(From one of our readers) Ethiopia at the Crossroads: Win-Win or Zero-Sum?

Strathink received this article today from reader Abebaye Tegen. Although the editorial team does not agree with some of the information here presented as facts and some of the conclusions reached by the author, we do agree that a dialogue should be the first order of business for the government. We also agree that there should be a win-win solution to the problems in Ethiopia between the government and civil society and that inciting ethnic tension should not be the route to power. In the spirit of constructive dialogue, we present to our readers the views of Abebaye Tegen. Let’s continue the conversation.

by Abebaye Tegen

Ethiopia is in crisis.The country is experiencing widespread civil disobedience manifesting itself in demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and in some cases armed resistances.

Under the current federal arrangement, Oromia and Amhara regional states are the two largest parts of the federation, constituting 30 and 18 million population, respectively.That is close to half of the country’s population.Based on news reports from inside and outside sources, in almost all parts of these two largest states, the civil disobedience is getting stronger by the day.

News coming out of these areas indicates that the local government administrations are collapsing, government and business establishments suspected of having links with the government damaged ,local officials are leaving the towns or joining the resistance, and residents are replacing the Ethiopian official flag with the previous flag of Ethiopia and are selecting their own administrative committees composed of local elders and prominent people. And lately, prisons are burning down and foreign investments attacked.

International human rights organizations  estimate that close to 500 people have died in clashes with government forces since the protest started almost a year ago and those detained are estimated in tens of thousands.The destruction on government, non government and private properties are huge .And the civil disobedience is getting stronger and wider by the day as the government is deploying soldiers and blocking internet at times in an attempt to keep up the status-quo.

The government first played down the problem by saying it is the act of some groups assisted by outside forces to destabilize the country. As the demonstrations grew and spread to more areas, then the government started to say some of the questions are legitimate and tried to deploy its officials to their localities to talk to the people. The negotiations didn’t work and the civil disobedience continued to gain momentum. Now, the federal government, under the directive of the prime minister deployed military forces,and both the Oromo and Amhara states at the moment are under military administration.

Let me quote some of the statements made by government officials, politicians, political Analysts, Foreign observers and governments about the problems the country is facing now.
“Two Opposition Parties leaders who are in the U.S on a working visit, Dr. Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and Eng. Yilkal Getnet, chairman of the Semayawi (Blue) Party, in their briefings at the Africa Center with attendees from Congress, the private sector, and the US government cited “rising costs of living, limited employment opportunities for a growing youth population, and a restrictive political and media environment as impetus for the ongoing demonstrations.”

Both argued that the government’s violent crackdown on primarily peaceful demonstration is not a solution rather they recommend” permitting peaceful protest, halting the unlawful killing of citizens, releasing political prisoners, and ceasing deployment of the military to disperse demonstrations. Both rejected what they considered “cosmetic” reforms from the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and suggested that more real changes were needed to prevent the country’s fracturing.”

Source Atlantic Council, August 31,2016.

” I believe Ethiopia’s current political conditions are unstable. Government’s own pronouncements indicate this. The presence of pervasive mal-administration, rent seeking, extensive mis-management of public resources, and the failure of mega projects, on which the country had put much hope are exposing the nation to serious crisis. On top of this, different people from different corners of the country – in Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, and Tigray regions) are raising their demands – such as economic inequality, questions of identity, injustice, bad governance – and are pleading the government to solve their problems peacefully…….”

(A road map to resolving Ethiopia’s political crisis( Retired Gen. Tsadkan G/tensae)

“Ethiopian officials have acknowledged that protestors have genuine grievances that deserve sincere answers. They are working to address issues such as corruption and a lack of job opportunities. Yet security forces have continued to use excessive force to prevent Ethiopians from congregating peacefully, killing and injuring many people and arresting thousands. We believe thousands of Ethiopians remain in detention for alleged involvement in the protests – in most cases without having been brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime.

These are self-defeating tactics. Arresting opposition leaders and restricting civil society will not stop people from protesting, but it can create leaderless movements that leave no one with whom the government can mediate a peaceful way forward. Shutting down the Internet will not silence opposition, but it will scare away foreign investors and tourists. Using force may temporarily deter some protesters, but it will exacerbate their anger and make them more uncompromising when they inevitably return to the streets.”

(Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.)

“The sociopolitical situation in Ethiopia has led to a number of reported deaths, temporary disruptions of public and private businesses, as well as occasional interruption of telecommunication services. Dr Dlamini Zuma expresses her condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives, and also wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls for a high level of restraint as well as for calm to reign. She encourages dialogue among all stakeholders in Ethiopia, in order to find peaceful and lasting solutions to the social, political and economic issues motivating the protests. “

(African Union, Sept, 2016.)

“At the moment the people doesn’t trust the government, the government has lost political legitimacy, EPRDF needs paradigm shift to address the current political problems for the sake of the country, the people and itself”

( Former Prime Minster Tamrat Layne)

“Reconciliation, election, power sharing would not solve the fundamental problems and grievances once war starts because the stakes become higher as groups dig in deeper, the divisions become sharper and the sacrifices too many to allow easy compromises. The voice of the international community at this early stage could prevent this country from going into war with itself.”

(The Case of Rwanda:  Lessons for Ethiopia -By  Dawit Woldegiorgis)

“There has to be dialogue. This is a matter of survival…….If we fail to address the grievances of the public in a manner that satisfies the people, if we fail to create mechanisms whereby people can vent their frustrations, then the survival of this country will be at stake. …..With the support of the people we can address the grievances. …..People seem to think in terms of what is not in the ground. ….There are millions of people who support this government, not because of ethnicity, but rather it is protecting the interests of the people.”

( Getachew Reda, Communication minister to Al Jazerra )

“Hope rationality will triumph in Gonder. Legitimate questions require legitimate answers. That is politics. The Law of the Jungle must be avoided. Amateur and inept officials NEED to get into their skull that the risks are extremely high for the country.”

( Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Facebook page)

“According to the Premier , more to the recognized concerns, some anti peace and development elements are manipulating the youth for their destructive agenda. As the government is responsible to ensure the country’s peace and stability and also protect its citizens from any possible threat , it would take appropriate measures against these groups, he noted.
As per the decision passed by the EPRDF Council, reforms would be taken on the leadership , further strengthening democratic institutions and intensifying corruption battle in a way to address public concerns, Hailemariam said.”

(Ethiopian Press Agency, August ,2016)

No matter who said what, it is clear that the country is in danger. The two largest regions of the federation are under military administration and the confrontation is not subsiding and the loss of life and property is increasing by the day.

What is the solution?

In my opinion, the solution is not an easy one given the current Ethiopian political situation.At present, in Ethiopia, we have a government with strong Army who is adamant to quell any opposition by force and we have a people, almost half of the population, who is also determined to bring a change by any means necessary. The confrontation is escalating than subsiding, infused with ethnic sentiments. Opposition groups, armed and non-armed, are not strong enough to fill the vacuum and are far from narrowing their differences to come out as a strong viable force.

In such a situation, I believe, the starting point should be to try to have an all-inclusive dialogue. The ruling party should take the initiative and call for a national reconciliation conference to be attended by all political forces, inside and outside the country.The basis for attending this conference should be only respecting the present constitution of the country. The framework should be the constitution and any body who wants to change it should do it constitutionally.

The national reconciliation conference should chart the path for an election. For the election to be free and fair, the national election commission should be reorganized in a way that it can perform its functions independently.The laws that the government is using as a means to silence the opposition, like the “anti-terrorism law”, should be suspended until revised, so that the media and other social organizations can function without fear of reprisals.

Political prisoners should be released immediately and government should guarantee safety and security for the leaders of armed forces to come to the country and attend the conference,and in turn, the armed forces should declare publicly that they are stopping their armed struggle given that they are given the opportunity the take part in the country’s politics freely.

The people too, should start to organise themselves. They should explore new avenues to advance their interests in a better way, they should not be confined   to the existing political parties only, they should examine the situation to exclude opportunities, they should not let their struggle be hijacked by forces who are interested only for power. Instigators with hidden agendas, those who are looking for short cut to political power should be exposed and left out. Those groups who are really advancing the interests of the people should be supported.Non-political social organizations should also play a role in the national reconciliation process.

Actions which lead to ethnic tensions should be avoided by all means. The people of Ethiopia are greater than the current problem. Any opportunities that give way for the existing crisis to develop to an ethnic conflict should be discouraged. Those groups that advance narrow nationalism,those who work day and night to instigate one ethnic group on another, those who doesn’t believe in one Ethiopia under fair power arrangement, should be left out of any reconciliation efforts.Revenge-born-extremism should not get opportunity to grow.

Concerning EPRDF, even if it lost political legitimacy, among the majority of the population, it is not just easy to relegate it to irrelevancy.EPRDF still controls the military and the security apparatus with strong economic capacity with its party affiliated businesses. It is a party that ruled the country for almost a quarter of the century with all its defects and achievements.At the same time, EPRDF has to realize that it can not solve the problem by itself and by force. The problem has become bigger than EPRDF, and it is a nationwide problem that needs national reconciliation.It is a futile exercise on the part of the EPRDF to try to solve the problem with power. EPRDF needs to make a paradigm shift, needs to unlock itself from the chains of the few die-hard leaders, and prepare itself for sharing political power. May be this is the opportunity for EPRDF to reorganize itself to a single party and revise its political and economic principles. Otherwise, the longer EPRDF continues the current position, the higher the opportunity for its demise.

In short, political dialogue is the only option that is to the benefit of the people, and the country, and the opposing groups themselves. Current positions will lead us to unwanted results that would cost another generation.

A win-win political reform is a workable solution than a Zero-sum game,given the realities of Ethiopia, in my opinion. National Reconciliation may be difficult but not impossible.

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