Being Critical toward the Public is Neither a Cultural Taboo nor a Political Insanity

April 14, 2014

by T.Goshu

1. As an Introduction

Harold S. Kushner (Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World, 2009) argues, “You have experienced rejection, been fired from a job…, and you fear that the same may happen to you.” And he poses a very challenging question on how to deal with this situation;How do you cope?”  He reminds us to begin by remembering Victor Frank (Man’s Search for Meaning) who argues, ‘You cannot control what other people do to you, but you can always control   how you respond to what they do.’ 

Kushner underscores fear as one of the main causes for not being able to cope the bad experiences we may face by stating that,Fear constricts the soul and keep us from being as fully human as God would like us to be.” I strongly argue that this has been the experience for the last two decades, and continues to be the case in our country. And I also respectfully argue that one of the factors for this very unfortunate political trend is the way we deal with the role and self- motivated participation of the people at large. We have been unnecessarily shy at being critical in dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of the people.   We have been unnecessarily non-critical either because of our naïvely perceived social and cultural taboo, or we simply want to be politically correct which is of course not different from the very clumsy sentiment that tells us being critical toward the public is politically insane.   Needless to say, unless we courageously deal with this kind of way of doing politics critically, rationally, honestly, amicably, and constructively; it will be extremely difficult not only to force the tyrannical ruling elites either to play politics with a real sense of civility or step down, but it will also extremely be challenging to build a genuine democratic system after the defeat of the ruthless ruling group by any means.

Let me here be clear that the very purpose of this piece of writing of mine is to forward my points of view on how I look at arguments by many of the politicians, political analysts, scholars and other genuinely concerned citizens about the participation of the people in the process of the struggle for freedom and justice. When I say participation, I do mean to what extent and how deep and decisive, not just in a very general and politically correct sense.     To put it in other words, my line of argument in this piece is not either to question the decisive role of the people in the making history or to underestimate their involvement and participation in any socio-political engagement and change. I just want to express some points of view that repeatedly come to my mind whenever I try to get a real sense of understanding out of most of the discussions, conversations, arguments, debates, interviews, descriptive and analytical writings on Ethiopian politics and the role of the people (citizens). It goes without saying that when we say the public (people), it does not simply mean and it should not be to mean that people are just a collection of individuals regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. The very essence of the term (public) makes a meaningfully concrete sense when it goes deep down into the very integrated role and participation of each member or citizen. The very position each citizen occupies and the contribution it makes to the general public it belongs has a lot to do with the highest level of societal aspiration and interest we refer as the general will.

I believe the same might be true to genuinely concerned fellow Ethiopians as far as the horrible situation going on in our country, and the question of why and how the people could not bring this extremely puzzling and nightmarish situation to its end is concerned.   Needless to say, unless we want to remain victims of avoidance of the challenges that we do not like to face or self-deceiving attitude and clumsy excuses, the question of how and why the people who justifiably claim to be citizens of a country with glorious history and tradition could bear the horribly unbearable situation for half century (1970s – present) is very hard to comprehend. I respectfully beg to differ from those fellow Ethiopians who knowingly or unknowingly want to stay away from being critical about the unacceptable level of participation by the people themselves in the process of a very challenging struggle for genuine freedom and justice.

I sincerely believe that involving or engaging ourselves in discussion forums, media interviews, debates and dialogues and writing articles of various forms and contents that are truly relevant to the just cause of which the people stand for is a very good and desirable thing. I sincerely believe that the general public is the decisive force in the making of history in general and political history in particular.  However, the way we address the issues, particularly those issues that have a lot to do with a very serious political culture of not walking and acting together as a people should be respectfully rational, wisely articulated, convincingly persuasive, fairly straight-forward and constructively forward-looking; not unnecessarily self-diplomatic, stupidly politically correct, and clumsily passive and pacifist. I wish I could have better words to express the way I comprehend things. But, that is the way it is as far as the very hard fact we are experiencing day -out and day- in is concerned.  And  I sincerely believe that this kind of way of thinking, behaving and acting is critically desirable when it particularly comes to the question of how to approach the public in such a way that things could turn out to be constructive and outstandingly successful.

Now, let me just forward some challenging questions as cases in point: Have we, either as groups or as citizens (people) made meaningful progress in this regard? Have those citizens who have gone to schooling and been educated at the expenses of the Ethiopian tax payers money honestly paid back with whatever they could afford? Have we really tried our best to educate the people why and how they should go beyond merely emotional and instinctive political reactions?  Have we committed ourselves to educating the public that there is an absolute need to appropriately and courageously face and defeat the horrible fear they fear?  Have we engaged the people critically, respectfully, honestly and constructively   as far as the question of what and how the people should play their indispensable role in the process of the struggle for freedom, justice and respect for their basic civil rights is concerned? Do we pretend that the Ethiopian people are politically literate and well aware of the fact that the constitution is a contractual document that governs their relationship with the government they should choose and set up? Are we sure that the majority of the people are not still in a very nightmarish political culture of considering a government and all its machineries above and beyond the law of the land? Aren’t we witnessing that citizens are not courageous and heroic enough even to take part in public gatherings organized by some relatively doing –well opposition parties because of the fear they fear? Have we had a real sense of rationally critical interaction with the people? Have the people (citizens) really put effective, persistent, and meaningfully constructive pressure on those opposition political parties and movements which are trying their best in a very hostile political environment?  We can go on, and on, and on. To my observation and understanding, the answers to all these and other challenging questions do not seem positively sounding let alone satisfactory.

I am well aware that many Fellow Ethiopians may feel uncomfortable with this idea of being critical about the question of whether the people have involved as effective as they should be in the process of the struggle for their political freedom, civil liberty and socio-economic justice or not.   And I am also well – cognizant of the reason for this kind of mentality  in any society leave alone ours that has never had a genuine opportunity to experience what a rational, tolerant, mutually respectful, mutually valuable, and truly forward –looking criticism throughout the history of  our political journey.

2. I want to highlight a couple of more specific aspects that are strongly relevant to the very purpose of this piece of writing of mine. And these are:

2.1. It would be wrong either to disregard or undermine the factors that have a lot to do with negative impacts on the role and participation of the people in the process of making significantly meaningful differences in our political and socio-economic lives.  What are some of these factors? Let me proceed as follows:

A. There is no doubt that one of the very serious contributing factors for our ineffectiveness, if not failure is the age-old history of our political culture. In other words, our claim as people of a country of thousands of glorious history, more specifically not surrendering to foreign invaders and colonizers has never been transformed into the glorious political history of exercising internal political freedom, justice or rule of law, socio-economic advancement and  fairness,  and  a strong sense social cohesion . What is extremely sad is that our political lives have continued horribly suffering under political groups (elites) who have taken the palace at their gun point and have determined to maintain it by any dirty means including state-terror. I am here referring to the military junta and ethnic-based TPLF/EPRDF.  It is here that the very terrible enemy of making meaningful progress comes in. And that enemy is living under a political environment characterized both by perceived and actual fear. And it is absolutely necessary for us to face this ongoing reality, and deal with it accordingly instead of staying “comfortable “with the tendency or mentality of denial and avoidance.

B. Needless to say, that section our society with educational opportunities of various levels itself has been and seems continuing to be politically illiterate if we take the case in the real sense of the term.  I am not talking about the mere academic success stories. I am talking about a real sense of changing the very academic opportunity and success to the material force of tackling the serious challenge the people has to face. It is powerfully true that of one of the very purposes of education is either to prevent or manage a catastrophic situation of any kind (natural or manmade). There is no doubt that the catastrophic situation our country continues to face is manmade (political, legal, moral, socio-economic.)

Unfortunately enough, our intellectuals (the majority) do not seem willing and able to take their ideas to the level that significantly contribute to shortening the untold suffering going on in Ethiopia let alone showing the people how to do things in practical terms ( educating by doing). They seem keep complaining about the weaknesses of this or that political party or movement.  They do not seem wise and courageous enough to equally be critical about the very weaknesses of the people themselves. And this kind of clumsy approach by our intellectuals has contributed to the continuation of the political culture of blame game.  They themselves ( intellectuals) are suffering from an endless, nonsensically categorical, and going- nowhere arguments such as: the non-qualified argument about the question of whether  peaceful or armed struggle or the combination of the two; kind of non-compromising political state of mind  with regard to  the organization of political parties either based on their ethnic identity or on  their collective identity of Ethiopiawinet ;  engaging in a very wrong way of  looking at our history either by totally dismissing the great side of our history or a total denial of the terrible mistakes made throughout our history; and so on and so forth. Simply put, our intellectuals do not seem recognizing the existence of all kinds of political realities (like it or not) and the manifestation of various conflict of interests and ready to deal with them accordingly.  They instead have gotten themselves trapped by the very damaging mentality of either this or that , not moving to the center based on critically rational and mutually beneficial compromise. I am not referring to compromising with the ruling party as such; but among those intellectuals either at individual capacity or leader of a political groups/movements, civic associations or community organizations.

C.  I do not think it is necessary to discuss in length or detail about opposition political parties, coalitions, movements and even civic groups which have terribly and repeatedly failed the people of Ethiopia. No question that this ugly way of doing politics has contributed to the failure of the people as far as the critical issue of shortening the general crisis of our time is concerned. Will the recently inspiring political reawakening being made by some opposition political parties such as UDJ (Andinet) and the Blue (Semaywai) break the unacceptable level of fear and vicious circle of self-defeating silence irreversibly? It remains to be seen. But, we cannot and should not expect things to happen the way we aspire unless we make things happen. And this desperately requires rationally critical, genuinely wise, and mutually respectful political interaction among political groups, between the political groups and the people at large.

D. Although I am once again well-aware that this section of my comment may make my fellow Ethiopians (particularly followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) very uncomfortable, I cannot help, but say it in a rational, respectful and straight-forward manner. Most of our preachers of the Church, including members of the leadership are not truthfully courageous enough to make their teachings relevant to the very question of how to deal with the gross violation human rights in the country they pray for ( God bless Ethiopia) in their regular mass services. They repeatedly recite,” Ethiopia stretches her hands to God” from the Great Book (the Bible); and that is a great thing. However, the problem is when it comes to the question of whether we as citizens of that country we call her our Holy Land truly and honestly do stretch our hands and open our hearts and minds to shorten her untold sufferings. Do not get me wrong here that what I am trying to express is kind of passing judgment which is not and should not be my business at all. What I am trying to say is that our religious values has a lot to do with our essence  of living with freedom, liberty, human dignity, equality and shared prosperity . I am sorry to say but I have to say that our failure in this very aspect of our spiritual lives has contributed to our repeated failure in our secular way of lives. Why? Because we are not leading by example , getting ourselves at the very front of the fight for freedom, respect for fundamental human liberties, natural and legal rights, and safeguarding and passing down a country of proudness to the generation to come.

We preach the people over, and over, and over and over again as if they (the people) cannot do anything, but just pray. And we often listen to our religious teachers and leaders or other clergies to the extent of saying that Ethiopia is in trouble as if her people have committed sin more serious than other believers of the world. Yes, Ethiopians as any members of human beings cannot be free of wrong doings or sins. But, it is absolutely absurd to use this kind of very clumsy religious argument as justification for our own terrible weaknesses to make genuine and meaningful contributions to fight against all evil-driven situation going on in our country.  It is so desirable and great to witness many members of this generation seeking for spiritual satisfaction and becoming parts of the role being played by the Church. However, it is not wrong to be concerned about witnessing our religious leaders going to the contrary which could make the young ones vulnerable to not to be what it should be, but pretend to be. Simply put, as the Ethiopian people are so religious, they desperately need a religious leadership that helps them get out of the hell on this planet, not only life after death.

2.2. I want to say some points of view with regard to the weaknesses of the people themselves before I sum up my piece of writing. I want here to note that this view point of mine does not by any means disregard the courageous efforts being made by individuals and groups to take the struggle for freedom and justice a step forward.

I strongly believe that for the people to be successful in getting their political and socio –economic situations right, they need a leadership that should win their trust and loyalty. There is no and there should not be any confusion in this regard. Any target-full movement cannot be effective without some sort of organizational structure and function leave alone a very challenging movement for political freedom and justice.  However, on the other hand, a political party or movement without a meaningful participation that includes self- motivated engagement can go nowhere. It (a political party or movement) desperately needs a serious and practical support that should come from the people who vehemently refuse to live under ruling elites who are determined to stay in power by crashing or destroying their very essence being human.   Are we witnessing this magnitude of self-motivated reawakening in a serious sense of the term? We may come up with all kinds of justification why this is not the case we are witnessing. But, this does not change the reality that the people are victims of the very dehumanizing fear employed by the tyrannical ruling circle. Imagine what happened in Tunisia. A collage graduate young man who was forced to be a street vender was harassed by the police force of his own home city. He put fire himself on fire and powerfully demonstrated how death is better than living with an extremely painful life. Were the people of Tunisia starving worse than we do, and had they have a well-organized political party in a real sense of the tem? Not at all! Imagine what we as the people had done when teacher Yenesew Gebre had demonstrated the same, if not the worst magnitude of the sufferings of the people.  Had the people of Ethiopia showed a real sense of outrage and frustration let alone a serious signal about their discontent? I am not talking about kinds of emotional way of expressions here and there that could happen in very on and off manner. I am talking about the need at least to rally around opposition political parties and make them the centers of togetherness and progress towards achieving the destination we desperately aspire.

Imagine how citizens are badly gripped by an incredible level of fear when they remain silent or keep murmuring deep inside while their children go to school ( I don’t know what kind of learning)  with their empty stomachs and fainted in their class rooms.

Imagine how it is very difficult to comprehend when citizens including those who has nothing to lose get scared of being seen with their friends who belong to the opposition political parties leave alone attending and participating in public gathering organized by those parties. I could continue enumerating many cases of weaknesses from the side of the public (citizens). But, I do not think it is necessary to do so as we experience them in our day-to –day lives.

Let me conclude with a quotation I borrowed from Carne Ross’s book, The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century, 2011. He argues, “Our silence permits this outrage to continue, and profound injustice to be perpetuated. And it is this silence that must be now broken, through a thousand acts of construction to build a better world, a thousand acts that declare there is a much, much better way of organizing and deciding our lives together. Though peaceful, these are revolutionary acts.”

One Response to Being Critical toward the Public is Neither a Cultural Taboo nor a Political Insanity

  1. Kiflu Hussein

    April 14, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    T. Goshu,

    I know you are Harold S. Kushner’s legacy to Ethiopia to quote his sayings and interpret his dreams about Ethiopia like that of Martin Luther Kings Legacy to Ethiopia, Prof. Alemayehu quoting, interpreting MLK’s dream for Ethiopia.

    Quoting words & Interpreting dreams won’t help Ethiopia and its people. Just Enjoy your hot Cheeseburger there.


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