In chaotic politics pragmatism is key

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By Bakri Bazara

There are a lot of talks about the current political situation in Ethiopia. People of different political persuasions have been contemplating the sticky political situation in Ethiopia and wondering if peaceful solutions will ever be found. The hope of most people is for the incumbent government to set the stage for competitive politics to take place and smooth the way for citizens to elect the political party they think will best represent them. A simple public need, but hard for Abiye to fulfill.

With the coming of Dr Abiye Ahmed, it was hoped democracy would finally dawn on Ethiopia. But the politics transpiring in Ethiopia in the last few months point otherwise. The credibility of Dr Abiye as a facilitator and unifier has been put in doubt by some, his sayings and actions in the past few months have dismayed a lot of people. Each day we are surprised by how the political openness initiated by him is eroding. We observe the usual tactics of denigrating opposition political parties and hints of intimidation of opposition party leaders and functionaries who are challenging the incumbent government. We see Dr Abiye’s government twisting the arms of the opposition groups and digging traps to disadvantage and curtail their campaign activities and utilizing the state’s resources to have hegemony over them. what is more alarming is the government’s covert repressive actions against dissident civilians and opposition party affiliates. A worrying number of civilians , including journalists, were imprisoned and some killed, all done under the pretext of “ securing the country” and “ preventing lawlessness”.
Although some of the reforms made by Dr Abiye’s government such as the freeing of political prisoners and the introduction of a degree of political openness such as free speech, free press , and freedom of peaceful assembly are praiseworthy, even those are kind of limited in scope, and there were times when those basic democratic rights , guaranteed by the constitution, got trampled on. And herein lies the familiar problem of newly democratizing countries in Africa : the incumbent government uses all kinds of subterfuges to impede the full exercise of democracy, circumventing democratic rights when ever it feels it is expedient to do so.
There has been a number of complaints by NGOs such as Amnesty International and the CPJ ( committee to protect journalists )concerning human rights abuses by the current government. Ironically, there is a sense of deja vu, we have all seen this happen before, the nearly three decades of treading on citizen’s basic civil rights by the former government still arouses great resentment in most us. To see this happen all over again , despite the incumbent government’s avowal of a reformed government , only indicates how our leaders are stuck in a rut, unable or unwilling to be true to the people they govern.
Incidentally, I was watching a previous episode of ‘Up Front’ on Aljazeera , 14th February, 2020, where Mehdi Hassan was interviewing Lencho Bati about Amnesty International’s report on human rights abuses by Abiye’s government. I was embarrassed to see him blatantly deny the reports. This is some one whom I had great respect for his moderate and practical political views and for his unwavering stand against the dictatorial rule of the previous government. I juxtaposed another interview where Lencho and Getachew Reda were interviewed in the same program, June 24th, 2016, where the interviewer, Mehdi Hassan, asked Getachew Reda about Amnesty International’s then report of human rights abuses by EPRDF/TPLF. In that interview, Getachew, in his classic arrogant way, vehemently denied all accusations leveled by the human rights watch group. In this interview you could see Lencho Bati, who was in exile then, passionately exposing the regime’s repressive rule and enumerating incidences of human rights violations. And now with the reversal of fortune, we find, pitifully, Lencho as one of the chief consultants to Dr Abiye, a la Reda unashamedly denying Amnesty International’s report of human rights abuses in Ethiopia.
Understandably, the political problems raging in Ethiopia are a product of a history of authoritarian rule. It is a symptom of a political culture where those in power will do whatever it takes to preserve their hold on the state by whipping the populace into submission. When Dr Abiye arrived on the scene, it was hoped he would change all that and steer the country in the path of genuine democracy. But the results so far has been a mixed bag. On the one hand we see a glimpse of democracy in operation, on the other we seem to be pedaling back to authoritarian rule.
Some say, his recent foray into using military force to confront the various ethno-nationalist militias in the different regions of the country is an only solution that would preserve the unity and integrity of the country. They think it is due time for Abiye to wield and use his club more and start knocking heads more often in order to eliminate extremist ethnic-nationalists who seem bent on carrying out a putsch. Others think he has gone a bit too far in opting for a military solution than exhausting all peaceful means of resolving the political entanglements.
Some people believe Dr. Abiye’s hand has been fettered, to a certain degree, by the political upheavals surrounding him. To start with, there is the challenge of the dysfunctional state he inherited from the previous government. This was the state which was based on the federalism of ethnic nationalities , which ostensibly seemed to have devolved power to the ethnic states, but in reality was steered and controlled from the center by the ruling party, EPRDF, which, in turn, was tightly reined in by the real power behind the state, TPLF. The reforms he initiated were meant to revamp the state, overhaul it, and make the state machinery operate flawlessly and transparently. Even here, he has been facing a strong resistance from die-hards of the old party, who have a vested interest in not rocking the boat and continuing in their habitual exploitative and repressive political conduct.
He also had to deal with the explosive issue that have polarized Ethiopian society: a democratic unitary state or a federation of ethnic states. These opposing political views, which is at the heart of Ethiopia’s problem, and the attendant violence which has been raging throughout the country, has been a mind-boggling affair that has been stagnating the whole political discourse and rendering Abiye’s government ineffective in taking a decisive action to move the country forward. And you add to this political complexity the onslaught of Covid-19, which is slowing down the already faltering economy, and the increasingly vociferous verbal exchanges with Egypt over the construction of the dam on the Nile, all these problems are occurring simultaneously , which if not attended to dispassionately, carefully scrutinizing the needs of the various political actors and consensually finding a mutual solution, would throw the country into disarray.
Dr Abiye needs to stay on top of these developments before it further spills out of control. He should in good faith reach out to the legitimate opposition parties and convince them that their political campaign to get their party elected would be unhampered by the government and that when the election gets held, at some future date, it would be free and fair. He should continue having a dialogue with the various opposition groups, but it needs to be carried out honestly and not burdened by hidden agendas. The suspicion by the opposition that the government has been intriguing to steal the election must be dispelled. Each side needs to be upfront with their needs and not prevaricate about the goals they are trying to attain.
But looking at the current interactions between the government and opposition parties, it seems they are working at cross purposes, and this is most likely to end in a clash. Unless Abiye and opposition party leaders set aside their own political ambitions and through consensus find a political arrangement that serves the interests of the people and come up with a solution geared at bringing peace and prosperity, the country would be bogged down in a mire that would be hard to extricate from.
So, it is incumbent on all political elites, in government and in oppositional political parties, to tread this complicated political transition very carefully. The incumbent government basically needs to strengthen democratic institutions—- a strong parliament that is accountable and responsible, independent judiciary, vibrant civil society and an unflappable press. These are the priceless institutions that need to be firmly established to deter any corruptive practices in government. The role of Abiye’s government, then, besides securing the country, is to build democratic institutions block by block and set the stage for an unblemished election to take place. As long as Abiye , in good faith, attempts to transition the country into a real democracy, he would easily garner the support of a significant number of the population.
The opposition, the legal ones, need to cease prevaricating. They need to be honest with their constituency and the rest of the population as to exactly what they are after. They should not have two different agendas simultaneously operating, one for their constituents and another for political discourse with the government. They should not continue pretending that they are all for a peaceful change in government and at the same time whip up their constituency into a frenzy and surreptitiously condone their going on a rampage. If it is a putsch they are conniving to attain, they are badly mistaken. They should not underestimate the strength of the incumbent government and the support it gets from the population at large. The viable thing for all the opposition to do is to formulate programs that are meaningful to the public and devise an effective campaign to win their votes. Short of that, it would be risking the lives of millions of people by steering the country into a possibly senseless internecine war. The lives of millions of peoples are in their hands. As leaders, they should advance the interest of the citizen ahead of their selfish interest in money and power.
The events that unfolded recently points that some in the opposition are treading a dangerous path. Again, we see a clamor by some in the opposition, mainly Oromo nationalists, to fill the minds of their base with hatred and incite violence against other ethnic groups. OLF leader, Daod Ibsa, denies having anything to do with the armed insurrections in the different regions of Oromia. He had said on numerous occasions that he is pursuing his political goals through the ballot box. It’s hard not to believe this calm and soft spoken person, but some warn not to be fooled by his genial manners. Underneath his amiable demeanor lurks a deep seated resentment against what he perceives as Amhara colonizers. In fact, in exile, he used to refuse talking in Amharic, insisting that he could not express himself in that language. Surprisingly, we now see him in various talk shows expressing himself in Amharic at the highest level, better than some native Amharic speakers.
A few days ago, the violence in Ethiopia escalated a few notches higher. An icon of the Oromo protest movement, singer Hachalu Hundessa, was gunned down in the capital, Addis Ababa. Immediately the capital was flooded by incensed Oromo protesters, predominantly young, known as Queros, some of whom wreaked havoc on this city of approximately four million. Amidst peacefully protesting Queros were also unruly young Oromos who were full of rage and driven to wanton infliction of injuries on innocent non-Oromos, destroying cars and business establishments. They turned what started out as a peaceful protest into a riot. This chaotic situation got further out of control when the government decided to take Jawar Mohamed , a leader idolized by the Quero, into custody. In the process, a police man was shot by one of Jawar’s security officer. The government announced that Jawar would be prosecuted for the murder of the police man by his security officer and for inciting violence through his media outlet , the Oromo Media Net Work. His political mate, Bekele Garba, was also arrested under the charge of inciting violence. we now have two top leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress party behind bars.
This whole political turmoil is driving back Abiye to depend more on his instruments of coercion to bring about total security. I kind of saw this coming way back in December of last year. In an article I wrote on Zehabesha.Com, December 1st, 2019, titled : ‘ the errant politics of political groups in Ethiopia ‘, I concluded the article with the following passage :
“ It is evident that Mr Abiye is saddled with problems from several fronts. At the same time, the public expect from him an immediate resolution of the security problem and set the stage for the coming election next spring. How he will manage all those forces arrayed against him will be closely watched. So far, he has been very cautious in his dealings and only dangled the carrot to appease his antagonists. How long before he brandished his stick is anybody’s guess. “
In the eyes of a lot of people, it is time Dr Abiye starts using his stick more often. When a country’s existence is at stake, peaceful citizens don’t mind condoning a leader with an authoritarian streak. If it is to secure the country and its integrity, then a reasonable crackdown on civil liberties would be tolerated.

4 Comments

  1. If a transitional government or a care taker government was put in place the politics would not have gotten this chaotic to begin with.

  2. Unfortunately the real person behind the fake name Bakri Bazara misses the essence of what’s unfolding in Ethiopia with cheap political shots . Obviously the method of applying practical solutions to the current state of confusion and disorder is not a new or original idea. What’s familiar, however, is that its simply a regurgitation of his other long discredited screen name Teshome Debalke whose last infamous utterance was subjected: “Al Jazeera political hit job against PM Abiy of Ethiopia is dumb right gutter,” which was basically a similar trash talking of the same Aazeera journalist who happens to be the graduate of UK’s prestigious Oxford University and host of Up Front Madi Hassen (an elite) who interviewed Lencho Bati (an Ethiopian “elite”). Sounds familiar? It brings to mind the infamous dream that once had of a faceless and sometimes visible man that tries scam after scam for several years but none are ever truly successful. Then the con man decides to use one of his donkey decoy IDs to take the blame for his crimes. Interesting, right? Ethiopia is Wax and Gold.

  3. know a TPLF stooge when I see one. when are you people going to stop your destructive manners?A cat may go to a monastery, but she still remains a cat.

    May God protect Ethiopia from the evil eye (buda).

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