Yonas Biru, PhD
As I have maintained in several of my articles, the Ethiopian political landscape is dominated by two groups of people: Hermitized souls whose mindset is stuck in yester-century and those who have lost their soul to either Marxism or tribalism. The former sees their articles of faith as self-evident truth and the later lacks a moral compass. Both exist in a borrowed time unable to come to terms that the philosophical anchors upon which their political views are hanging have long expired.
The perennial clashes across and within these two groups have deprived Ethiopia the ability to develop a deliberative conflict resolution culture and redemptive character. Such a culture brings to the fore conflict entrepreneurs and alienates thought leaders and nation builders. More than anytime in our recent history, we are witnessing an unparalleled polarization in our political discourse. Consequently, simmering tensions are approaching a boiling point.
The silver lining in these dark times is that the prevailing polarization in our political system does not reflect an inherently polarized country. What it signifies is that extremist political actors who tends to be loud and overbearing are dominating the public discourse bandwidth and the silent majority (aka the moderate majority) is morbidly silent.
The emergence of the silent majority is a rational political phenomenon driven by two factors. The most important factor is whether public opinion has influence over public policy. If the government is perceived to pay little to no attention to public opinion, most rational people opt out of political debates. This is the case in Ethiopia whose PM is more like a cross between an absolute monarch and an evangelical patriarch. He does not sees the people as owners and authors of the nation’s sovereign power from whence he draws his prescribed and limited authority. The PM’s Problem is partly rooted in religion, as I have explained at the end of this proposal.
The second factor is the nation’s vulgar political culture that repels people of reason and conscience and attracts conflict peddlers and political profiteers from the ranks of the morally malnourished and ethically devoid demographic misfits. Casting the demons out of our political market, therefore, requires two deliberate actions.
First, the PM must come to terms that his governance style is fostering political apathy exiling the moderate majority into a place of “hear-no-evil and speak-no-evil” political asylum. Capable Ethiopians with subject matter expertise, intellectual repute, psychological temperance, and fundamental human virtue find themselves alienated by him. The onus for taking the first critical step of involving the silent majority rests on his shoulders.
The second, and just as equally important factor depends on the nation’s ability to overcrowd conflict peddlers and political profiteers by breaking the silence of the moderate majority. This requires deliberate and active actions by opinion entrepreneurs and moral leaders within the silent majority.
Coordinated corrective actions by the PM and the silent majority will provide an impetus for change by fostering the emergence and influence of centrist opinions that are amenable for consensus building. Only when we change the dimension and function of the political calculus that governs conflict peddlers can we sanitize the political culture and create a conducive environment to bridge political divides on vital issues.
Unfortunately, what we see is the PM and conflict peddlers accusing each other while paying no heed to the fact that each has a role in the political orgy that has begotten a basterdized political system with no rational foundation.
To address the challenges noted above, I propose to organize a zoom conference to kick off discussions on four critical topics. There must be a concurrence plan to build on the inaugural conference with a series of subsequent in-person and virtual conferences to engage political stakeholders in Ethiopian and in the diaspora. Ideally, the conference should be organized by people of the silent majority demography both from the home front and the diaspora. Four proposed topics for the conference follow.
1. Breaking the Silence of Reason and Conscious
The moderate majority is the conscious of the nation. Even though those who constitute it are disinterested in engaging with the nation’s peddlers of conflict, they are neither blind nor deaf to the goings on. They are disengaged for reasons outlined above. The purpose of this conference topic is to foster discussion on ways to encourage both the PM and the silent majority on how best to break the silence of the nation’s conscious. Presenters will address existing challenges
and propose innovative ways of building discussion forums and charting organizational layouts to bring the moderate majority out of the cold.
2. Unlocking Impasses and Expanding the Horizon of the Political Discourse
Ethiopia is stuck in prolonged political deadlocks and irreconcilable tribal conflicts. Every political conflict is elevated to a make-or-break level. The challenge is how to unlock the impasse by counterbalancing entrenched extremist positions with diverse voices of reason and civil dialogue. For three decades, the constitution has been the source of the nation’s political and armed conflicts. Yet, the political discourse has not moved an iota beyond the “unitarist” (አሃዳዊ) vs. “tribalist” (ጎጠኛዊ) labeling and counter labeling that the two warring camps throw at each other. Neither is prepared to consider alternative views outside of the አሃዳዊ vs. ጎጠኛዊ diatribal confines.
The consequence has been aggravating the country’s existing deep divisions, rather than finding a middle ground or an alternative space of engagement. It is this dynamic we must understand if we are to deal with the political culture ravaging our nation. Only then can we transform political actors from being bestial remnants of our heritage as risen apes to becoming forgivable fallen angels.
The proposed conference in this regard will invite people with different perspectives and opinions on how to move the debate away from አሃዳዊ vs. ጎጠኛዊ impasse. The conference will help broaden the parameters the political contours. It will also move the nation toward reducing the prevailing political congestion and softening the polarized discussion.
3. Defusing the Gathering Storm in the Amhara-Oromo Political Nexus
This is one of the most critical areas that can become an existential threat for the very survival of the nation unless addressed expeditiously and handled judiciously. Internal (TPLF) and external (Egypt) forces are doing everything in their power to capitalize on the conflict between the two tribal camps. Addressing the vexing problem requires dealing with different parts of the Amhara-Oromo political nexus.
On the two extreme ends of the spectrum, we have adherents of Ortho-Amhara extremism and believers of the OLF tribal liberation theology. The Orto-Amhara designation refers to the marriage of extremist Orthodox followers and Amhara tribalists. For Oromo extremists, the PM is building a “Neo-Menilik” kingdom and committing suicide against the Oromo. For Ortho-
Amhara extremists, he is committing genocide against the Amhara “በጥንት ጊዜ ግራኝ መሃመድ በከፈተው በር ገብቶ.” These are extremists with next to none chance for reconciliation. Spending time on them is a zero-calorie intellectual effort. It will produce neither light nor power that makes change possible.
On the relatively less polarized part of the Amhara-Oromo nexus exists a second group of people who are emotionally invested in the conflict after years of politically nurtured tribal radicalization. These are people who may be able to recast their perspectives and see the situation in a different light if engaged in a constructive discourse. There is yet a third group representing a large swath of the people who constitute the silent majority.
The challenge is facilitating constructive political discussions across the second and third groups of people to overshadow and crowd out the venomous noise and thwart the destructive clashes perpetrated by adherents of Ortho-Amhara extremism and believers of OLF tribal liberation theology.
The conference will help broaden the parameters of the political discourse and move the nation toward softening our polarized discussion.
4. Getting the Evangelical God Out of Our Politics
One of the most dangerous developments that has occurred since PM Abiy came to power is the evangelical seduction of the nation’s political governance. It is partly responsible for the crisis we are embroiled in. The phenomenon is no less dangerous than the brewing Oromo-Amhara conflict. Unless dealt with a sense of urgency, it will lead to serious problem with existential consequences.
I have addressed this issue in detail in one of my earlier articles. In summary, the most salient point worth repeating is that the PM’s anti-intellectual sentiment and his reluctance to seek advice and guidance from subject matter experts is rotted in his expressed belief that he gets advice and counsel from divine forces. The fact that the PM is a devoted Christian is not a problem. If anything, it is important to have a God-fearing leader in charge of the leavers of political power. The problem is his inclination to smuggle divine forces in our secular constitutional order.
God makes the blind see and raises the dead. But he neither formulates political policies nor runs bureaucracies. Despite the PM’s belief, God is not into dispensing political and military advice. Leaving mundane political, bureaucratic duties to God has led our nation to deep-rooted bureaucratic dysfunctionality, security breakdown and abysmal diplomatic failure.
There are two issues in need of national consensus. First, should religion have a place in our nation’s politics? If so, which religion? This is not a trivial issue because the theological foundation of prosperity Gospel is orthogonal to the guiding principles of Orthodox Christians, for example.
In time of national distress, the Orthodox would call up on its flocks and friends to plead God with collective እግዚኦታ. In contrast, followers of Prosperity Gospel feel that at any moment they have more to celebrate than to lament. Therefore, they are not into እግዚኦታ. Instead, they do እልልታ even at the time of crisis and string of mass murders. That is why the PM’s office called upon the people of Ethiopia to do a collective national እልልታ to praise the Lord.
Ethiopia is going down in flames as its PM leads the people with a synchronized እልልታ with ጭብጨባ. If you wonder why the PM does not talk a lot about mass murders and does not travel to Wellega to console the families of victims of mass murder, you have the answer in his religious belief. The Prosperity Gospel’s two guiding principles “our destiny is in God’s hands” and “the Power of Positive Thinking” may be good for our spirit, but it is colossally bad for our mundane politics.
From political perspective what the country needs is neither እግዚኦታ nor እልልታ, but a political leadership supported by people with subject matter expertise and administrative experience. That is why our constitution is secular and there is no mention of God or divine deity in it. It is in violation of this cardinal principle that the PM has unilaterally smuggled his religion in our body politics and put our nation at a grave risk. The people must insist that if he cannot do without his religion, he should leave politics. If he wants to remain in politics, he should leave his religion with his family and his church.
The proposed conference will open this critical issue for a national debate. The nation’s survival depends on it.