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Envisioning the Prospect of the National Dialogue in View

By: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh

 

  1. Introduction

What Explains ‘National Dialogue’ as a Contemporary Notion is difficult to determine in precise terms.

In an ordinary parlance, national Dialogue is a notion to collectively denote a series of consultations on an issue or issues of critical concern to a country to arrive at consensus to a tolerable degree. Nowadays, It has become an ideal platform for conflict resolution by having been primarily used to facilitate a peaceful platform for a political settlement in a given setting.

According to Susan Stigant and Elizabeth Murray of the U.S. Institute of Peace, “national dialogue is an increasingly popular tool for conflict resolution and political transformation capable of broadening debate with regard to a country’s trajectory beyond the usual elite decision makers”.

 

Nevertheless, they equally contend that it may also “be contrarily misused and manipulated by authoritarian regimes to consolidate their power” Under certain circumstances.

In the past several years, national dialogues have been contemplated and carried out in a diverse group of countries and contexts. In broadening the debate about a country’s trajectory beyond the usual group of elite decision makers,

 

national dialogues offer the potential for meaningful conversation about the underlying drivers of conflict and ways to properly address these issues in a holistic manner.

 

As has been experienced and witnessed elsewhere around the globe in many instances, national dialogues may have a higher likelihood of success if they incorporate the following principles: inclusion, transparency and public participation, a far-reaching agenda, a credible convener, appropriate and clear rules of procedure, and an implementation plan. Towards this noble goal, the conduct of national dialogue would definitely help to stimulate extensive debates with regard to a country’s lasting destiny beyond the normal decision by a handful of elites.

 

  1. The Ethiopian Brand under Consideration

In principle, the dialogue is meant to transpire as an all-inclusive one whose very aim would be at reaching national consensus on the divisive issues of critical concern to a given country. Obviously, the rhetoric on the  ‘National Consensus’ has been on the air for quite sometime now, but without adequate explanation as to what it entails in detail.

 

  1. What to Anticipate and what not out of this Unique Discourse?

In peace times, an all inclusive national dialogue may serve a dozen of noble purposes; For instance, it narrows down outstanding differences and rallies a wide spectrum of communities around a unifying interest of national significance.

 

During the war or post-conflict contexts, though, in a nation embroiled or devastated by a conflict, such a kind of dialogue cannot necessarily guarantee sustainable peace as its connotation so sounds.

 

For such a fruition to come true, The dialogue ought to be complemented by either punitive or restorative justice or both as might be desired under the circumstances. That could, in a way, assist to ameliorate the ill-effects and undo the harm caused to the unfortunate victims.

 

  1. What Constitutes ‘Transitional, Restorative Justice?

Braithwaite works for the International Center for Justice and Reconciliation based in New York. According to him, TRJ is the “process where all the stakeholders irritated by an injustice shall have an opportunity to openly discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done by way of repairing the harm caused to them”.

As a rule, crime adversely hurts the community in general, apart from the individual members it embraces. Thus, it should also be utilized to heal the wounded sections of the society in a rather positive approach.

 

Consequently, TRJ attempts to restore the victim and the community back to their pre-crime positions. It is also concerned with assigning active responsibility to the offender as opposed to a passive one.

 

In an open and transparent venue, offenders are told that they have committed a crime and ought to be punished for their wrongdoings. As that alone is not sufficient, though, They are also obliged to at least repent for their perverted action or atone for it.

 

TRJ is employed to represent an attempt to provide reparations for individual victims and to their communities harmed as a result of the crime by way of remedial measures. In this respect, it amounts to a mechanism distinct from conservative retribution and liberal rehabilitation already familiar to the justice system.

 

  1. Scanning the newly Issued Law Making the National Dialogue a Reality

The National Dialogue Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 1265/2022 has been enacted and publicized by the country’s supreme legislature, i.e. the House of People’s Representatives. The Commission is entrusted with a long list of tasks and responsibilities.

The overarching objectives of the commission are outlined under Art. 6. Of the said proclamation, only three of which I Need to mention here.

 

Art. 6. Sub-Art. (1) of the said proclamation authorizes the commission To “facilitate conditions in which to undertake a series of consultations By having identified the underlying causes for the differences created in respect of issues of fundamental concern to the nation between and among the various segments of the society and thereby framed the topical agenda in which the discussions are to be carried out”.

 

Sub-Arts. (5) and (6) of this same Article further mandate the commission to “develop a political culture and create a suitable environment for the building of a democratic order that would enable solve through discussion those obstacles having been perpetuated pending for ages” and to “facilitate the socio-political climate in which a reliable peace shall be guaranteed with the existing problems having been tackled in a sustainable way”.

 

 

 

  1. How the Process Unfolds

The war has devastated the country in an astronomical scale. How the process will play out in the aftermath of the brutal conflict is less certain to that effect.

Sad to say, the deadly conflict itself has not conclusively been put to an end as yet.

 

  1. No Dialogue is ever Wrong

No dialogue of any typology and proportion for peace at any level can ever be wrong Between and among multiple communities co-existing side by side in a commonly shared polity with a view to harmonizing their diverse interests and aspirations. Unfortunately, the war is still raging on multiple fronts as has been indicated above. In that regard, how to Pacify the  Polarized Nation through the instrumentality of mere national consultations alone is far from clear.

In the context of the proposed national dialogue, therefore, failing to enforce accountability and to deliver Justice would perhaps amount to a futile exercise. Yearning for Genuine Peace in the Absence of Justice for the victims torn apart by the devastating conflict would remain a rather farfetched enterprise.

 

  1. What Transpired out of the Devastating Conflict?

The war imposed by the enemy has caused miserable harm to the country and untold suffering to our co-existing communities. Horrendous mass atrocities amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity have mercilessly been committed against innocent civilians.

Obviously, these victims did not have any role in the military showdown whatsoever. They were simply targeted in gross violation of the domestic and international human rights and humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

 

Certainly, the coalition of the Federal Government troops and their regional security allies themselves may not be immune from criminal liability for their isolated actions likely detrimental to the civilians and civilian objects on the ground. But it is the TPLF forces who had managed to occupy a large sway of territories deep in the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions beyond Tigray. They are to blame the most for much of the atrocious misdeed outrageously perpetrated, not to mention also the widespread looting and destruction of the service-rendering public facilities as well as the private property and means of livelihood belonging to ordinary citizens.

 

By its very nature, crime is an exceptional phenomenon to the general peace and collective or broader security arrangement in a given state of affairs. When a violent conflict erupts and cuts across the whole spectrum of a given polity, it makes no sense to consume the energy and drain the resources of the country in question by desperately trying to apprehend and hold all sorts of perpetrators accountable to the administration of criminal justice.

In this context, the Nexus between Peace and justice is so tricky that it might, sometimes, be hard to determine the exact status of one’s relationship to the other. Peace facilitates the normal conduct and functioning of law and justice, whereas the prevalence of justice is, in turn, bound to guarantee and consolidate lasting peace in a country in distress.

 

  1. Who may be included in the Upcoming Dialogue

As can be observed from the ground, it is principally the top officials of the Federal Government who have been warming up for the national dialogue and heading for negotiating peace with little concern to the enormous harm caused to the war-ravaged communities and neighborhoods in the Amhara and Afar Regions. No doubt that scores of political, civil society and religious groupings would come forward to join and play out in the discussion and debates.

 

  1. Optimism vs. E skepticism

Can one stand out optimistic and confident that some sort of political settlement would be in the making given this bloody confrontation between the belligerents?

By no means may the nation’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity be negotiated in any similar fashion in the name of national dialogue. In other words, the uncompromising statehood of the country may no longer be questioned to the extent of dismemberment and the dismantling under the pretext of negotiating a deal.

 

Definitely, the level of credibility which the government currently enjoys may be one critical subject in the upcoming consultations.

Other outstanding items of the proposed national dialogue may include, but not limited to the following:

The controversial status of the current Constitution;

what type of federalism to consider, adopt and pursue as the country’s promising and credible system of governance;

Which principal colors and symbols to opt for in crafting the national flag to be hoisted at the national level?

Preference of individual rights over collective or group rights or the vice versa;

The fate of addis Ababa as a common abode of its inhabitants drawn from all the nations, nationalities and peoples of the country;

The unnecessary attachment of land acquisition to ethnic identity erroneously entrenched in the current constitution.

 

  1. Final Remarks

Ethiopia is a country with a proud history of continuing statehood and a magnificent record of anti-colonial struggle against external domination and aggression. It is also an iconic nation for its perpetual legacy as a cradle of human civilization and the leadership of the Pan-African movement.

 

Against that fascinating background, the country does not deserve to be condemned to keep on combating a ‘dirty ’war within itself to the point of self-destruction and demise. Instead, it has to and can afford to survive the tragic conflict and manage its huge fallout, as of necessity.

 

To that effect, it has to address the root causes of the conflict with which it has been grappling for over a year now so as to deal with its painful scars in a sustainable way.

 

As to me, I do contend that the determination of the nation’s final destiny hinges upon the acknowledgement of its gruesome past.

 

Ahmed Soliman is a research fellow at the Chatom House Africa Program. In his recent observation, he recommends that “Ethiopian leaders need to find a way to accommodate competing ideological perspectives and build a vision for a consensual governance, should they wish to move forward peacefully”.

 

According to him, that may best be achieved through the instrumentality of the proposed national dialogue. Obviously, this noble initiative needs to be as inclusive as possible in order to address the political differences underpinning the root causes of the violent confrontation and its consequent bloodshed.

 

The unbearable ethno-political fault lines which have so far divided the country may be sustainably bridged only at the negotiating table if conducted in a genuine and transparent manner and procedure. More than that, however, the intended dialogue for the national consensus needs to be accompanied with A transitional, restorative justice strategy. TRJ is an essential tool for a societal healing and holding perpetrators of atrocities to account for their misdeeds.

 

Let me reiterate here:

No profound and lasting peace and reconciliation shall reign in a post-conflict context short of delivery of justice, enforcing accountability against the offenders and appropriate reparations for the victims.

 

Please allow me to conclude with a couple of heart-breaking lines of verses uttered by one poor Northern Wollo woman peasant whose basic means of livelihood has been destroyed and her very life complicated by the disgruntled TPLF combatants.

It runs in Amharic as follows:

በሮቻችን ታርደው ፈርጠው እንደምቧይ፤

ቤታችን ተቃጥሎ ቆመን አመድ ላይ፤

እህት ዎንድም አልቆ ጠፍቶ ሚያወያይ፤

ታረቁ ይሉናል ይሄ እርቅ ነው ወይ፡፡

1 thought on “Envisioning the Prospect of the National Dialogue in View”

  1. What kind of truth and reconciliation dialogue will be spearheaded by a group dominated by Stalinists such as veteran OLF bigwig Zegeye Asfaw etc? Abiy Ahmed composed an unrepresentative group not because he is interested in dialogue and reconciliation. .

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