20 January 2013

Ethiopia: Democracy Hinges On Minority Rights


In the popular election of 2005, Addis Abeba's voters cast their votes based on an irrelevant parameter, "who talked much in the campaigns?" If there is anything in elections that could be taken as a factor of resemblance to the entertainment industry, it is the taste of freedom the electorates enjoy.

Election is a race of political actors, whose result is decided by the people based on the sole factor of the general public interest. But, in the Ethiopian case, the electorate considered it as a process in which the most humourous candidate must win, even if the same choice provided minimal attention to the national interest.

Candidates are elected not to please the electorate. Nor should they rejoice in the taste of power and live for themselves. Candidates are elected to withstand the pains of power and to live for the national interest.

Elections are not contests of personal eloquence. And this rule has no exception.

Every time I recall the election held in Addis Abeba in 2005, it occurs to me that it resembles a hypothetical imagination of a mid-bus whose motor fails due to various internal and external factors. The driver is carefully driving the car, barred from accelerating at the required speed due to traffic jams and unsuitable roads. The driver's assistant begins to complain to the driver. The passengers, then, replace the driver with his assistant, without verifying if he has the skills to drive or not, as they believe the problem relates to the driver. Eventually, as things get worse instead of better, they must place blame on their own ill-considered decision.

Similarly, in 2005, the local political opposition gained the votes of urban dwellers just because the latter failed to deeply analyse the choices before them.

The real reason for the refusal of the political opposition to take on the City's Administration is its fear of poor performance that could not match the triumph of its campaigns. The poor performance would have denied them votes in the coming election. Thus, they created various pretexts for their refusal to take on the office.

Generally, though, the failure of national efforts to deliver democracy is highly intermingled with the absence of sufficient access to education that prevailed for centuries, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

So, how is this undeniable essentiality of education for the development and democratisation ofEthiopiasupposed to be available to those who need it desperately?

Efforts made to this end must start with a realistic understanding of the diversity of the Ethiopian people, in their history, culture and tradition.

A child learns best in her mother tongue, especially in the early stages of education. The realisation of the right to getting an education in one's mother tongue was one of the biggest development challenges inEthiopia. And, rightly, it was a political issue.

The right to education would have been meaningless if it did not imply, in favour of its beneficiaries, the right to be educated in their favourable language. On the other hand, it is submitted that a state must respect the freedom of individuals to teach, for instance, minority languages in schools established and directed by members of that minority.

It is in this sense that the right to be educated in the language of one's own choice belongs to the core content of the right to education.

To reach all those who remain deprived of basic education opportunities,Ethiopianeeds equity-enhancing policies. These are pivotal for widening access to education without discrimination or exclusion.

As societies are increasingly becoming multicultural and multi-ethnic, respect for cultures, language and values, especially through education, is crucial for promoting mutual understanding and harmonious interactions between people and social groups.

In the absence of their coexistence the nation cannot function properly.

Beginning from 1991, the local political scene is dominated by the controversy on these kinds of minority rights. It hosted opinions of polar extremes from people of various walks of lives.

Part of the political opposition's campaigns in 2005 focused on the constitutional provision that favoured diversity to dominance of a majority. Though, it is currently fading away, much of the debate on the political scene was dominated by issues on the right to self determination of nations and people.

It was also the most endangered right of groups in the middle of the political raw in 2005. Beneficiaries of this right, especially the Ethiopian minorities, were worried that the progress it brought to them would be reversed.

The right to self-determination, as recognised under the Ethiopian Constitution, has two aspects - internal and external. Internal self-determination allows the people broader control over their political, economic, social and cultural development. External self-determination, on the other hand, involves the right of the people for cession, but in the due process of law.

Giving less attention to such a crucial human right, as most of the political oppositions did in 2005, would indeed be a disgrace to the national democratisation effort. Neither would it be fair to undermine access to such basic rights at the expense of quality, the way local oppositions did.

In looking at the level of regard they have for the rights of minorities, I always get confused on whether political oppositions inEthiopiaare ready to govern. Much of the evidence shows otherwise.

 Tagel Getachun is an advocate in law. 

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