columnBy Mikias Merhatsidk
It was 1969, the then Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the to-be president, Anwar Sadat, and the renowned Egyptian journalist and writer Mohammed Haikal were chatting in the Manrouh palace, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The to-be President Sadat said, according to historical records, "you see Nasser, you will leave a big challenge for the next Egyptian leader that comes after you because you have left him nothing significant to accomplish."
"You have got rid of the British and the king, you have built the greatest dam, you have pioneered pan-Arabism and changed the face of Egypt completely. I feel sorry for the poor guy that will follow you to the throne, because he will definitely be short of things to accomplish to impress his people."
Ironically, it was Sadat himself who got the dreaded job. Even though this is not exactly the case for the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, one can see some resemblance, as is the case for most successful revolutionaries.
But, this time around, the analogy between the two leaders goes a little further: both leaders passed before the inauguration of their flagship projects, the construction of the respective massive dams on the river Nile. And when we see the colossal grief that befalls up on the two nations after the unexpected death of their influential leaders, the similarity becomes uncanny.
Not surprisingly, though, not everybody shares this feeling. And this has passed to be a perfect example to show the widening political gap that seems to exist between the majority of population who reside locally and abroad.
The scale of the grief that followed the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was unprecedented, and had even forced some observers to go as far as cynically depicting the huge turn out as 'a coalition of mourners". Even then, the overwhelming feeling of genuine grief and sense of appreciation that was present could not be denied by anyone.
The real question should have been why the sudden change of heart and why the population was not able to see Meles and his government in this light when he was alive and kicking.
Many may have taken him for granted; it has taken all these years before the efforts and achievements of their leader and his party finally start to sink in. Some may have also been waiting for the government to pass its greatest test yet, the peaceful and wisely handled transition of power, albeit intra-party.
The answers to these questions will clearly shade alight on the socio-political dynamics of the country and will finally give some clue about what kind of political being the curiously-complicated character that Habesha is. For the moment though, a consensus seems to be rising from the tomb of the late premier
The consensus is not only about the personal ability and intellectual caliber that he had and what he has strove to accomplish with it, but also on the socio-economic and political frame work that he and his party have been trying to install in the country for so long. The relative peace and security that the system was able to maintain, accompanied by the laser-like focus that the government sustained on economic development seems to be sinking in the somber mind of the populace.
Lately, the party has begun to capitalise on these traits. The eventless leadership change that it was able to accomplish has preserved the sense of nationwide stability and has further strengthened the union.
Indeed, the peaceful power transition is really outstanding for a country like Ethiopia, with a population of ninety million and more than 80 ethnic groups, located in the most unstable region of the world, where meddling in other nations' affairs is all but common.
The peaceful process and the unexpected outcome of this power transition have caught observers of the Ethiopian politics off guard. The country that has got used to chaotic and bloody struggles during power vacuums was able to enjoy the subsequent stability after its first peaceful power transfer in its modern history.
This achievement has become additional impetus for the growing national consensus regarding the political administration system of the country. Even those people, who were very suspicious of the federal system that the ruling-EPRDF has chosen, are starting to wonder whether it is the right way to go. For anybody who has analysed the metamorphosis that the major opposition parties have gone through from the early days of multiparty system in 1991 to the present, it is easy to see this coming.
The recent turn of events in the Ethiopian political scene can be seen as the last chapters of the Ethiopian political movement that has started in the 1960s. Most of the questions of this era, which has gone on for decades, more or less rotate around land, ethnic identity, power distribution, religious freedom and the type of political administration that the country should have.
At the moment though, these and other major questions of the old generation are either answered, have changed their dynamics or have become obsolete. From now on, the question will not be about what kind ofEthiopiato create but where to lead the country to.
A kind of government that arises from federalist way of political and economic administration seems to be the way forward. And the consensus that is growing around this framework seems to guarantee the end of Ethiopian politics. This, in turn, will herald the beginning of a civilised political dynamics with ideology, policy and a whole new set of issues at the fore front.
In the last half of the century, the country has seen enough turmoil it does not have more time to waste trying to redefine itself and pass through another lengthy political transition. It is high time for political closure.
This Ethiopian form of political establishment that is showing positive results in recent years can be copied by other nations of the region as well, with similar socio-political situation like ours. In fact,Somaliacan be the first country of the region to take advantage of this example, as it struggles to form its first functional government in decades.
In addition to this, the strictly secular constitution and government that is present will guarantee domestic stability and help establish peaceful and strong international relationship in this heterogeneous world. This is particularly manifested in the outstanding relationship thatEthiopiaenjoys with both theSudans.
The former secretary of state ofUnited States, Henry Kissinger, once said that "smart leaders can lead their countries well, but only when they are around; however, great leaders establish the system, institutions and prepare the next leaders for their nations to prosper further, even when they are not present." Certainly, the achievements of Meles, in this context, are mixed and may take some time to show outcomes, because much depends on what we will see in the future.
Yet, we can say he has created a favorable framework for the next leadership. This definitely has made the work of the present leaders relatively easy.
The umbrella political, economic and social framework of the nation is more or less outlined and the country seems to be moving in the right direction. Sure, the incumbent still has to work hard to solve the huge problems that the nation faces. Yet, most of these problems revolve around the economic development and resource distribution and can be dealt with using the already existing framework, of course, with some improvement.
More than ever, the present leaders are expected to be transparent and accountable to the public. They should also stump on the growing corruption, before it fully institutionalises itself.
Before anything, though, the incumbent must open up the political and economic fields of the country for private enterprises. The unprecedented popularity that the administration is enjoying should give it the necessary impetus. And many other issues related to living standard, poverty reduction and the rampant inflation are also expected to be given the proper attention.
But many of these issues can be addressed through technical and tactical decisions, without bothering about major strategic shift. It is clear that it will take time, hard work and determination to accomplish these goals. However, considering the situation that was when the past administration takes office, the incumbent can be considered lucky. The need for smart, visionary, pragmatic and democratic leadership to accomplish all this is ever evident, but the time for strong man leadership, where most of the nation's directions and policies rotate around a single mind seems to be gone. From now on and well into the foreseeable future, what the country needs is a good manager and an accommodating leader not a state creator or political wizard. There is no need to worry about finding a person that can fill Meles' shoe, it is not neccessary.
Apparently, it is a high time to audit Ethiopian politics. This is especially essential for the opposition, residing both locally and abroad.
Most politicians in the opposition are stuck at 1991 or 2005, not to mention those who still wonder around with the mindset of the 1960s. The recent developments in the country's politics show thatEthiopiais at a threshold of a new political era. The country seems to be changing for good and it is better to realise this sooner than later.
The opposition has to be aware of this evolving fact and must reinvent itself. Rejectionist politics and empty opposition will not work, afterwards.
The present needs of the people ofEthiopiaare very different from what they were 10 or 20 years ago. And the populace finally seems to be on the path of political maturity.
Only concrete ideas, clear and better options will persuade the existing electorate. Young leaders that can inspire their contemporaries and help answer the questions of their generation should take over the opposition. The old guards should step aside and let the leaders of the 21st century flourish.
On the other hand, the government must get out of its way in creating a favorable situation for the upcoming young politicians and play its dominant role in the realisation of civilised politics. And hopefully these young leaders will push Ethiopian politics to the next frontier and start the struggle for the sovereignty of the world's smallest minority: the individual.