One can say with utmost certainty that the ruling elite is overwhelmed with problems and is looking for urgent solutions, left and right. It was unnerving for them to have over 200 Ethiopians in Gambella killed by armed Murles from South Sudan. The gunmen kidnapped over 100 Ethiopians, largely children, and carried them across the border to South Sudan. They are now facing Ethiopian forces that are already pursuing them in that country to bring the Ethiopians back.
The crisis, contextually related to the saga of power struggle between Riek Machar (PhD) and Salva Kiir, has put the security policy of the Revolutionary Democrats in question. Their approach of disarming local militia in Gambella, having Machar in that state for an extended period and failing to protect the borders all warrants criticism in its own way. Nothing will, however, equal the anger being felt by Ethiopians as each day passes without the army being able to release the victims of the kidnappers.
This crisis came at a time when the Ethiopian economy is losing its longstanding momentum of growth, largely due to the impact of El-Niño-caused drought. With over 10 million Ethiopians looking for food aid, the balance sheet of the government is experiencing an extended expenditure line. It is to ease the burden that an army of high level government officials is visiting Western capitals to fill the resources gap needed to feed the drought-stricken Ethiopians. A world overstretched by the fight against Islamic State, wars in Syria and Iraq, migrant crisis across Europe and the rise of extremely conservative political parties is not giving enough attention to Ethiopia’s resource needs.
Public disappointment is still pervasive in Oromia, Amhara and Tigray. Despite months of well-intentioned efforts, the crisis in Oromia is yet to be solved. The latest actions, including charging senior members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) for allegedly collaborating with an outlawed group and dismantling the constitutional order, have heightened public displeasure in the region. Cases related to identity in Amhara and Tigray are yet to see their final conclusions.
The problem list with which the ruling EPRDFites are struggling is long. It extends to corruption, poor service delivery, declining demands for exports, low interest of local investors to put money into industrialisation and lack of integration within the bureaucracy. It all looks like the ruling elite is sitting on top of a problem mountain, with hands outstretched in all directions.
Transpiring as a panacea in all this is the good governance movement they have initiated. The tendency is to put lack of good governance as the root cause of most of the problems witnessed in the sphere, bar the drought and the killings in Gambella. Lack of good governance has become the new tune that the various tiers of the ruling elite dance to together. It has become the one-size-fits-all solution forwarded everywhere and every time.
For the ruling EPRDFites, the crisis in Oromia and corruption in the Addis Abeba City Administration are similar in that they are both manifestations of lack of good governance. Bad governance has become the new basket into which every problem in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres of the country is put into. Measures such as systematic differentiation of problems, analyzing individual cases and looking for alternative narratives do not exist. There is even a tendency to categorize all the efforts of those who try to take these steps as hindrances to reform.
True, the ruling EPRDF is not new to problems. It is a party that has thrived through the thick and thin of two decades of governing a volatile country located in a hostile region. It has huge experience in striking good balances, making effective compromises, prioritizing efficiently and diffusing headwinds. In this sense, the Revolutionary Democrats are amongst the few political agencies in Africa that have managed to thrive in turbulent waters.
But things have changed so much over the years. With the death of its long-serving leader, Meles Zenawi, the ruling party has morphed into a platform of consensual decision making. An emerging middle-class has made democratic progression a necessity. The rather massive contingent of the young population across the country, 70pc by some estimates, is asking for its own share of the economic cake. Identity politics is taking a new shape in the country, as witnessed in the case of the Kimant in Amhara State and Wolkayit in Tigray State, communities asking for a higher level of identity recognition.
In the context of this changed reality, the Revolutionary Democrats’ way of approaching the pertinent problems in the country is nothing but desperate action. It can neither justify the problems, nor will it help solve them. It might reduce the pain, but will not cure the ailment. It is a trick that only postpones the problems.
None of the administrative improvements the ruling EPRDFites are taking will solve these problems. Of course, in and of itself, improving the decision making and service provision systems of the bureaucracy is a good thing. It is a step in the right direction.
After all, citizens ought to be served effectively by the system created to serve them. And it is the obligation of the bureaucracy to deliver quality services to citizens. Failure to discharge duties shall be punishable according to the administrative procedures.
That being the case, what citizens are asking for is more than that. Be it in Oromia, Amhara, Tigray or Addis Abeba, citizens are clamouring for the political space to be inclusive, sufficiently competitive, even and lawful. The questions of the time are about freedom of expression, self-administration, governmental accountability, respect for the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Also being demanded are academic freedom, effective market competition, transparent systems and the impartial treatment of citizens.
None of these questions can be answered by administrative measures. Essentially, the questions are political in nature. And the only qualified answer that can be given to them is political. They can be solved only by correcting the politics of the nation.
It is vivid that the politics of the nation is failing citizens, time and again. Power is increasingly monopolized with each day. Only the political narrative of the ruling elite is allowed to be aired, echoed and heard. Alternative narratives are being suppressed, opponents are being jailed and rights are being repressed. The political space is becoming suffocating. Political monopoly has become the new normal imposed on Ethiopians.
Indeed, the ruling elite may have their own explanation for all this. But no explanation can help solve these problems that are putting the future of the nation in danger. Only a genuine political reform with the intention of making the political space inclusive, competitive and representative can solve them.
In the real sense of things, this may mean conducting snap elections in some regions. It may also involve giving the political opposition the space, the platform, the freedom and the resources to communicate their narratives with the public.
Through formal and informal channels, alternative opinions ought to be brought to the fore. And the political core has to see a vibrant market of ideas. Decisions should not be thrown top-down. Public feedback ought to be leveraged bottom-up.
The era of favouritism ought to end. Citizens ought to be treated equally. The law shall prevail. Systems of checks and balances ought to be functional. The independence of the judiciary needs to be guaranteed and human rights ought to be respected.
It is only if the political space is made to fit the nature of the nation that all the problems stressing the Revolutionary Democrats can be solved. The situation otherwise, would be like fetching an ocean with a bucket.
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