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Ethiopia: Common Sense Roadmap to Democracy

Zelalem Eshete, Ph.D.

This is an independent voice of truth in love. It’s about roadmaps that lead to democracy in Ethiopia. All roadmaps are not created equal. The beauty and greatness of Ethiopia depends on our ability to pursue a pragmatic roadmap that is rooted in reality and at the same time has the potential to impel us into our aspiration. I present my case to this effect in humility, with an open mind and teachable spirit, to learn from you – whether you agree or disagree with my account of the situation. I hope you would read with an eye to the future instead of dwelling on the past.

FANTASY ROADMAP: Fantasy roadmap dreams that the government enter into a national dialog, form a transitional government, create a new constitution, structure an independent military, set the media free, and establishes an impartial court system automatically among other things. It never just happened this way anywhere in the world. We only waste our precious time dreaming in fantasyland. It’s time to wake up and get in the game to do the hard work of making our ideals come true in the real world.

OBSOLETE ROADMAP: This is about the violent struggle of what I call “militant oppositions”. Obsolete roadmap is identified by its stance to replace the government by violence. It espouses doing everything to expedite its goal even if it means hurting Ethiopia in the process. It may be driven by good intentions, but will end up repeating our saga after much bloodshed and lost opportunities for growth. I think this roadmap is obsolete for Ethiopia in the 21st century. Simply put, even an angel shouldn’t earn our trust to take us on the path of yesteryear, let alone humans.

COMMON SENSE ROADMAP: This is about the non-violent struggle of what I call “peaceful oppositions”. In plain speaking, I would like to briefly explore: (1) why such an approach didn’t make an impact on Ethiopia’s politics in the past, (2) why such an approach is the best option for Ethiopia, and (3) what does it take to make this approach work in the future.

The Political Landscape of Ethiopia in a Nutshell

The government appears to be cracking down on oppositions without making any distinction. The militant oppositions seem to be declaring war on the government on all fronts. The peaceful oppositions who commit to peaceful struggle are caught in the middle and are in danger of becoming irrelevant so far. Here are the plights of the peaceful oppositions:

(1) The government is not empowering them to succeed in their peaceful struggle, even in a very small way (that is disheartening)
(2) The militant oppositions are pushing the peaceful oppositions towards their alternate endgame: to overthrow the government with popular uprising (that is distracting)
(3) The silent majority everywhere is standing by the sidelines and watching the drama (that is exasperating)
(4) The tragedy of the peaceful oppositions falls squarely on themselves, in that they didn’t unite and change the dynamics to be in their favor (that is mystifying)

The Win – Win – Win Common Sense Roadmap

Embracing the common sense roadmap is a win for the government, a win for the peaceful oppositions, and a win for Ethiopia. If the government, peaceful oppositions, and silent majority continue to sabotage the common sense roadmap, it will invigorate the militant oppositions and pave the way to violence, crumbling economy and regression into the past. On the other hand, embracing the common sense roadmap will force the militant oppositions to join the peaceful oppositions or face being marginalized. In the end, we all would be busy building Ethiopia that is evolving into a more democratic nation at a faster pace.

First, the Government Wins: The game changer event that transpired in Ethiopia dictates that the late PM Meles Zenawi be the last person to assume power through violence. We would like to assume that seat in history has been taken. Now PM Hailemariam Desalegn finds the intersection of four interests rushing onto his plate: (1) moving Ethiopia in the right direction; (2) positioning EPRDF as a viable party into the future; (3) ensuring the legacy of late PM Meles Zenawi as the person who took the seat; and (4) embracing his own destiny as an agent of a game changer. To this end, PM Hailemariam Desalegn cannot have it both ways: he either loses on all accounts by undercutting the peaceful oppositions, or wins on all accounts by allowing the peaceful oppositions play their fair share uninhibited. It all hinges on what the government does with the common sense roadmap and the peaceful oppositions.

Second, the Peaceful Oppositions Win: Losing at the elections (justly or unjustly) should not make your effort a futile struggle. You are fulfilling your calling that is of historic proportion, so long that you progress in advancing our democratic culture and gains for the better. Your struggle is at a great cost, but soon enough comes a tipping point where nothing on earth can keep you from assuming power through the ballot. Remember the alternative to the non-violent struggle has no short cut solution either. The militant oppositions’ quest is an arduous journey at a greater cost to Ethiopia, and at the end we will be back at square one, since violent takeover doesn’t guarantee democracy.

Third, Ethiopia Wins: The obsolete roadmap keeps Ethiopia’s development on hold and extends the suffering of the people until we achieve acceptable political system in place. However, the common sense roadmap doesn’t hold the progress of the economy hostage. As a result, the progress of Ethiopia’s development is guarded while the fight of ideas continues in the political arena. The healthy competition and accountability between the government and peaceful oppositions fosters good governance and nurtures democracy, which is a big win for Ethiopia.

Making the Common Sense Roadmap Work for Ethiopia

The government needs to capitalize on the new game changer event it brought to our land, and usher in a new dynamics that move Ethiopia beyond the turning point. Ignoring common sense and taking the arrogant and proud route will only lead to the inevitable destruction of the government as evidenced by human history. Ethiopia has come so far that it is unthinkable to turn back now and resort to one party rule in the likeness of China. The government needs to find ways to address the basic concerns of the peaceful oppositions: (1) Freedom of speech and press (no prisoner of conscious); (2) Freedom to organize (no harassment and intimidation); (3) Free and fair election (an impartial election board); and (4) Access to Ethiopian media (sharing the resources in equitable way).

The success of the common sense roadmap is not at the mercy of the government, but at the mercy of the ability of the peaceful oppositions to unite. The common sense roadmap works for the peaceful oppositions only if the peaceful oppositions are united, for that is their only power source. The victory of the peaceful oppositions rests in their ability to build on their unity, win the minds and hearts of the silent majority for actions, elude the trap of the government, and evade the manipulation of the militant oppositions. The peaceful oppositions need to find ways to address the basic concerns of the government: (1) Work within the constitution (may be amended legally, but not abolished); (2) Non-violent struggle is directed to realize your causes listed above (not to overthrow the government); (3) Assume power through the ballot (enter with a long journey in view); and (4) You cannot have it both ways (being agents of the militant oppositions is unacceptable).

The writer can be reached at (Z@myEthiopia.com)

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