Unlike his previous publications, the central theme of the new book by Mesfin Woldemariam (Prof.), founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC), critiques not government administration, but the general public.
Titled “Inzech Emboch: Ye Ethiopia Guzo“, suggesting the downward spiral of Ethiopian politics, the well-known activist argues that, as a nation, we are not visionary enough. He believes that we focus too much on overthrowing existing regimes rather than establishing responsible government institutions. There is a propensity Mesfin refers to as madift, translating to crouching, as a political strategy by the general public.
It sounds that the veteran activist has raised the most vital shortcoming of our political culture. Unless we can address this fundamental issue, we would be doomed to live in the same political impasse that worried the professor. And I think he hit the nail on its head.
The professor’s claim could be validated in terms of the viewpoint of national psychology, which has been described as a supposedly distinctive psychological makeup of particular nations, ethnic groups or people. The assumption national psychology makes is that all defined groups are characterised by a distinct mix of human attitudes, values, emotions, motivations and abilities.
These are culturally reinforced by language, family, schooling, the state and the media. The idea here is that members of a nation have common national identities, which determine how they will habitually respond to situations.
On the eve of the downfall of the last Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I, in the 1970s, the public frustration went to its peak. Students, teachers, taxi drivers, and the military demanded change. There were those that chanted and swore even after the armed forces deposed the emperor and detained him.
What happened next?
“The people seemed satisfied with their revenge and went back to their regular life, leaving the most important tasks of establishing governmental and other institutions to the stratocracy and other unorganised interest groups,” says Mesfin.
The Dergue, which enjoyed the benefit of the doubt thanks to a long and absolute autocracy by Haile Selassie, pretended as a responsible alternative to leadership by addressing at least a couple of the most overdue demands of the people. They were land rights and a fairer distribution of wealth. But it did not take the Dergue long to transform the state into a totalitarianism.
The Dergue, after having clinched power at the expense of the mass and settled at Arat Kilo, started to dismantle all the spiritual, cultural, legal, institutional and moral values of the society. And suddenly, not long after the bloody Red Terror campaign, hoping for the downfall of the Dergue became the next agenda.
This is the strategy Mesfin calls madift. What follows after such public discontent is waiting for the appropriate time to take action.
It has now been more than a quarter of a century since the ruling EPRDFites took control of power. And it seems that, with all that is happening in the nation, the sort of peace and stability that is a function of a democratic transfer of power is becoming more complicated.
Residents of Addis Abeba may be more thick-skinned than the rest of the nation, mostly going about business as usual, but the signs are not good. And it is high time that we engage in genuine constructive dialogues with all the interest groups of the nation.
It is the responsibility of contemporary policymakers to change the course of history and create a socio-political system that would guaranty peaceful coexistence. The veteran activist believes that the ball is still in the court of the government and time is on our side to make history.
Ethiopians are very famous for their patriotic history. From the battle of Adwa to the recent Badme incident, Ethiopians’ loyalty to their motherland had never been questioned. However, due to failures to create an all-encompassing system by successive governments in the country, those wartime loyalties have never been transformed into the other aspects of our lives.
If we consider patriotism as our virtue, we have opportunism as its vice, which Mesfin mentions as one of the standard traits of most Ethiopians. As a result of this character, it has been testing to create a responsible government in this country.
The general public’s failure to create a legal system that is capable of controlling the power of successive governments is challenged likewise.
It is because the general public is obsessed with bringing down the most powerful than creating a better political system.
“With the downfall of the dictator, the majority would be satisfied to go home happily. After that, those who have controlled the state machinery will continue the power struggle,” Mesfin would argue.
He emphasised that crouching as a strategy is very dangerous. With this mentality, the centre of attention is geared to the past rather than the all-important future. Hence, when the focus is the past, it would be unthinkable to move forward.
Abolishing one system, looking in resignation as another one rises and takes hold, and then continuing with another struggle to stop another system is like going in an endless loop where people die and properties are destroyed, but no meaningful solution is at hand.
And that is why political struggle in Ethiopia has remained as the struggle to become the best bad leader, as the professor warns.
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