Calls for inquiry commission, public discourse on ethnicity-charged politics in Ethiopia

August 29, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

Reuters photo



Alem Hailu G/Kristos



The rumor mill has it that behind the curtain there are forces that instigate ‘to dos’. Why? How could they be defanged? What other simmering factors are attributable to such ‘to dos’? Assessing the past three trends, what are the lessons and corrective measures Ethiopia’s reformed government could take?


I approached the politician and businessperson Bereket SebSebe who noted that the country is due to embrace a distilled democracy thanks to the initiative of the new premier. But how to kick-start work presupposes taking stock of the reality on the ground. “In a way that is not devoid of a miracle, there are individuals who shot up from rags to riches in a short period of time coming from a jungle,” he said.


He further noted “How could those who indulged in improprieties and those on the other end of the scale move forward creating a national confluence? The two can hardly occupy the same boat, for the former ones have an axe to grind— insulated against accountability keeping on sponging a nation.”


He also said “Those who illegally amassed wealth in billions with impunity, as evidenced lately, could wreak havoc here and there either directly or using Trojan horses. There will be no stone they will leave unturned. What prohibits them from hiring mercenaries?”


Hence, to move out of uncharted waters, as the saying goes, ‘once bitten twice shy’, instituting a highly neutral commission of inquiry composed of true and disinterested Ethiopians that were diplomats on the continental or global arena is exigent. Those that do not say ‘I hail from this ethnic group’ or that must be prudentially singled out.


After independently handling tasks, the commission will present its findings and panaceas for the government to act accordingly. All the more so, bickering and dissensions the attendant ills of the challenges mentioned earlier, seem to pervade the current political atmosphere of Ethiopia.


According to Bereket, the commission could have dual purposes illumining the right political avenue and solving economic problems getting embezzled money back to the government’s coffers.


As a think thank, members could also throw light on road maps the reformed government could pursue to forestall fracases. This way the premier stands a chance to devolve responsibilities. Problems that are sources of conflict must get answers round a horseshoe table, as to him.


He stressed, mending wrong turns made by the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) must also be made a point. “Prior to the coming of EPRDF into the political scene, citizens used to cherish a nationalities feeling. The then borders were dispute free. It sure will be good (if) a recourse is made to them.”


There is no gainsaying Ethiopia must pursue a pluralist system. Conducting research on the federalism system copying the best fit for Ethiopia is essential. As to him, the federalism that Ethiopia currently pursues is one that contravenes anthropological views— the linage of human beings is the same. “I think it attempts to confine human beings in terms of blood, flesh and bones. It does not work. As such it should not come as a surprise that a person who belongs to a given ethnic group does not believe another belongs to it. Such a thing was not there, it is the Machiavellian gesture of the unreformed government that gave rise to such a thing.”


He went on to say “If we see the international scenario, there is no race called Germany. It is those who live in German who are called Germany. There is no race called French. Those who live in France are French people.”


Constantinos Berhetesfa, professor in public policy, said when Derg chased out political parties and assailed party members the latter sought refuge retreating to their respective communities for protection. It is from this unfolding that political parties, which lean on ethnic politics, proliferated when the transition government came into life. EPRDF and it allies are among them. The same is true with the competing ones. “But ethnic politics is not amenable to democracy. That is why countries like Ghana banned ethnicity-charged politics. Ethnicity should not be a prospect for differences. It rather has to be a source of unity. As witnessed in the first AU meeting, Africa opted not to espouse fragmentation in a bid to be socioeconomically sustainable.


He also said it sure is good political parties are organized along their outlooks. They have to come up with respective political programs based on socioeconomic thinking and the ideals of democracy. Ethnicity was not a question of Ethiopia. For instance nobody asked about Mengistus ethnicity.


He said “As a way forward the aforementioned issues have to be brought to light for a political discourse. True to Dr Abiy’s enunciation of unity, we have to stress the issue of Ethiopianism. Pertaining to regional set ups the country has to make a recourse to its former provincial and Awraja administrations that were put in place in consultation of experts well versed in political geography.”


Simply putting enclaves of ethnic groups in the administrative framework doesn’t work. Such a bent could create a hotbed for corruption, genocide and religion-based conflicts. Also, there is a call for banning political parties organized under ethnic lines. Deepening the political awareness of the citizenry and strengthening ideals and institutions of democracy must also be made a point,” he underlined.


Bereket noted that enunciating love is not something to be opposed or fully contradicted. I neither fully support nor fully oppose Dr Abiy Ahmed. What is needed is a clearly defined legal framework.


Democracy, equality and the rule of law have to be there. During the emperor Haile Selassie regime though there was a parliament – it was a rubber stamp one since the decision making and directive giving body appended to it could not take a stand in favor of an issue that contradicts the emperor.


Dilating on the comparison, he said during the Derg regime as the government was pursuing socialism it was killing whoever opposed it, cruelly appropriating properties.


He added, the revolutionary democracy, the incumbent before reform, was vacuous as, like cats and rats, revolution and democracy could not go along. Revolution entails detaining, killing and appropriating property. The party highlighted the world democracy to win the favor of the IMF, World Bank and liberal countries. Hence, hearing promises about democracy and window dressings towards that end, donors thought democracy was taking off the ground. A dupe they released funds.


Prof. Constantinos seconded the idea; “Revolutionary democracy in our country’s context seems one party’s desire for an inexorable grip of power to continue with one party. Doing research, we better develop our indigenous culture of democracy like Gada,” he said.


Regarding lessons the reformed government could take from the previous two regimes and incumbent before reform, Bereket suggested three things:


Creating provinces interweaving ethnic groups like Chebona Gurage, Yefatna Temuga, Hayekochena Butajera, among others, was the strength of emperor Haile Selassie. Taking lessons from the emperor, a mindful of natural resources and equitable distribution of wealth, it is possible to redefine the federal states in some groups. It is possible to name them either in numbers or other common features.


He recommended taking timely punitive measures on offenders discourages similar provocative moves. I remember hearing Mengistu Haile Mariam saying “We breakfasted those who thought us for lunch!” Though I do not believe in killings it is sagacious to emasculate those who have ill intent.


Lastly, giving a kiss of life to the country’s economy is a lesson that could be drawn from Meles Zenawi.


Property rights should also be given due attention; “Starting from the reign of empress Zewditu onwards a new government was ousting its predecessor by force. This fad resulted in the appropriation of properties. Citizens should be held accountable to the properties they own by unfair means whenever a new government comes or the old one gets off the scene. On the other end of the scale, they should get protections to their legal properties.


That is, things have to be constitutional specially regarding land and residential houses,” he concluded.





Alem Hailu G/Kristos

A published poet, novelist, editor, translator of masterpieces, literary critic, playwright and journalist from Ethiopia. M.A holder in literature, Addis Ababa University.

Looking for a traditional publisher of a collection of poems. My novel: ‘Hope from the debris of hopelessness’.

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