic movement, but if the opposition depends on programmatic principles only and does not include some Machiavellian astuteness in its operations and is confronted by a cunning countervailing force(s), it can crumble like a house of cards. It is because of this ideology-cum-principle yardstick that the patriotic group was unable to employ politics in all its dimensions and broad range attributes, including initiating dialogue with the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Given the reality of Ethiopian politics of the last two decades and the propensity of the foreseeable future, the Patriotic group must consider the possibility of negotiating with the EPRDF. It must shed its cocoon of principles and liberate itself from the ideological tenet and resume talks with the ruling party. The fear of “if we do so, we will entrust legitimacy to the EPRDF and confuse our members and supporters” is lame rationale compared to what the opposition could favorably garner great strides in Ethiopian politics.

The Patriotic opposition, in fact, should learn from the CUD debacle in the post-2005 election. In 2005, the CUD managed to win sizable urban votes and virtually took over Addis Ababa in its entirety, but instead of advancing its interests by entering the parliament, it refused to do so. The CUD forgot that Ethiopian politics was Third World politics (and not Western liberal democratic politics) and created unnecessary gridlock in most obsidian rigid fashion, and demanded rather an outright takeover of the government. Then, I personally wrote an article in which I argued that the CUD must enter parliament and then negotiate from strength with the incumbent party. It did not do it and the result was obvious to all of us: It lost everything and its leaders ended up in jail.

The current Patriotic opposition, thus, must not see negotiation and dialogue with the government as a sign of weakness or as gesture of legitimacy to the ruling party. Quite on the contrary, talking to the government could mean strength on the part of the opposition, and it could also, by default, promote the interest of the opposition and the Ethiopian people in the long haul.

In negotiating with the Ethiopian government, Forum should respect and acknowledge the achievements of the EPRDF while criticizing the white papers and overall political performances of the latter. It should not accept preconditions set forth by the government. However, acknowledging the achievements of the government is a sign of strength and not weakness, and to be sure I myself (a foremost critic of the current regime) have, for instance, written in admiration of the pre-election debates in my article entitled Pointers of Justice and the Ongoing Debates in Ethiopia on April 10, 2010 (please view this link, www.africanidea.org/pointers.html). Similarly, I have written another article in support of the completion of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam (see Ethiopia Must Complete the Construction of the Gilgel Gibe III Dam in www.africanidea.org/Gilgel_Gibe_111.html)  because I strongly believe that, beyond politics and above everything else, the national development of Ethiopia must come first.

Non-Committed Diaspora Ethiopia: This group represents the many silent Ethiopians in the Diaspora who do not involve themselves in Ethiopian politics in any way, shape or form. They are the quiet multitudes that seemingly enjoy the sanctuaries of college and university campuses, the offices of international development agencies, research and development institutions, and private businesses. This group is not organized under civic or political organizations, but it can broadly be divided into three groups: 1) elements, like the Enclave group, who frequent churches and traditional festivals in spite of its aloofness; 2) apathetic elements who could careless of politics in general and the current affairs of contemporary Ethiopia; 3) elements who gave up on politics completely as a result of prior adverse negative encounter, but from time to time they nonetheless entertain politics in local cafes and Ethiopian restaurants. They are like a tree that falls in the middle of the jungle and no body can hear the noise it makes. However, I do not have any quarrel with or reservation on the Non-Committed Diaspora Ethiopia. After all, politics sometimes is cruel, nasty, and disgusting, and above all Diaspora Ethiopians must earn their living in fiercely competitive environments. After depicting and recognizing the harsh reality of the Ethiopian Diaspora ecology, I am in favor of leaving the non-committed Ethiopians alone, but I am still hoping that at one point in time they too join hands with patriotic Ethiopians in the historic uplifting of their motherland.

The EPRDF-led Ethiopian Government: the EPRDF has assumed state power either by pure historical accident or by dint of political fiat; or even by carefully crafted design, or by a combination of all of the above. Logically, thus, whether we like it or not, the current seating government of Ethiopia is the EPRDF-led government. This rationale, however, does not automatically suggest that Ethiopians in the opposition must yield everything and initiate dialogue with the government and in the latter’s favor. On the contrary, it means that the government does not dictate the nature and outcome of the negotiation process; it also entails that the government must not have the upper hand in the talking arena.

First and foremost, the principle of negotiation demands and requires equal footing of the negotiating parties, if at all it is going to have a genuine fruitful result. It is in this spirit that I like to suggest to the Ethiopian government to initiate dialogue with the opposition, especially with the Diaspora and Home Patriotic Opposition. .

The recent dialogue and negotiation of the EPRDF-led Ethiopian government with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is not only the right track in politics; it is also a promising endeavor in fostering peace in Ethiopia. By the same token, the release of Birtukuan Medeksa from prison and the accommodation of Eritrean students at Addis Ababa University (as my good friend Professor Tecola Hagos has observed) are good gestures for reconciliation. And as my other good friend, Professor Teodros Kiros, noted in his new book, Philosophical Essays, and to which I had the honor to write a blurb, a good constitution can be mobilized “in service of humanity and produce a good moral condition of citizens.” The ultimate objective of national reconciliation and national development must be to produce good Ethiopian citizens, and not simply to foster technical development devoid of morality and justice.

If the EPRDF-led government can enter dialogue with the ONLF, it can do so with Forum or Medrek especially if it transcends selective and preferential politics. The politics of both parties could be at variance or situated at extreme sides of the continuum, but both must understand that divergent perspectives enriches a society in transition and brings meaningful and enduring transformation.

On the other hand, mono-directionality of flow of ideas, or in its worse form, “my way or the highway” attitude could be bad politics. This kind of politics could be detrimental to the very existence of a nation because the two sides could go to great lengths in destroying each other. The 2005 election, for instance, despite its manifest democratic process, exhibited mutual exclusion (if not destruction) of the EPRDF and the CUD. And it is not surprising, thus, that the ruling party and regime were haunted by paranoia long after the 2010 election ended. So, ultimately reconciliation would not only heal wounds and aggravations on both sides, but it will also preserve the sanity of the contending parties, and by default contributes to Ethiopia’s positive national development.

If the EPRDF-led government is ready to initiate dialogue and negotiation with the opposition, it must first recognize the potential input to development that the opposition could make. Secondly, the Meles government must tolerate and engage strong rivals rather than systematically avoid or isolate them. Thirdly, the government of Ethiopia must seriously rethink its ethnic politics in the administration of Ethiopia if the developmental state indeed is going to be successful. Political fragmentation in contradistinction to national development emasculates the latter’s objectives, and the EPRDF ought to transcend the current kilil (regional) politics and foster a pan-Ethiopian development without undermining the relative autonomy of the regional states. There is nothing wrong for the latter to ran their own affairs and flourish their respective cultures and languages, but it would be counterproductive for the people of one regional state (e.g. Tigrayans) not to invest in other regional states (e.g. Oromia). The EPRDF government could not bring about meaningful transformation in Ethiopia unless it first corrects the technically narrow kilil agenda.

On the other hand, if the EPRDF initiates a more inclusive politics, iron out its differences with the opposition, especially with the opposition that is eager to contribute to Ethiopia’s development, the newly restructured Ethiopian politics will dialectically reveal new opportunities and it may even deliver unexpected but promising vistas for future generations of Ethiopians.

The government, more than the opposition, has the wherewithal to change the political environment in Ethiopia, and if it is willing to do so it must invite the well-meaning patriotic Ethiopians who are willing to join hands for a better Ethiopia and for the welfare of the Ethiopian people. This kind of gesture on the part of the government, in turn, will create a positive political ambience that would have a great density of interaction, great effervescence of ideas, and a favorable atmosphere that can altogether bolster Cultural Revolution as precondition to economic development. The government must preside over a national reconciliation forum not simply with the intention of permitting democratic rights, or sharing power, but also in enabling the opposition to participate in national development at all levels. Politics and development are gregarious, and that is the bottom line that I am implying to when I call upon the opposition and the government to make a historic national reconciliation. Without the participation of the Ethiopian people, development would become ideal chimera of economic salvation, and without reconciling differences of all groups, the Ethiopian nation could not move forward. Both the opposition and the government must carefully gauge the present globalization where regional cooperation has now become a necessary ingredient to respective national developments; the recent revival of East African Common Market is one good example of paving the road to development beyond national politics. The opposition and the government also must have the decency to treat each other as opposites of the same coin in politics and as partners in the development of Ethiopia, and not as enemies.

Good luck to Ethiopia and Ethiopians!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright © IDEA Inc. 2010. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for constructive and educational feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org      

Source: http://www.africanidea.org/national_Reconcillation.html

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