Public Inquiry to Resolve Abuse of State Power

Roughly a year after the Revolutionary Democrats assured the public that they were more than committed to promoting good governance and fighting the political economy of rent seeking at the conclusion of their latest convention in Bahir Dar, it is now clear that the EPRDFites neither have the capability nor the willingness to cleanse themselves of the spoils of power.

Their resolve during the convention has thus far achieved very little in meeting its objectives; public outrage remains and popular protests have continued to beset the nation for months. The ruling party appears to be clumsily taking measures, heeding to the calls of the public to bring reform in the delivery of public services and advancing the greater good of the people. Never has there been a time over the past quarter of a century where the tenacity and intensity of challenges to their rule have been as frequent and extensive. The populace is bold, with the risk of losing lives and mass arrest, in calling for a transparent and accountable regime.

It was thus not surprising to see the party, following a meeting of its Council last week, issuing a similar rhetorical manifesto that the Front will take decisive action against the few culprits who use public office to amass personal wealth. This, the manifesto claims, is in line with a larger programme of reforms to revitalise the EPRDF.

Interestingly, this may sound all too familiar on the surface and many took it as being completely oblivious to the level of dissatisfaction and frustration among members of the public. It is a perception shaped by a realisation that leaders of the ruling party have miserably failed to live up to the responsibility of leading a reform within themselves to spearhead the country’s development.

Many, in fact, recall a public statement – ‘heads would role’ – made by Getachew Reda, executive committee member of the EPRDF, less than a year ago. This was in describing the party’s intent to rid itself of ‘bad apples’. The EPRDFites’ attempt to own public grievances as an internal party programme has blown up in their faces. It showcases how much they have failed to deliver, not only on issues of good governance, but also in ensuring social justice, curbing the practice of corruption and enforcing the rule of law. Not even what has mostly been considered their greatest accomplishment in upholding peace and security is taken for granted now. The repeated instances where the Front has failed to make good on its amends have many holding the view that its legitimacy has been questioned.

Reading between the lines though, the manifesto reveals that the EPRDF has arrived at a turning point. It has owned the source of the problems with no qualms, and wisely avoided externalizing the issue to outside forces. Although this could be a good start, nothing is as important as proclaiming the party’s leadership and its rank and file as having immersed themselves in turning the good old Ethiopian state into a predatory state. Certainly, such proclamation requires political courage.

Agreeably, with the dismal failure in delivering on their mandate, the EPRDFites find themselves in a make or break situation now more than ever. With diminishing popular support, both locally and internationally, and increasing instances of public uproar, which at times is characterised by violent skirmishes, the need to bring about reforms should not be taken lightly. Indeed, it is crucial to bring much needed peace and stability in some parts of the country where disturbaces could yet grow into a wider conflict.

However, the country cannot afford to leave resolving these critical issues to the Revolutionary Democrats, despite their proven flaccidity in implementing their own self-prescribed reforms. These are extraordinary times where popular protests clearly lack known leadership, if not blurred with ever changing causes that are increasingly bordering inter-ethnic conflicts and ranging from social justice to identity politics, and from self-administration to border demarcations. Some have even taken extremes, posturing that the government, despite its success in bringing some level of economic growth and stability, has totally lost legitimacy; nothing it does is accepted in their eyes anymore. It is wise for the EPRDFites to come to terms with the fact that there is a large segment of the population that has long given up on them. The time for them to walk the talk appears to have long gone.

It could be futile to have the way forward as another round of protracted armed struggles to oust those in power. Ethiopia has seen enough bloodshed and carnage to go down that dreadful path again. The dangers associated with this approach are numerous and devastatingly costly – both in human terms and on the nation’s advancement. Such is the damage an armed conflict in Ethiopia would cause that it would certainly destabilise the entire East Africa region – more so than it already is.

The changes and reforms even the EPRDFites have envisioned will not be realised with coordinated and organised public disobediences and boycotts either. The state edifice and its law enforcement machinery are too self-sufficient to be gravely impacted by such tactics designed to put pressure aimed at bringing change. This approach, however, will have negative impacts on ordinary citizens who struggle to make ends meet, on a daily basis. As it would be appropriate for those opposing the incumbent to believe the EPRDFites should be party of the solution, the latter needs to embrace forces outside of its sphere for a lasting but negotiated resolve.

An ad-hoc public inquiry, inspired by the sort of truth and reconciliation commissions set up elsewhere in the world to pacify conflicts among highly polarised societies, could be worth considering. Such a commission can comprise prominent public personalities who truly understand the intricacies of Ethiopia’s diverse social, economic, cultural and political make up. Meritocracy should be the sine qua non in forming the commission. It should be legitimised and empowered by the legislative body of the country, and provided with technical and financial supports.

The public, the ruling party, opposition leaders and protestors should all collaborate with the commissioners, who should be mandated to summon officials who have allegedly failed their offices and their constituencies by engaging in corruption and abusing state power. Such could be a credible institutional platform, where the public could proactively and formally submit its complaints and substantiated claims against government officials.

Heads may roll then; and the party can present itself for real public scrutiny, where the usual trend of assigning shunned officials as the Prime Minister’s advisors, party bigwigs at the EPRDF’s secretariat or in overseas missions will not be the case. This hopefully will enable the EPRDF to put its money where its mouth is. Its leaders with integrity can have the opportunity to furnish evidence they claim to have against their own members on cases of corruption and abuse of state power. Subsequently, they can facilitate those culprits to receive proper justice. The public inquiry commission should at the end of its mission pass its findings to the General Attorney, which should, without any prejudice, take the cases to a court of law.

Judging by what the Prime Minister stated last week, the government’s continued reliance on the use of force – even though it is mandated to bring law and order, or to give a hushed tone response to some of the legitimate claims raised in the protests – will only take the country deeper into a bottomless pit. It is a nation today where the multiple views and actors are drifting further apart and remain highly polarised.

Published on Sep 06,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 853]



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