By Kebour Ghenna
Everybody in Ethiopia wants a solution to the current political problem …and something that works. Unfortunately there can be no solutions until the problems are clearly exposed. The country is bankrupt, investment has literally stopped, the Diaspora is going back, the country is polarized along ethnic lines and key political leaders don’t talk to each other. It’s like an apocalyptic movie playing out in real life.
From the ideological conflicts that dominated the Derg regime we have moved to ethnic conflict, tribal atavisms, identity politics, led and nurtured by cynical politicians who politicized and manipulated ethnic identities to gain or retain power. Obviously the creation of nation-states out of multinational Ethiopia did not help to unite the country, rather hastened its break-up. No doubt that there will be hell to pay when the patriots, or protestors, or ‘Keros’ or ‘Fanos’ (whatever you want to call them) with nothing better to do come out onto the street.
Apparently nobody knows what the heck they’re protesting anymore.
Are they protesting over economic security and insecurity of individuals and groups, the relatively better off and worse off, over public expenditures and redistribution under conditions of growing economic austerity? Or is the fight still over state power and political rights, now based on ethno-nationalist claims, not alternative ideologies and parties?
No one is clear. But one thing is sure: peace is not their goal.
A constant in Ethiopia’s political history is that our leaders were for the most part never ready for the politics of peace. Arguably they did not have the skills or attitudes necessary to govern democratically. They did not have ability to compromise, cooperate, and dialogue, and readiness to be tough on the issues, but not on the people.
The current leaders got also things confused. They underestimated the difficulty of steering Ethiopia away from the quicksand of the destructive ethnic politics. They were quick to please their foreign audiences and align internal priorities and policies to their demands. Not having addressed in meaningful way the governance issues that divided the country, they failed to face the future and rise above divisive politics, and ‘zero-sum’ politics.
So what do you think, Dear Reader?
A solution is not likely to come from one corner. Today, we all understand that at the core of Ethiopia’s political and social make up, no one group can impose a solution to the others. Ethiopians have discovered and now value diversity, and this is what could have made the country strong, if country is what we want.
In an increasingly polarized and violent national landscape, our political leaders unfortunately do not seem to want to engage in real negotiations and stop demonizing each other. Across the country, ethnic politics is hastening further decentralization of power away from federal actors toward local officials, at the expense of national cooperation. An ever growing number of major decisions are taken by regional state actors. Call it what you wish the sound of things falling apart has become too loud to ignore.
The transition toward a leaderless country is now complete. No matter how long PM Abye Ahmed remains in Arat Kilo without a solid party backing him, his future seems doomed. Ethiopia, once a solid polity in the region, is now a wild card. Instead of a single country that wants to move forward in all its diversity, it’s now becoming the single biggest source of regional and international uncertainty.
“Thank God we don’t live in Ethiopia,” you might say to yourself. But that’s just the point; you may soon.
You see ethnic conflict has become the one solution preferred by today’s politicians around the world. Indeed, the demand for national ethnic rights was in fact an attack on the corrupt, repressive, brutal character of the regime (as embodied in the federal institutions and economic policy). But by justifying those ethnic rights on ethno-nationalist grounds, on the claim that the state of Ethiopia was artificial or dictatorial, or both, the propagandists deprived social democrats, liberals, socialists and other left or right wing secular forces of any grounds for debate. These forces are silenced by the simple act of non-recognition. They have no space for protest and mobilize.
Isn’t time to seek for international mediators who can broker a temporary solution? Maybe!
Look, we have a rocky road ahead, and 2019 will have more than its share of decisive political moments. Starting with elections, I can’t see how it can take place in the current situation. By the way, “Free and fair elections” should not become an “Ikea” kit for democracy, so why not start considering staging a national conference to seek solutions to the many existential threat the country is facing?
It’s a prospect that deserves more serious attention and debate than it’s gotten so far.