Me’demer: More Sophisticated than It Seems




The past few months have been full of wonders in the Ethiopian political arena. After a young, inspired and awe-inspiring Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed (PhD), took the leadership, tremendous political decisions shifted the political discourse in a new way. For most of us living abroad, the rise of Abiy is something like a divine providence that kept us quite amazed and shocked in disbelief.

What is behind the success of Abiy though?

One of the first things that Abiy introduced to the political discourse of the country is his disruptive leadership and a new way of seeing the political affairs of the nation – he calls it Me’demer. It means to embrace or be embraced, or literally, to add or addition.

For Ethiopians and political activists, his appointment changes the usual way history is taken for granted in the political discourse of the country. His team acknowledges the credit people deserve as one of the active agents of change rather than a passive implementer of changes proposed and imposed top-down.

A special case to the political art and craft of Abiy is his ability and willingness to embrace differences and invite all political entities, including those who were recognised as “terrorists” by the government and deprived of their rights to come back home and engage in peaceful competition and cooperation.

For many Ethiopians, his injection of a buzzword – Me’demer– sums up all his political ideologies and tents that Abiy wishes his country adopt as its doctrine for better tolerance and peaceful transition to democracy. The question that remains, however, is what the word actually entails.

What is in it? And what is the origin of this home-grown philosophical outlook?

New as it is to everyone, Me’demerpoints to a trilateral and trialectics form of leadership. This perspective of mine on the concept arises in relation to Abiy’s life and development as a leader. I take a perspective of the personal as the political and the personal as the public.

This explanation develops in contrast to the ideal perspective of neglecting the person, as in the case of the “death of authority” in critical engagement in literature. The subject, in this case Abiy, is at the centre of the discussion to decipher his major moves and decisions.

Thus, it is crucial to look at some attributes of Abiy’s leadership that are manifested at the core ofMe’demer. The concept is trilateral. It has three sides to it. Primarily, Me’demerconsists of a strong notion of reconciliation.

In this process and cultural practice of Ethiopians, forgiving the past, with acknowledgement for the damages it has done, in some cases followed by ransoms for the damage by the perpetrator, is a key to help the community continue its coexistence in equilibrium. Abiy mentioned the need for reconciliation time and again in his speeches in the country as well as his visits of the diaspora community in the United States.

The other important element of Me’demer, quite related to the notion of reconciliation, is forgiveness. Forgiveness is promoted by Ethiopians almost everywhere and is at the core of the two largest religions in the country, Islam and Christianity.

Last but not least, there is an important Ethiopian culture described by Tibebu Teshale as “the granting of the primacy of the public will over the individual will.”

Abiy’s worldview consists of these cultural and spiritual dimensions that recognise and affirm the primacy of the public, and it is manifest in the new discourse of Me’demerand the leadership perspectives that are being taken by his office.

Apart from being trilateral, Me’demeris also trialectics, adaptable to Edward Soja’s notion of the “thirdspace”. Me’demeris not about “We” and “they”. It is about “We” and many other “Wes”. It is not discourse, in the sense which is commonly known as political discourse induced by Western tradition.

Rather, it is poly-course or preferably “DIS- course,” a different path to be taken or many paths to be considered. Me’demeris not dialectical. It is not Hegelian in the sense of thesis and its polar anti-thesis. Rather, it is about plural theses, it does not situate Ethiopia and “Ethiopianism” as the thesis and anti-thesis of groups. Rather it confirms to the inclusion of all in the formation of state and nationhood and these moves beyond the thesis-antithesis pattern.

Me’demeris trialectic in three ways. First, it begins with multiple theses opening the room for possibilities of ideas from all Ethiopians – individuals and lingo-cultural groups alike – to come to the fore and be equally heard. In its deepest sense, Me’demerimplicitly unfastens the idea of majority democracy.

Although it is not yet well-articulated what the points of departure between Me’demerand Democracy are, the concept entails the basic essence of democracy by fulfilling the rights of the people. It might be the case that Me’demergrants majority rule while also allowing the minority to take part in the business of ruling.

The composition of the current cabinet might say something in this regard where women, who have been minorities in the leadership are sharing half of the Abiy’s cabinet, crucial positions in the country’s political arena. The issue can also be approached from the proportionate ethnic composition cabinet.

These might provide a faint trace of the slight departure from conceptualising democracy as is common in the dictum that the majority rules while the minority’s rights are respected.

Last but not least, Me’demerhas a spiritual-moral dimension, promotes servant leadership, and affirms the inclusion of all citizens only by their virtue of being Ethiopian. As a leader following this model of leadership, Abiy himself demonstrated thus far that his role is to help the people achieve a shared vision. It seems that the leadership will also be in the same path in the light of commitment, empathy, and foresight.

Me’demeris thus a leadership prism with these three necessary and likely quintessential trialectics. It proves to be unifying under a basic tenet of everything-comes-together. In this way, it flares the hope that Me’demerwill declare the opening of a new chapter of how identity and nationhood are perceived in Ethiopia.

Thus, instead of talking in Western political jargon, it is now time to turn into something home-grown: Trialectic Me’demer or Sil is Me’demer in Amharic.



By Ashenafi Alemu
Ashenafi Alemu is a doctoral candidate and sessional lecturer at the University of British Columbia. He can be reached at ashenafi.alemu@ubc.ca.

Published on Nov 03,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 966]


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