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The pitfalls of rectifying a mistake with a mistake

The politics of present-day Ethiopia reminds one of the adages: “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others. A fool does not even learn from his own mistakes.” Mistakesare compounded by further mistakes rendering the country incapable of extricating itself from the hole it finds itself in. Every nation goes through a crisis at some point. In such an event the wise thing to do is find a definitive solution for the problem.Subjectoneself to graver danger by covering it up would be an inexcusable miscalculation of epic proportions. What we are witnessing today is the repercussionof attempting to rectify a mistake with a mistake. The unrest that shook Ethiopia to the core in 2015 and 2016 was induced by political failings that had persisted for years. The very nature of the obligation it owes to the people requires of the government to strictly enforce the law with a view to put a stop to maladministration, injustices, the infringement of rights, abuse of power, rampant corruption and similar other manifestations of bad governance. After all it is ultimately responsible for the violation of the rule of law and the resulting prevalence of lawlessness. The deadly protests of the past year, which led to the death and injury of thousands, massive property destructionas well as the declaration of a state of emergency for ten months, were the inevitable outcome of grievances that had been simmering for decades. The incalculable damage they caused is destined tohave far-reaching ramifications.

In the midst of this disturbing situation the government is trying to take a host of reform measures including embarking on a “deep renewal”, sacking and reshuffling its officials, and launching an anti-corruption drive, albeit timid in nature. Following the lifting of the state of emergency a month ago though opposition to the government continue to surface in some parts of the country in the form of strikes, disruption of road transportation and attacks on passenger buses. How can peace and stability be ensued if the fundamental problems that had already given rise to violence? Why has it proved difficult to address the grievances voiced by the public according to the priority they merit? Does a sincere political commitment exist in terms of listening and responding to the demands made by the public or are there problems which no one knows about? Why did violence recur after it was declared that a large number of officials at the federal down to the local level determined to be the source of public discontent were purged? These questions need to be answered.

Engaging the public in frank dialogues is instrumental in garnering solutionsfor the multi-faceted problems making life an ordeal for it as well as to identify what explains the fact that the government and the public are like oil and water.Trying to deal with public resentment on the basis of misleading reports or erroneous information is liable to be counterproductive for it is bound to fail to single out the real cause,rile the public even moreand give elements harboring an ulterior motive the opportunity to perpetrate acts which endanger the very survival of the nation. Sadly there are signs that these problems may come to pass due to the failure to draw lessons from the unrest of the previous year.

It’s only human to err. This, however, does not excuse making the same mistake again and again. And it certainly is foolishor deliberately malicious to stick to a demonstrably failed course of action to succeed. The fundamental problem that has afflicted Ethiopian politics for long is the unwillingness to adapt to continuous change and the display of manifest stubbornness on the part of politicians of all stripes. Nowadays the relationship between political parties has become so rancorous that it is impossible for their leaders and members to stand their adversaries let alone sit down and hold dialogues with them. It’s quite clear that such toxic relations cannot be ameliorated solely through the current negotiations involving the ruling party and certain opposition parties. The withdrawal of several legallyoperating parties from the negotiationraises doubt as to whether the process will have a meaningful outcome that leads to a long-lasting positive change. The parties which pulled out of the negotiations should also give serious thought to this matter. All political parties need to adopt a new approach in the realization that obstinacy has not got them anywhere.

Democracy cannot flourish in an environment where a single political party dominates the political scene to the exclusion of other players; it’s essentially a market place for the exchange of alternative ideas. To claim that democracy is thriving where the playing field is uneven for competing partiesis the height of hypocrisy. Even if each and every one of them does not have the same capacity they ought to be able to play by the same rule when they vie for the approval of voters. Democracy is effectively dead if the public is not allowed to exercise its right to choose from among the options presented to itin free, fair and peaceful elections. It may be possible to fool the public once. But it cannot be fooled all the time. That is why in a democratic system political parties always strive to secure votes by convincing the electorate that their platforms are superior to their opponents’. They will take extra care not to repeat the mistake that got them punished at the ballot box.This is the mindset that helps Ethiopia’s political actors to break the vicious cycle of animosity and distrust they have been laboring under for decades.Then the country can be truly at peace with itself.

As we have said time and again the utmost priority must be given to respectingthe rule of law. In its absence peace, democracy, justice and development will remain pipe dreams. From now on any conflictthat breaks out in Ethiopia due to bad governance may well have the same terrible consequences which have devastated the likes of Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The government has frequently been found wanting in ensuring that such a grim prospect does not befall Ethiopia by upholding the rule of law, which goes a long way to denyingextremist forces bent on wreaking havocthe popular base they need to succeed in their evil plan. The most effectivesolution going forward is to engage the masses in a genuine dialogue and involve them in the decision making process. Anything else is futile. In particular rectifying a mistakewith a mistake must be avoided at all costs for it iswrought with pitfalls.