An apology heals, but only when it comes at the right time. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, apologised for what happened in Oromia. But his apology, which leaves much to be answered shows the difference between the bosses and the leaders in the Ethiopian political scene.
Last week, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn presented the biannual performance report of his government to the Federal Parliament, which, of course, is part of his duty. As usual, regardless of the natural unfavourable circumstances, he reported that the country keeps on growing economically, needless to mention, in double digits.
But what was perhaps unusual in his report, among other points, was the belated courage he showed, committing himself to making a U-turn in the line of argument about the demands of the people. He touched on the shortfalls of his administration in areas such as response to service demand, good governance, growing unemployment and impending corruption. He even surprised all of us by an emphatic tribute of apology to what happened in Oromia Region.
Of course, his daring admission of guilt and reversing the angle of the direction of finger pointing begs more questions than answers. In the first place, the Premier even mentioned the fact that his security forces waged brutal killings to search for peace, as they would argue.
How far and how wide can the finger pointing go? Would the Prime Minister push the self-criticism beyond rhetoric and start taking action? Would he use the leverage of his constitutional executive powers to charge or otherwise bring to account, those blamed in his address?
Is the throwing out of two central committee members and replacing them by others a right and far-reaching action? Or is it a provisional trial intended as a painkiller remedy meant as an emergency step to let off some steam to cool down?
Of course, the answer to these questions would vary depending on personal views. In addition to education, a person’s attitude and outlook are impacted by environmental, social, cultural, political and economic factors. The Prime Minister is no different.
Based on the experiences I gathered after visiting places including Wolaita Sodo and Arba Minch, I have come to know better some of the characteristics of individuals and communities residing in certain areas. Religion also plays a very important role in shaping the values people consider as defining in their development. Characteristics such as self-respect, dignity or vanity are all manifestations of the way people are conditioned.
Often, politicians are considered personalities that tend to turn away their faces from the realities on the ground as long as their benefits are ensured, knowing that they can tell lies and get away with it. But this often happens at the cost of other people’s ignorance and fear.
People do not like to take risks. They know they are being spied on over their shoulders. They have no means of appealing or reporting. They not only lack access to free information, but their poverty makes them vulnerable to the abuse of their human rights as provided and stipulated in the Constitution.
In the Ethiopian political historical records, people tend to accept their leader in the person of one man. There are many people in the country unaware of a party system of governance. Therefore, the Prime Minister has not only a Christian name but is also considered as the source of central power whose rhetoric is taken as law, ensuring commitment. Just like the radio was believed to be the source of all there is to be told, the words by the boss of the country defined the role of the country.
The Greek philosophers make distinctions between bosses and leaders. Bosses are like people sitting behind the steering wheel and moving the government machinery, while leaders are those who give the instructions and the directions. In our case, people believe that the TPLF that plays the role of leadership. It, therefore, dawned upon the Prime Minister to apologise for the misdirection, even when he knew that the people in Oromia were in no fault from the outset.
Let us now examine what the Prime Minister listed as shortcomings. He said that the government structures have failed the people by not giving prompt and efficient service as expected. But let us be frank and ask ourselves: who are those people deployed in every office and deciding position everywhere in the country? Who are those employed and given responsibility to decide?
Who is the supreme head of the military force? Does not the Constitution give him the supreme power? What has the Prime Minister done to check the impunity that is growing among accountable officials who never heed to the rule of law?
Who is to pay for the lives lost by the law enforcement? Is the verification process a solace for the deceased? How much does life cost? An apology only?
By the way, the Premier has addressed Parliament, knowingly or unknowingly, in lieu of the missing opposition party. He simply said that the finger pointing had to be made to the establishment, instead of others. His ‘barking up the wrong tree’ as this seemed to be, was perhaps ridiculous as he was addressing the members who were said to have won all the seats in the House.
Of course, there could be the genuinely elected among them. They should feel confident to be there and can ask hard questions.
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