I was at the Young African Leaders Initiative, a program sponsored by the United States Department of State and launched by former President Barack Obama, when I heared about the unrest in Shashemene.
The photos floating around on social media were beyond horrifying. Unfortunately, such lawlessness has become common in the country. Last Monday, a truck was ransacked in Bahir Dar and a resettlement shelter built in Adama was put on fire,not to mention the unrest in Jijiga.
I am repulsed by acts that mobs have perpetrated on innocent civilians. This has become an era where people are convinced that they can gang up and destroy people’s lives and hard-earned livelihoods and get away with it. Lawlessness has taken root where violence has become normalised.
I have always believed that good governance alone can only go so far. At some point, the public has to be able to meet it halfway. Leaders, after all, are the consequences of their environment. The more spoiled that environment, and the more violent the governed are, the more likely it is that a government will rule autocratically.
“Every nation gets the government it deserves,” said Joseph de Maistre, a 19th-century French philosopher.
The public, as well as the government, ought to respect the rule of law if Ethiopia is to thrive and escape poverty.
Violence is not uncommon in Africa, least of all those that are ethnically-inspired. This is not surprising to any African who grew up witnessing or at least hearing about unthinkable cruelty within African nations. This marks the difference between civilisations. The most civilised are those where the citizenry empathises with each other and respect human lives.
The respect for human lives is what is lacking in Ethiopia as a result of tolerating violence. Narrow-mindedness destroys logic and empathy and makes people vindictive.
How do we expect to institute a complicated system of governance such as democracy when mobs take the lives of innocents in clear daylight? How is taking lives and dignity a noble act that deserves the benefit of the doubt from groups that try to justify these acts? Why is it that perpetrators, who are caught in videos and photos splashed all over social media and are easy to identify, not being brought to justice?
These waves of violence are a constant reminder to us that as Ethiopians, we are not safe in our own country. This dynamic is a reproduction of the lack of freedom people claimed to have been fighting for not long ago. To the person that is being attacked, it does not matter whether or not the attackers are members of law enforcement or just a loosely organised group of people.
The liberalisation and normalisation of violence will not help improve Ethiopia’s current socio-political and economic situation. It merely destabilises the country and drives it toward a cycle of anarchy.
Unlike how we have come to understand democratisation in the past half century, despite recurrent precedents otherwise, violent uprisings often lead to autocracy. Non-violent movements are not only civilised but also create genuine leaders who care about the public’s well-being and progress.
If such disorder continues unabated, it will create a crisis of legitimacy within the government. Without a strong state to ensure security, it is only a matter of time before people resign to autocracy, and public sentiment turns to support a government that cares more about stability than freedom or democracy.
It is also just a matter of time before the aggrieved take matters into their own hands after witnessing that perpetrators are not being brought to justice, leading to a deep-seated enmity between people.
Compassion and respect for human dignity will not spring forth out of the blue. Only the public that believes in principles can be able to create it. If we want to be a society where love and unity are more than just rhetoric, lawlessness has to be addressed sooner than later.
The government ought to be able to account for perpetrators. Lack of accountability for wrongdoing encourages more of it. Similarly, moderation should be practised by the public and public figures.
Revolutions are not about killing innocent civilians and lawlessness. Justice and equality take the place of tyranny and social division when people can learn to coexist. It is about bringing the sort of change that benefits everyone. It requires the country to teach the public about ethics and respect for one another by going back to the basics of our human nature, empathy.
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