Over the past two weeks, we have followed the appalling news from our country with deep sadness. Our heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have lost loved ones. Our message to them is that “Each and every Ethiopian has sustained a major loss. We are all deeply wounded and bleed from within for our beloved nation.”
Regrettably, we seem to remain oblivious to the tragic lessons learned from the terrible events of last June. Indeed, accusations and counter-accusations have accelerated and extremism has gained a life of its own. The emotionally seductive rhetoric of, “You’re either with us or against us” leaves no room for productive negotiation and compromise. Such strong and inflammatory speech erodes the right to freedom of thought, as it aims to silence the legitimate voice of the people. Polarization and confusion reign. At present, there is no indication that either side is making any serious effort towards dialogue and reconciliation, which undermines the fundamental prerequisites for democratic governance. Is Ethiopia in the process of bidding farewell to its commitment to democracy?
As we still mourn the 36 people whose lives were needlessly lost in June 2005, 46 more of our compatriots have been sacrificed by their own nation. Hundreds more have been wounded, thousands imprisoned, and many unaccounted for. History and experience have taught us that violence begets violence and can never be a vehicle for lasting change. Yet, we seem to cling to the erroneous belief that genuine expression of heartfelt grievance can be forcefully silenced. It is well to remember that fires hastily subdued are likely to flare up again at a later date. Besides, setting alight the passions of political fire in a land of ethnic and religious diversity is sheer madness and a highly irresponsible act; for once lit, the fire can spread uncontrolled and consume us all.
At this sad time of confusion and national turmoil, all Ethiopians have a moral duty to express our unrelenting resolve to break the cycle of violence. Thus, we once again implore all parties and the public at large to exercise maximum flexibility and restraint in their dealings with each other and with the public at large. Let us all use the lessons learnt from our tolerant coexistence with many ethnic and religious groups, to guide us in dealing with the current political challenge.
We all share the collective memory of fear, intimidation, brutality, indiscriminate killing, and the trauma and humiliation of exile that has undermined our personal and national identity. The massive brain drain — a result of nearly 30 years of unrelenting political turmoil — and an unprecedented exodus of those seeking refuge and a better way of life has created a nation of refugees and servitude. Coupled with the impact of periodic drought, dire poverty and ravaging disease, these misfortunes continue to adversely impact on our self worth and our international image. It is clear that our collective psyche cannot and must not be made to sustain further humiliation and bloodshed. It is time for us to focus on fighting the massive wars on poverty and disease, and refrain from any act that will further damage our national psyche and obliterate Ethiopia from the list of honorable nations.
We must all recognize and uphold the higher goals for our nation. National unity based on equality, justice, and peace must never be sacrificed for short term political gain. Our objective to institute democracy to give equal opportunity to all our citizens, and our devotion to the rule of law, must never be compromised to maintain or attain political power. Unless we urgently begin dialogue with mutual respect, and get back on track to work towards achieving our national goal, we are bound to repeat the darkest periods of our nation’s history. We must, therefore, develop short and long term strategies to help us back on course to work towards achieving our ideal.
In the short term, we suggest that all political parties should jointly establish a forum for mediation and conflict resolution to help address the current problem by bringing back relevant parties to the negotiation table. Prominent, respected religious, civic, academic and business leaders that uphold the higher objectives of our nation above ethnic, religious, political and financial consideration, should be selected to serve on the Mediation Board. The Board should be immediately established to urgently help to explore ways and means for peaceful resolution of the current political impasse. At the same time, the Board should develop and disseminate confidence building measures to generate tolerance, understanding, and some measure of trust. Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora, as well as the international community must actively and enthusiastically engage with and support the work of the forum.
Once the overriding current problems peacefully subside, the Mediation Board should work on a long term strategy to help us avoid similar political deadlock in the future. In this regard, the Board should review and advise on how best to address the underlying problems that continue to simmer beneath the surface to undermine trust and confidence between leaders and the people, between political parties themselves, and also between the various groups of people that compose our nation. Such long neglected core issues of contention that continue to erode trust and confidence and hamper social, economic and political development must be sincerely and fully addressed. This will help us to avoid squandering every opportunity that comes our way for true reconciliation and socio-economic development. The adaptation of the South African model of “Truth and Reconciliation” and the teaching of “Tolerance” as practiced in Lebanon and in the USA, should be explored to help develop a suitable template that is most befitting for Ethiopia’s particular case.
In concluding we must be candid. All political leaders are ultimately accountable to their constituents, and the only justification for government of any sort is to ensure the protection and prosperity of its people. At this stage of our nation’s history, the elected leaders have been given the clear public mandate to institute democracy and democratic principles as a mechanism for lifting Ethiopia from under development. Thus the leaders have a sacred and profound responsibility to do the public’s bidding and not to divert them to other agendas. If the leaders fail the people at this crucial juncture, history will judge harshly.
May God grant us the wisdom to rise above our current problems and help us to create true peace from conflict.