By Getachew Beshahwred
Since the sudden and unexpected rise of a young member of the ruling party, Dr Abiy Ahmed, to the position of Prime Minster, Ethiopia has gone through a lot of phases within a short period of time.
The first phase was EUPHORIA, Uncontrollable Euphoria both at home and abroad. The excitement was huge and an unprecedented. There were huge demonstrations in support of the Prime Minister. There was huge expectation for the country. Almost everyone was filled with pride and hope. May be, we all hoped, that the country and its people after the years of hunger, death and torment, were now on the doorsteps of peace, freedom and prosperity. The ethnic division which was the bedrock of the former government’s political philosophy would be consigned to the ashes of history and would never raise its ugly and dangerous head again, we thought. The election of a young charismatic, educated leader from the Oromo party supported by the other main ethnic party representing the Amhara region was, we thought, a good Omen. In fact, both the Amhara and the Oromo people and their leaders worked hand in hand to bring about this change.
The Prime Minister did not disappoint either. He made excellent speeches and promising policy declarations and ambitions. He released political prisoners and allowed opposition parties and their leaders to return home without any preconditions (that may be the ‘beginning’ of the current problems) and re-established press freedom. He also brought about peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea and opened the border between the two countries, mainly for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a considerable achievement.
The second phase was DOUBT: The appointment of females to 50% of the cabinet positions, the elevation of women to the presidency of the country and of the Supreme Court and the chairmanship of the National Election Board were ground breaking. However, there were no major policy announcements, decisions or proclamations that would address the huge economic, political and social problems facing the country. Opposition parties and leaders and in some cases their armies which were allowed to enter the country, apparently without any preconditions, and self-appointed groups and ‘leaders’ were not fully challenged when they roam around the country spreading lies, fear and terror amongst the community. The free press was used by some to propagate hate and lies about the history of the country, its people and its leaders. So called experts and so-called professors were seen spreading falsehood on national TV, radio and newspapers.
“If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion or political leaning to the point that truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind.” (Dr Chuba Okadingbo).
This brought back the old racial tension. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes and so many lost their lives. Houses, business premises, and churches were burnt to the ground and in some cases local governments were part of the problem and the central government seems to be a bystander. This culminated in the huge disaster in the Amhara region which led to the Killings of its president and other leaders.
The same people who were excited with the prospect of peace, security and prosperity were now bewildered. The government was powerless to stop the violence against some of its people. This vacuum created a huge opportunity for self-appointed leaders and groups. This was a phase of doubt. But many still hoped that the PM and his government have plans which they have not yet told us, to deal with the serious problems facing the country. All are still waiting for that plan with hope and doubt.
The third phase: DOUBT & OPPOSITION
This is the current phase. Many of the same people who came out in support of the young prime minister are now on the opposite side, mainly not because of what he or his government did but because of what they did not. The government and parliament did not address the security and constitutional issues that could lead to the breakup of the county. In the worst possible scenario, it could lead to a civil war from which no one can come out a winner. This conflict, unless fully and properly dealt with, could lead to what is equivalent to ‘self-assured Mutual Destruction.’
This tension and disorder is created and promoted by few individuals and groups with their own agendas and who are supported by other, domestic and foreign groups, with their own agendas. These groups’ and individuals’ actions and words have in some cases led to the destruction of lives and property. Press freedom comes with press responsivity. If this freedom is abused and resulted in the loss of freedom and in some cases lives of others, the culprits should be held to account for their actions.
“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups (and individuals)… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.” Philip K. Dick (Writer)
“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” Jim Morrison (singer and song-writer)
The first duty of a government is the security of the country and its people and inaction cannot be an alternative, and delay in this case is the worst choice. It has to be dealt with now.
“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” (John F Kennedy)
The government should denounce, in the strongest possible terms, the individuals and groups responsible, for the carnage they created and instruct law enforcement agencies to take swift legal actions. The security forces should enforce the law and protect people and property from destruction. They should protect the country. That is their duty.
The government and parliament should be bold in their approach to amend the constitution and should at least immediately start public conversations, discussions and consultations. The move to change EPRDF into one national party is to be welcomed and other ethnic parties should follow suit and take themselves out of the ethnic based party system. Addis Ababa, should not really be an issue. Addis Ababa is the Capital City of Ethiopia and it belongs to all Ethiopians. This should not have been an issue at all. This is one problem deliberately created and left for us by the previous government. The city should be led by elected representatives and an elected Mayor as stipulated in the law. Any attempt to gerrymander any future elections, though tempting, should be resisted by all since any doubt on the results of an election could result in more uncertainty, tension and even more violence. This has to be settled soon. Addis Ababa is not only the capital city of Ethiopia but also of Africa. Despite repeated attempts by other African leaders to take away this honour to another African City, all past governments, including EPRDF, have successfully fought for Addis to remain the capital city of Africa. Other international organisations, as a result of this status, have offices and branches in Addis, which has opened up employment opportunities in addition to its considerable impact on the country’s foreign currency earnings. A capital city whose status is not settled and is rather a source of conflict cannot attract foreign interest and investment for itself and the country. In the United Kingdom, there are three devolved governments (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and England. London which is likely to be the capital city of any future devolved English Government, is the Capital of the United Kingdom; and England does not have a special claim over the city. London belongs to and is managed by Londoners , through its directly elected mayor and 32 borough councils and the City of London, ‘which provide the majority of day-to-day services for their local residents, including education, housing, social services, environmental services, local planning and many arts and leisure services.’
The final phase: FEAR OF THE FUTURE AND STILL HOPE: Unless the government is bold and wise enough, the current situation could lead to an armed conflict between ethnic groups and regions which could lead to a civil war and the destruction of Ethiopia as we know it, from which no one can come out a winner. Nobody wants that. However, the current state of play could lead to this last and destructive phase. The prime minister, in the last few months, made excellent speeches at the National Palace, the millennium hall and the National Parliament, etc. It should now be followed and supported by swift legal action against those who orchestrated this violence and destruction.
The government should address the security, ethnic and constitutional issues that were created by the same ruling party before it is too late.
The government has embarked upon a vast array of economic programs including the possible privatisation of some of the biggest publicly held companies. The objective is to attract foreign investors to the country. However, unless the security issue is addressed and fully settled this economic development plan would be in jeopardy. No investor would be willing to risk his money in an area and a country where lives, buildings, factories and premises would be at the mercy of uncontrollable mobs. Already even current investors are holding back on future investments and it would be difficult to attract new investors under current circumstances. Let us save our people and country first. The rest would then be easier.
The Award of the Nobel Prize, which in my opinion, is well deserved should not be taken to be just about past achievements. It is also about the future. This should give the Prime Minster more determination and energy to bring about unity, peace and security to the country of more than 110 million people. The international community is behind him. Despite the fear and doubts the Ethiopian people are behind him. We all want him to succeed, because his success is our success, his prize is our prize. Ethiopia and its people are the Nobel Peace Prize winners and now they have to live up to its standards. The world expects no less! Alfred Nobel expects no less!
Getachew is the Managing Director of GB & Co Limited, Chartered Accountants and Management Consultants, London. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org