There is a broad consensus that party politics in Ethiopia, which dates close to half a century, has by and large been the anti-thesis of democracy. From left-leaning parties responsible for Red Terror, one of the darkest chapters in modern Ethiopian history, to the parties existing today the vast majority are alien to the fundamental principles of democracy.
Parties that live up to their name are wellsprings of policy alternatives; they are institutions articulating the views and interests of the public and the birth place of future leaders; they enable individuals and groups to pursue different political goals in an organized manner; they serve as platforms for the unfettered expression of diverse ideas; they are forums guided by a certain school of thought and course of action which gain acceptance after critical discourse; and they epitomize transparency and accountability. Are present-day parties prepared to embody these attributes? Do they possess the capacity eschew the politics of lies and deliver good governance. These and similar other questions demand an answer.
Though it's undeniable that political parties play a vital role in the process of democratization, the fact that over 100 registered parties are operating in Ethiopia has sparked an intense conversation. The merger of like-minded parties in recent weeks has given rise to hope that such consolidation will eventually result in the survival of a few strong parties and bodes well for the country and its people.
This said political parties of all stripes must first and foremost practice democracy internally. Preaching about democracy without living it first is the height of hypocrisy. It's an open secret that practically all parties are the personal properties of their founders or leaders. Such a state of affairs needs to be fundamentally changed if they are to become democratic themselves and adopt a pragmatic program reflective of the reality on the ground. The journey to democracy cannot succeed with the usual politics of lies.
A party conversant with the tenets of democracy and is committed to their implementation continually strives to deepen the political consciousness of its members and keeps abreast of local and global developments to help it make the right decision; its door is always open to frank discussions so as to forge a unity of purpose and action among members; it institutes a transparent and accountable system which has no place for rumor-mongering, conniving and backbiting; it enlists professionals and researchers to generate policies and strategies that appeal to voters; and it engages in a deliberate effort to purge itself of outdated habits and takes up attitudes and action in keeping with the times.
This is instrumental in ensuring that its members are informed, principled and set a positive example. Ethiopia has no need for ignorant parties that are intolerant of anyone who does not subscribe to their belief. An uninformed politician is akin to a rudderless ship. Sticking with the tired politics of deception is bound to rob one of credibility. A party lacking credibility can barely survive as a viable entity let alone accomplish its objectives.
These days the proponents of citizen politics and ethnic politics are engaged in animated discussions. It's sad and indeed a weakness to turn the differences between the two ideologies into an acrimonious battle. Isn't it possible to conduct a civilized dialogue among the advocates of both sides without name calling or labeling? Can't the divergence between them be accommodated democratically?
There is no reason why these rival schools of thought need to become sources of intractable conflicts. As the public is the ultimate arbiter of which one it wants to go with the defenders of each camp ought to best the other with superior ideas. It's impractical to engineer the hegemony of one of the ideologies but try wipe out the other. The objective conditions in Ethiopia now allow the free expression of all sorts of ideas.
Given the relatively broader political space prevailing in the country therefore resorting to bigotry is essentially not only undemocratic, but also irrational. Neither the public nor the nation has any use for parties which brandish democratic-sounding names but in practice reek of totalitarianism.
Ethiopia does not need a plethora of feeble political parties. The member parties of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies are in preparations to form a single national party. Meanwhile, some seven parties merged last week to create a new national party and a further five parties did the same this week. The consolidation is expected to continue apace and in due course winnow down the number of parties to a few.
This goes a long way towards ridding Ethiopian politics of archaic attitudes and traditions and putting an end to the long-running politics of deception perpetrated at the hand of parties comprised of cheats and self-serving individuals with an axe to grind. What Ethiopia needs are a few strong parties committed to serving the public, not a horde of weaklings that thump their chests whenever elections come around and disappear when they are over. If Ethiopia is to steer on the right path which benefits its people the politics of deception must be eschewed.