Beneath the surface, away from the “economic boom,” “peace” and “stability,” there is serious trouble brewing in Ethiopia. The ever-increasing state institutional violence against citizens is bringing people together to challenge the authority and legitimacy of a rejected regime. The 25-year old political system that is rooted in sowing hatred and suspicion between communities is no longer a ‘working’ formula for the regime. From north to south, east to west people are joining hands to end quarter century old authoritarian rule. The ethnic barriers and suspicion that were intentionally planted in the society by the regime are having the reverse effect by uniting citizens across four corners of the country.
This unity and joining of forces is rapidly changing in form and structure becoming a powerful and dynamic force capable of bringing about long awaited political change. The ongoing popular discontent against the repressive regime is gaining momentum and maturing in consciousness, form, tactics and strategies. Shaken by these prevailing realities as a threat to its grip on power, the regime has introduced two self-preserving measures over the last few months. The first one is the declaration of the “state of emergency” intended to pacify the popular uprising and secondly call for “negotation” with opposition parties. Both these measures, however, are having the reverse impact. The declared “state of emergency” is transforming the non-violent rebellion into a clandestine armed resisitance while the call fror “negotiation” is having zero impact in resolving the long standing politicl crisis.
In the north of the country, there is a fast-developing dynamic that could have a significant impact over the political and security future of the country. At the same time in the west, east and southwest of the country, new and powerful forces of resistance are emerging. In response to the brutality of forces loyal to the regime, many are changing approaches and preferring more a clandestine resistance.
The regime’s strategy of “ethicizing politics in this country no longer works in favour of the regime,” said a political science educator who spoke under the condition of anonymity. Another civil servant described the political situation in Ethiopia as “an explosive situation that could sweep the country with an unpredictable outcome.”
The “constitution” as a tool to intimidate and terrorize citizens
In a democracy, the promulgation of a constitution is a function of the citizens. Simply because the people exercise sovereignty, they decide what rules and principles they want government to follow. Furthermore, a portion of any constitution in a democracy is delegated by citizens to the legislature, hence allowing it to participate in the process of amending the constitution. Under the current authoritarian regime in Ethiopia, the construction of constitution is based on the will and design of a small minority group. Thus, it is used to intimidate and terrorize citizens instead of being a living document that safeguards citizens’ rights. The regime’s usage of the “constitution” as an instrument of oppressing and brutalizing citizens devalues the very value of a constitution. The defence of a constitution that protects and safeguards citizens’ rights is the duty of the people. On the other hand, a constitution whose purpose is to serve as tool of operation will ultimately be replaced with a new constitution that is crafted with full participation of the people.
Smoke and mirrors or genuine political negotiation
There is a new propaganda and public relations buzz word in Addis Ababa these days and the word is “dialogue.” In its organic and authentic form, political dialogue is a very valuable and irreplaceable approach to establishing genuine political discourse and sustainable peace. Unfortunately, the record of the regime shows manipulation of dialogue and using it as a propaganda forum to create a smoke screen for consumption of donor nations and a gullible few. On January 16, 2017, the Head of the Office of the regime declared his government’s “readiness for dialogue and consultation with political parties.” Genuine political dialogue cannot be conducted from a hegemonic position where a group is dictating the general terms and process of the dialogue. Most importantly, any political dialogue and negotiation must first identify the political, social and economic challenges facing the country.
In the current environment, the regime’s web of political and economic corruption has reached a point where the regime doesn’t have the moral authority to govern the country let alone to sit at a table and negotiate the future direction of the country. The inherent source of the problem in Ethiopia is the regime itself and to think otherwise is a failure of imagination and deficiency of insight to observe, understand and see what is in front of us.
The regime in Addis Ababa has manipulated certain groups as political pawns to advance it is own objectives. Sadly, there are some opportunistic groups who are readily available to be used for such a gimmick. Negotiation with manufactured political pawns can only further deepen the country’s political crisis. Genuine negotiation takes place with those who have critically opposing views, not with the “Yes” men. Genuine negotiation is to discuss and explore common ground for coming to an agreement. Negotiation in its true sense voices a conciliatory tone so that a compromise may be reached and each negotiating party may obtain a certain degree of satisfaction. In true negotiation, the parties do not feel ridiculed, coerced or manipulated. They express their respective needs freely to build understanding, and they feel respected. On the other hand, to manipulate is to seek to control the other by using fear or by making them feel guilty to convince them of something and surrender their vision and integrity.
Genuine political dialogue could only take place if the regime gets out of its obsessive-compulsive power impulses, stop framing and defining other political groups and look inwards for the problems the country is facing instead of outwards. One cannot be a genuine negotiator while imposing its views. The true meaning of negotiation is to listen, validate and accept the views and positions of others even if it means surrendering the helm of power. The regime’s primary objective of negotiation is to consolidate its grip on power. Prior to starting any political dialogue or negotiation in Ethiopia, the regime must release all political prisoners, journalists, and human rights activists. Secondly, the regime must share the public media with all opposition political parties, lift the state of emergency and dissolve the so called “command post” which put the country under military rule.
As the saying goes “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The regime must stop playing tricks with manufactured political pawns and quit being an impediment to the country’s political, economic and social progress. Building a free, inclusive and democratic Ethiopia will requires not politically calculated negotiation with political pawns, but a genuine and whole hearted willingness to sit and conduct genuine transition of power with all political groups.