Ethiopia: A Paradigm Shift for Whom?

By IndepthAfrica
In Article
Oct 29th, 2012



This brief article is a reflection of our thoughts about an article that appeared on Online on 2012-10-29 titled “Ethiopia: A Time for a Paradigm Shift”, by Zelalem Eshete, Ph.D.

For a general overview of our thoughts on the major tasks facing the leaders and policy makers of the Ethiopian Government’s, you can read our blog here.

The author’s primary focus in the above mentioned article is an opinion of how the new Ethiopian Government’s PM, Hailemariam Desalegn, could deal with the opposition groups in the country –  especially those who have committed to a non-violent struggle.  A request for amnesty for those  political prisoners who are committed to non-violent struggle, treating the peaceful opposition fairly, isolate and marginalize the the militant opposition…  Overall, I found a a few good points I agree with.  But as I reread the article, some points stood out that made me stop and reflect, and I would like to share my take on these points…  Let it be known that I believe the author when he says “This is an independent voice of truth in love. So help us Almighty.”  No one uses the name of the Almighty untruthfully or vainly.

In the interest of time and space, I will only mention five points that I struggled with when I read the article.

I) “You are positioned to start afresh, and your party should take advantage of this instead of wasting the opportunity to unite the country

I do agree that the EPRDF should not waste any opportunity to unite the country.  but I thought that they have already been doing that for a few years now, with great success and breakthroughs, I might add.  With a Constitution that guarantees the freedoms and aspiration of all nations and nationalities, tribes and minorities, the party has indeed achieved great strides never before seen in our history.  PM Hailemariam is a great example of that achievement – now all nations and nationalities are on equal footing.  The PM’s party needs to continue to move forward and strengthen/assure freedoms and unity based on equality of all nations and nationalities.  It is not a question of starting afresh regarding the task of uniting the Ethiopian people – this is already a non-reversible achievement!  The PM does indeed “have a great opportunity to mobilize the nation as never before”, but not afresh.  He needs to lead his party to build on achieved successes, and move the country further from success to more of the same.

II) “The silent majority that has been waiting four decades for a better day is tired of waiting, but it is still willing to give you a chance if you just make a gesture by treating the peaceful opposition fairly.

Now, I really tried hard to get the essence of this statement, especially the phrase “silent majority”.  My question is, who are the “silent majority”?

1) Is this referring to the people of Ethiopia?  If so, the Ethiopian people have been anything but a “silent majority”.  People from all walks of life, the rural majority, the urban poor, the intelligentsia … have been actively engaged in the rebuilding and development of the country.  They are the agents responsible and the ones who must take credit for the development phase Ethiopia finds itself in.  Although we have a long way to go, many economic, political and social advances have been registered by the hard working people of Ethiopia in the last two decades.  They overthrew a brutal dictatorship, and they are embarked on a path of great hope and aspiration for their future. They have been electing their local administrators, actively engaged in the political life of the country by electing their leaders at the highest level, rebuilding their roads, schools and sending their kids to newly opened colleges and universities.

2) Are the people of Ethiopia “tired of waiting”?  Waiting for what?  I am inclined to think that that the reference to the “silent majority” is not referring to anyone, but the Ethiopian people.  Why do I say so?  Because it is only the people who gave the EPRDF and the current leadership the chance to lead and govern them.  Repeat: It is only the people of Ethiopia who give the PM and his party a chance – no one else!   I thought it was the opposition groups in the diaspora who are tired of waiting for a change to reverse the achievements of our  people.  May be it is referring to them.
3) “make a gesture, treat the peaceful opposition fairly” – I do agree.  A strong opposition makes for a strong democracy.  Meles had reiterated this strongly.  But this is not the demand of the Ethiopian people, they never said we will give you a chance if you treat the opposition fairly.  The people voted for the party that best represented their interests.  Can it be more clearer than the display of great grief at the loss and passing of PM Meles Zenawi.  I assume what the author means by the “silent majority” is other than the Ethiopian people – if so, it is strange that their support of the PM is based on his stand towards the opposition groups.
4) Is the phrase referring to the Ethiopian Diaspora in general?  Even here, many have been anything but “silent” – they are actively supporting the development efforts back home.  The great outpouring of support for the great Millennium Dam is a testimony to this fact.  Many are investing in the country, are a great source of foreign cash earnings and revitalizing the tourism industry.  We can say much more.

But I am going to definitely say that the phrase is referring to the people of Ethiopia.  Let me show you where else the author uses it – which illuminates this point.  See section V)  below for the details.

III) Do not use “prosecution of crimes … as an excuse to silence freedom of speech

After the author pleads for the granting of amnesty to all political prisoners committed to a non-violent struggle (I am with him here), he then throws an accusation that the government should not use prosecution of crimes “as an excuse to silence freedom of speech”.  This sounds more like Amnesty International’s accusations.  Is the government using persecutions an an excuse to silence freedom of speech?  If so, the author needs to say more and give us examples of such cases.  We can’t just be throwing things around – we need to present evidences of such occurrences.  Otherwise, we become more like those who oppose anything and everything the Ethiopian government does.

IV)  “Empower the peaceful opposition through fairness … By doing this, you are marginalizing the militant opposition and forcing them to join the peaceful struggle…  Your integrity on this matter is the single most important factor to galvanize the people as one to move Ethiopia forward.”

I do agree about the peaceful opposition… and the marginalization and isolation of militant groups.  But to say that the PM’s “integrity on this matter is the single most important factor to galvanize the people as one to move Ethiopia forward” is a misleading and disingenuous statement at best. That is why we need to watch out what we consume – just as unhealthy food can come disguised as tasty and appetizing – unhealthy political prescriptions can come disguised and sugarcoated.  First of all, the people of Ethiopia are already galvanized to move Ethiopia forward as one.  How on earth can we jump from a statement about the peaceful treatment of the opposition to one where they become the “single most important factor” to move Ethiopia forward.  What will move Ethiopia forward is the people of Ethiopia united under a common economic, political and social agenda and policy that will help them eradicate poverty, disease, illiteracy and join the ranks of the developed world. Again, great sounding phrases do not make good recommendations.   We would like for the PM of Ethiopia to read such articles with care – not that we doubt he won’t.

V)  “For ages, it has been known that Ethiopian politics is like an electric line that you don’t touch. If you touch it, it will kill you… The silent majority stands by the sideline and watch the costly drama without end”).

Here it is again – “the silent majority”.  Now I am sure the phrase is being used to refer to the people of Ethiopia.  Read section III) accordingly.  Here we are being told about rulers who come to power risking everything, and then they feel entitled to stay there because of the price they paid.  I assume this includes every Ethiopian government that has ruled the country.  Let us just mention the last two.  The Derg did not pay a price to come to power – the people risked their lives and the power was usurped from them by the military, because the military owned the guns (I am not going to split hairs here about the military and the Derg).  But there was some risk there, I will grant you that.  What about the EPRDF?  They did risk their lives and paid a heavy sacrifice to win power.  But there was no coup d’eta, the Front defeated the Derg with the people of Ethiopia behind it.  The people fought and won, the people who were not part of the armed struggle were fighting in a different front, but they did receive them with open arms for they fought for them.  The EPRDF is in power because they have the mandate of the people, they are the people’s choice.  There have been four elections, may I remind you!

Now I think this last quote makes it very clear about the intentions of the author.  PM Hailemariam and the EPRDF are the leaders of the Ethiopian people.  It is an insult to refer to the dynamic and hard working people of Ethiopia, who are shaping their country and lives, who have taken their destiny into their own hands, as the “silent majority”.

There is more I can say in the rest of the mentioned article, but I will stop here for interests of brevity.  “The call for a paradigm shift”: I like this phrase – it indicates a change from one way of thinking to another, it is a revolution, a transformation driven by agents of change (as the originator of the phrase described it).  In the case of the political, economic and social life of our country Ethiopia – it is the people , led by a selfless and committed group of leaders who are bringing about a paradigm shift, with an impact that crosses national boundaries.

Let me say a few words about the new PM Hailemariam Desalegn.  The new PM has invested his time, skills and life to serve his people, party and country.  He worked hard in that capacity, he sacrificed other opportunities so he can continue serving the goals set by his party.   He had an opportunity to go abroad and complete a PhD program. He is a smart, intelligent and dedicated leader the EPRDF has produced.  He was voted for this position, because he is the best person to fill it at this point in time.  Nothing was given to him, a great responsibility was placed on him.  As the PM himself stated early on, he is not trying to fill the shoes of Meles Zenawi, but to realize the visions and policies set by the party by leading a team of dedicated and proven leaders – he has a great team to help him accomplish his responsibilities.

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