Ethiopia: Is Freedom Deserved?

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(File photo).

There was a popular post circulating on social media two weeks ago. It suggested that it was becoming safer for Ethiopians to walk around in Asmara, capital of Eritrea, than in Ethiopia. Some people thought it was humorous. Many more believed it was too close to reality to be funny.

It is often said that social media is a window into the soul of society, often emphasising our most unflattering instincts rather than our better parts. But it is a window nonetheless. And it projects, in not-so-many characters, the predominant theme of our conversations with colleagues, friends, family and relatives.

It is not uncommon to feel that sense of hopelessness in real life that tweet tried to evoke. Parents are afraid for their children and citizens are scared of seeing a nation permanently divided. Anxiety is in the air, and most of us believe that burst of optimism - which we experienced beginning months ago at seeing change - has already dissipated. The tragedy of its briefness is disorienting as is the intensity with which the change is being pummelled.

What this has given way to is the belief that, perhaps, we do not warrant freedom. There is a feeling that the lack of freedom of speech and organising in the past was not only because past regimes wanted to protect their grip. Perhaps they merely saw the beast that may be unleashed unless it is held back by a state adept at meeting force with more devastating force.

It is getting harder and harder to reprimand people for thinking this way. After recurring mob violence, it seems naive to argue that humans are rational beings who in the end want peace and prosperity and that we just disagree on how to get there. The practice of blaming some obscure group, political organisations or federalism along lingo-cultural fault lines is becoming stale.

We are reaching a point where we believe that the fundamental humanist attributes are missing and that a great deal of the problem lies within society, not just some political entity or system.

What this does is strip us of our respect for a fellow human. We become less modest, more arrogant. We are starting to believe that freedom belongs to those that can understand its limitations as well as its benefits. We become the very people that harbour the toxic belief that democracy must only come after a large middle-class or an "educated" mass are in place, instead of through democracy. We begin to think like the very autocrats that tried to fool us as such.

For a second there, people believed that it was the three years of political unrest that brought Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to office that closed the book on lack of democracy. After that, it was just a matter of negotiation, where representatives of the diverse groups in Ethiopia will sit down to craft a system that delivers us straight into the hands of justice and democracy, or so we thought.

Evidently, it is much more complicated, not to mention an ugly affair. Someone recently told me that, indeed, it will get ugly before it gets better. But there is no definitive precedent for it. There are nations where worse has happened and still does. Some have made it through, others were utter failures.

There is a grave difference between societies that were not able to be defined by the base instincts of the mobs within them. The majority kept trying to reach the light at the end of the tunnel, not being afraid of the darkness that almost engulfed them in the meantime.

There is no theoretical and scientific reason that a nation seething with diversity should not be able to find the middle ground. It is not utterly inconceivable that we cannot carve out a state where all and sundry can coexist if everyone was willing to compromise and rationalise more.

It just requires faith in the belief that human beings are rational and deserve the freedom they now feel they have.

Law enforcement evidently needs to be bumped up, and we need to stop justifying violence as if these mobs were duped into perpetrating atrocities. But we need to remain steadfast in our belief that human beings are rational and that we will be proven right if we do not compromise on our insistence for a nation where justice and reason prevail.

Even if "good" loses the battle, it will nonetheless win the war.

 ( Christian Is Fortune's Op-ED Editor Whose Interests Run Amok in the Directions of Both Print and Audiovisual Storytelling.

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