Just a year ago, we were in a constant state of fear and panic. Two of the most populous regions in the country were thrown into sustained political unrest and pundits were pointing to an eminent state collapse.
It came to a point where even the former Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, thought it better to resign in a rare move in Ethiopian political history. Two emergency decrees were imposed within a year of each other, local media self-censored itself and internet blackouts were widespread. International media frequently disparaged gross human rights violations, corruption in government and the lack of vibrant opposition parties.
The tunnel seemed to have no light at its end, and we had all but given up when members of the ruling party at last recognised that true reform was necessary. They took a risk, not without opposition, to catapult Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and his team to the top of the leadership rung. From a party that many were protesting against came a man with the charisma to usher in justice, unity and, of course, freedom.
Many paid for this tectonic political and social change taking place in Ethiopia with their lives. It was a hard-won victory that we should always remember whenever our democracy is threatened.
But what are we doing with this freedom? Are we working to dispel another historic ill – poverty, that has turned us into beggars on the world stage? Are we contributing to change the status of millions of citizens now without access to clean water or health services?
It does not seem like it. Violence has continued to flare up. But the anger this time is not focused on the government but other citizens. The aggression has claimed the lives of innocent women and children. Just in the first half of this year,violence has left 1.4 million people displaced from their homes.
Within only a few months of our freedom, we are proving right those that argued that we do not yet deserve it. We are not acting rationally to see beyond a few layers of culture and language into the humanity of our fellow citizens. Most of all, we are spitting on those that paid a heavy price to help us realise this freedom.
At this point, we are beyond blaming the government for poor enforcement of law and order or competition over resources for our ills. These may be true in some cases, but none explain the scale of conflicts across the country or why we have been quick to inflict suffering against those that prefer a flag different from ours.
Of course, this reform, which is not perfect, may not be to everyone’s liking, but it would be false to claim already that the political leadership harbours ill will toward the public or parts of it. There has been much goodwill developed in a short time to argue that Abiy and his team are averse to democracy.
What is instead driving the current political crisis is greed, which I am afraid will be what leads us toward greater social disharmony and loses us the freedom we won.
We all want more of something, often at the expense of someone else. We all think it is “our turn” and that “we” matter most. We have come to especially misunderstand what freedom and democracy are, which require an informed and responsible public as much as autonomous institutions to support it.
Much is expected of the politicians, campaigners and academics that have returned home. Citizens want their experiences and sufferings to be felt, not listen to high-sounding policies prescribed to them as has been the case since the formation of modern Ethiopia.
We want them to think out of the box by helping build institutions, work with traditional elders and community leaders and guide the youth toward a more constructive path for a better tomorrow.
Pushing through ideas that have emotional relevance but are devoid of logic, a populist strategy, only empowers its propagators while disenfranchising many parts of the public. It, will destabilise the country and create another generation with little sympathy for fellow citizens. It is a recipe for disaster in a country that is already in macroeconomic and political upheaval.
EPRDF may still be flawed, but it has checkmated us. We should rise to the occasion to show that this freedom is deserved and that we intend to keep it.
Hintsa Andebrhan is interested in politics and history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY HINTSA ANDERBIRHAN
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