It has been long since “national reconciliation” has been suggested as a prescription for Ethiopia’s political problems. Arguably, no political force has taken it as seriously as it should. It is because successive regimes have been denying facts and remain stubborn until the eleventh hour.
Though much debated and talked about, what national reconciliation entails is often misconceived.
There is no widely accepted technical or popular definition of the term ‘‘reconciliation’’ as applied to states and nations, at least according to Holly Ackerman, author of National Reconciliation in the Case of Cuba: Definition and Analysis.
The author makes a brilliant technical distinction between state and national reconciliation as well as the transition of the state and reconciliation of the nation for analysis.
While national reconciliation represents the process of accommodation and reintegration of people, the state version indicates the process of accommodation and reintegration by a government. A state transition is a process of changing the form or terms of political domination in a recognised, sovereign country. The processes do not necessarily occur at the same time, although they may.
Reconciliation is a more protracted process than transition, and it is frequently associated with individual transformation and local action as well as institutional, and collective processes.
It is undeniable that governments have been unjust. Thus, when we suggest reconciliation as a political strategy, we need to apply a holistic approach. The focus should always be the future. We must be able to learn from the past and correct historical injustices to create a bright future. The current uncompromising political culture is undoubtedly the extension of the past legacies where a few political elites control all the state machinery and economic power to manipulate the mass.
Mengistu Hailemariam was infamously quoted as saying that “politics is not a matrimonial affaire” when asked by the veteran activist Mesfin Wolde Mariam (Prof.) to make amends with the then gorilla-fighters before he was exiled to Harare.
But it is not only the stubbornness of the ruling party that would pose a challenge to implement an enduring national reconciliation for the current political impasse. The fragmented nature of the opposition parties could also be a major setback in this endeavour.
It is unfortunate that the fundamental difference among most political parties in Ethiopia is not strategic or ideological. It instead emanates from the motives of the leaders. Due to this ill-conceived strategy, many political parties have disintegrated.
The consequential effect of such fragmentation is far-reaching, and that is why it is hard to form a national party in Ethiopia. Thus, it is needless to emphasise that political parties should strive to be more inclusive, widen their social bases and include cross-cutting social cleavages.
Although the availability of strong national opposition parties is a threat to incumbents, they may also give confidence to the ruling elites to engage in the national reconciliation process. Thus, a genuine multi-party system is not an option but a prerequisite to a peaceful transition and integration.
The other essential element in the effort to establish a viable reconciliation could be the influence of elders and notable individuals. Notably, in the absence of a practical multi-party system, these key personalities could play a constructive role. Unfortunately, it is hard to find an independent elder in our times. It is a pity that we lack nonpartisan artists, business personalities, athletes or even religious leaders for that matter to shape public opinion.
It is a scheme that has been attempted before, during the post-election political crises of 2005. A panel that included veteran athlete Haile Gebrselassie was established to negotiate the release of opposition leaders. However, the independence of the members remains mysterious to the public at large.
To make the matter more complicated, the participants sometimes made controversial statements. Haile is an ideal example here. Despite his achievements on the track, his political remarks have put him in trouble with the public, as witnessed on social media posts.
But everything is not doom and gloom. As reluctant as political elites are to compromise, save for the recent election of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as Prime Minister, the enthusiasm among the general public is an opportunity to realise the much needed national reconciliation in Ethiopia. It is refreshing after some of the sad moments of the past two years. At no point in my life as a citizen of this multiethnic country have I ever heard of such unfortunate occurrences to innocent lives.
Ethiopia has gone through multifaceted historical episodes, of victory and failure. Our problems are complex and the attempt to solve them through force, and not constructive dialogue, has been further complicating the stalemate. Although scholars and opposition leaders have proposed national reconciliation as a solution to the political crises in the country, which would require negotiation with parties abroad as well as local, there is still nothing concrete.
At this chapter of our history, every stakeholder must be able to compromise and display great maturity to focus on the big picture than remain preoccupied with every minor issue and past injustice.
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