2 April 2018

Ethiopia: In Defense of Liberal Order

column

It was only last month since former State Secretary of the United States, Rex Tillerson, visited Ethiopia. For his arrival coincided with the decision of Hailemariam Deselagn to resign from his premiership, rumour had it that he had come to pick a new Prime Minister.

Donald Yamamoto's, acting assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, statement that the United States is "looking at not only the transition of a prime minister but ... the strengthening of institutions" did not help.

The United States should not tell us who to pick or not pick, many said. Ethiopia is a sovereign country that should have the right to choose its leaders, cultures and path, was how the general vibe went.

The Western world has indeed held it upon itself to right the wrongs of the world, or at least what they believed are the wrongs. They have at times blatantly, other times, overtly, chosen to embroil themselves in the problems of other countries.

They rig elections and donate and give loans worth billions of dollars as a means of catering to governments. They export cultures, influencing the worldviews of the youth, not to mention the loss of the host country's cultures.

China has been a fresh breath of air to the world here. It is a rare country to say that a country's political and social reality is, by and large, its own business. As long as one does not quote the Dali Lama and settles their credit in due course, all is good.

Had we existed in a world that knows no violence, I believe these two competing worldviews - that of China's and the United States' - would have been boon for the germination of many new ideas. That is not to be, and the two superpowers are aggressive in their competition.

They are settling their differences in Africa, as well as most continents on the planet. For we are a more advanced generation only soft power is being used to influence countries to choose sides.

Unfortunately, too many are drifting away from the side of the Americans: the liberal order, which has given us close to 80 years of relative peace and prosperity.

What is worse is why people are being turned off by it. I would understand and would welcome the debate had it been based on reason. I find that it is not often that people are against some of its basic concepts like support for democratic forms of government, or a free-market economy. But what has put the liberal order in trouble, in Ethiopia at least, is the inherent motive of its progenitors such as the European Union and the United States.

Both pour money into Africa in the effort of currying favour from the government, having ideological supporters on the world stage and fewer immigrants that could strain resources and swell the labour force back home.

It is true that most countries that do good things for Ethiopia are mostly looking out for themselves. But we do the same, such as with Somalia. We send forces to the nation to fight extremist groups, less out of compassion but to have a more stable neighbour with a working government. There are no unfair outcomes here.

It is naïve to believe that all the engagements by Western countries are innocuous, or mutually beneficial. Some could indeed be detrimental to the well being of our citizens or the economy, and it is essential for governments to remain vigilant. But such actions should be understood as a function of the shortcomings of Western governments, not the liberal order.

Not everyone in the world has to believe that free and fair elections are a good thing. That would make the world a worse place, not a good one. Not everyone should follow similar belief systems, about society, politics and the economy. If they do, then there would be no reason to reinforce pragmatic worldviews, such as free and fair elections. Worse there is no incentive to come up with a better process of selecting individuals that can lead to a more efficient and fair government.

This is not radicalism. It is a call for the need to accept and appreciate competition between ideas. It is a liberal way of thinking, which encourages nuance. Without it, we remain dodged - sentenced to a narrow vision that offers an incomplete picture. Conceptions of the world should be flexible; otherwise, they become a religion. It would mean all subscribers of that outlook have to abide by a specific set of rules, where breaking them would amount to a sort of blasphemy.

When a person changes a worldview, it should be based on reason. Emotions, passions, and conspiracy theories must not figure into it. There is a reason why Ethiopians, including Millennials, remain doggedly conservative. It is because we never understood what liberalism entailed. It is a worldview that is flexible; it can change at any time as long as it is reasonable to do as such.

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