The last 30 years of Ethiopian political history have brought the hard, bitter problems of ethnic injustice to the surface. These issues were previously not handled properly or avoided altogether. So there is a benefit to having them exposed. But these issues which have been brought to the surface have also created a very serious danger to Ethiopia’s unity, because of the way that they have been abused. As we move forward, we have to use wisdom and caution. If handled well, these problems which now dominate Ethiopian politics will lead to a strong and healthy country. If not, they will destroy the country.
Right now, the ethnic tensions are causing violence and threatening to break the country apart. But being exposed, these tensions can be handled with wisdom and courage. If so, they will help to heal past wounds and lay the foundation for a strong and unified Ethiopia.
A revision of the country’s constitution is necessary.
The other necessary thing is an evolutionary change in the mindset of the educational, political and social leaders of the country. They will always have a strong role in shaping Ethiopia’s future. They have to look upon this role not as an entitled privilege but as a responsibility. They have a historical burden. They have to work to change the narratives that inform their own outlooks, and that shape the discussion and policy-making that will have an impact on Ethiopia’s future.
These leaders must work towards a consensus among themselves. They are capable, if willing, to work out the compromise that will make such a consensus possible. They should set aside their own agendas. They must put the well-being of Ethiopia and Ethiopians at the forefront of any narratives and actions they undertake. Through reconciliation, they can help re-establish a more just foundation for the country.
The flexibility that such a compromise requires is strength, not weakness.
It is understandable to be worried, to feel threatened by the ethnic tensions that are now simmering. But the dangers have a silver lining. If we work hard, we will not only heal past wounds, but we will come out of this period with future immunity to the dangers of ethnic injustice.
Along the way, we have to relieve the future from the burdens of the past. Future generations of Ethiopians should be able to live and dream without having their fathers’ and grandfathers’ errors casting a shadow upon them.
We must not be preoccupied with the errors only. Our fathers and grandfathers have also done much good and sacrificed a lot to try and give us a country. The errors and wrongs must be seen and understood. But they should be balanced against the good and ultimately forgiven. Focusing on the evil done will only create more evil. The cycle has to be broken.
Ethiopia’s history reflects a pattern that is familiar in the context of world history. We have a long history of kings and emperors. We have had a revolution. For the last three decades and more, we have had a government and system that has established ethnic federalism. There has been a lot of blood and many abuses of justice. But it is possible to see our entire history in a positive light. All the governments have been part of a historical process that has been characterized by necessity, a process that has been inevitable. If we look upon the phases of our history as necessary steps, then we will find it easier to imagine our future, and to work towards it.
Right now, we have to move back from the edge of disaster. We have to do all we can to bring young people back from the senseless, inhuman ethnic violence. A small accidental injury or illness of a single person is a crisis. We fight to keep infants and the elderly alive. How can we tolerate the violent slaughter of innocent multitudes by their own countrymen? We must believe that educating the mind away from destruction and hatred will make the transition a good one.
The key to change is creating educational and economic opportunities for the upcoming generations. When basic needs are not being met, when resources are scarce, the population is in danger of following the demagogues who are eager to take advantage of the dark side of ethnic politics. If young people have a dependable future, then they will not be manipulated by ethnic populists with tribal agendas. They will not be susceptible to the short-sighted, short-term advantages of ethnic populism. They will see the greater possibilities of a strong federal nation based on constitutional law.
At the other extreme from compromise and unity is secession. Historical experience shows that this would be a terrible option. The new, smaller states would be at constant war and intrigue against each other. The leaders of these states would most likely be ethnic nationalists. Unable and unwilling to solve their social, political and economic problems, they would resort to blame and hate-mongering . There would be endless border wars between these small states. Instead of progress and life, there would be bloodshed and refugees. Being weak, these new states would always be prey to larger and more powerful nations with designs on their resources. They would become countries with an endless stream of refugees fleeing from them, dominated and disdained by other nations. The only ones who stand to benefit from such states would be the ruthless manipulators who would get rich off the misery of their own people. It is very unlikely that the people of these new states would do better then, than they would in a unified Ethiopia. It is unlikely that these new states would have leaders like Nelson Mandela, leaders who would focus on human rights and rule of law.
There is hope so long as some of us remain engaged in dialogue. Force and intimidation can be turned back by a firm refusal to submit. Many doubt whether Ethiopians are mature enough for a democracy. They are. This will quickly become evident when the democratic process is widely and genuinely implemented. In time, people will reject leaders who rely on demonization and division. They will reject leaders who seek to arouse their worst instincts: suspicion, victimization, anger and hatred. The people will prefer leaders who can given them and their children secure, prosperous, peaceful futures, leaders who respect and enforce the rule of law.
There are many who have doubted Dr. Abiy Ahmed. It is becoming evident that he is neither naive or timid. The part of him that has caused many to doubt him is proving to be his strength: his reluctance to react with violence, to lead by example, to seek negotiation and reconciliation first. In many ways, Dr. Abiy embodies the attitude and outlook that are likely to take us through this period of uncertainty and change. The change is happening. We just have to hold on to the good aspects of the change and beware of the bad. We have to keep adjusting the narrative to help us find our way.
The change is here to stay. Rather than fear the change, or focus on the dangers that this change brings with it, we need to embrace the change. This means our thinking needs to undergo an evolutionary change. We must not fixate on the perfect and overlook the good that is attainable.
There is a great responsibility awaiting those who have a privileged position in our society. They have the intellectual means and the resources to help their countrymen towards the future. They must choose reason. They have to set aside their personal preferences and advantages. They must look for the greater good. By doing so, they will avoid being part of the problem. They will become part of the solution.