20 November 2012

Ethiopia: Working Toward a Tolerant and Participatory Political Environment


The Ethiopian government has just called for the need on the part of opposition political parties to strengthen themselves and to play an active role in the collective effort to realize a democratic and developed Ethiopia.

Similar calls have been made in a number of occasions so that opposition parties will take advantage of the existing participatory environment and carry out their national obligations, for that is the reason of their establishment and functioning. Ethiopia is one of those African countries that have shown great strides, in the last two decades, in the creation and sustainment of a dynamic political environment the ultimate aim of which is to establish a free, creative, law-abiding and democratic society. The basis of all this transformation was laid several years ago in the form of a constitution that had taken into consideration the country's multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural background.

One of the earliest benefits won by the Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples was the new political order made possible due to the armed victory of freedom loving groups and individuals over authoritarianism the last of which was the military junta toppled over in 1991. Since then, good governance, rule of law, the rights of nations and nationalities and citizens, freedom of expression and political organization, and so on have been introduced. No matter what the prevailing circumstances of the previous two decades, these values have been advanced as part of the country's priority agenda without which the citizens' social, economic and cultural needs could not have been answered in any meaningful way. The establishment and functioning of political parties, unhindered by any limitation but what the Constitution upholds as critical for our unity without compromising our diversity, are some of the many concrete pieces of evidence one can offer with firm confidence.

This journey of the country on the road to democratization has not continued without its own challenges, the ups and downs, certainly to be expected in any country under any circumstance. Even the advanced western countries toward which every aspiring country regards as pinnacles of democracy have had to learn their lessons only the hardest way. Going a few centuries back into their history is enough to understand that democracy is not a free commodity for anyone to reach out and grab as much as one can. The struggle for parliamentary rule against the random rule of a royal despot at the close of the seventeenth century in England was won in exchange for blood. The French Revolution, however its ending was, had at the centre of it the urge for freedom and equality, a struggle for power to determine one's own destiny. Our own recent history has a lot more to say in this regard if we stop and try to look back. However fair and benevolent a despot is, he or she does not easily give up the source of the power on which every advantage depends on. The point here is not whether the struggle is between individuals or political parties, but the difficulty to withstand the consequences following the loss of incumbent power. How else can one explain the struggle that has been going on over Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution?

Otherwise, after centuries dictatorship and oppression that was bordering the making of chattel slaves out of citizens, a swift and smooth transition into a full-fledged system of democracy in a country like Ethiopia is everything but realistic. In order to make things realistic, it is important that political parties study the situation on the ground, see how anomalies can be dealt with so that smoother transition becomes possible no matter how long this transition takes. No one can rationally argue the absence of anomalies in the Ethiopian historical political circumstances, even now. One anomaly that has led to, for instance, resistance to own Article 39 is the denial of, especially, ethnic diversity within the Ethiopian political aggregation. Another is the push toward unconditional unity as Ethiopians against all odds. And yet, one cannot fail to see that there is nothing much to lose--but gain instead--by eliminating these anomalies, for the very existence of these anomalies is a contradiction of one's professed adherence to democracy. Like charity, why does democracy not begin at home?

The call for opposition groups to participate actively in the democratization and development of Ethiopia is a laudable act that should go even further. Creating a participatory environment begins with building up of trust among all the political players. As long as political aims--and, thus, actions--are honest and non-violent, all aspiring to leave behind a positive legacy to subsequent generations, there is no reason why animosity--rather than beneficial competition--should prevail.

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