Ethiopia: Democracy Desires Development

By IndepthAfrica
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Dec 31st, 2012
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By Tagel Getahun, Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)
Ethiopia has lots of unfinished dealings originating from the national election, held incorrectly, in 2005, even after nearly eight years. The election was a process that began with undivided national optimism, but ended in the worst possible form of tragedy, and the lamentation it left in the nation is still revolving.

Indeed, it was an endeavour, which could easily have been predicted to bring the wrong outcome, right at the very start. The whole process was a totality of mutual misunderstanding.

Yet, it is better to indict ignorance, than the malicious intentions and motives of the actors involved. The magnitude of the risk that the nation took, by then, could have resulted in its absolute demise.

The cost of the election, in terms of life, bodily injury, property, and so on, remains a scar on the people and the country as a whole. All political actors provide their own justifications, in order to push the responsibility away from themselves and to put their contenders in a position where the consequences may bring endless pity.

Of course, the rules of politics, especially in an undeveloped nation, are full of hostility, rather than competition and cooperation. It may not allow for the sympathetic or genuine consideration of issues.

Anyhow, it is worth giving opinions to a political system that hosts plenty of popular misconceptions, or even trivial ones. The then opposition not only failed the election, but its rush for power has left itself burdened by the mistrust of the public. I do not expect the electorate to be without scepticism, if they were to reappear with real strength.

Their flawed campaigns resulted in a backlash that will take a long time to counter-balance. In addition to this, there is the huge contribution they played in the political unrest and its remaining costs. Of course, unprofessional oppositions could have done a more severe wrong.

By then, the incumbent raced towards democracy, whilst the opposition raced only towards power. Both were trailing on a rail in opposite directions to each other, though they were competing in the same national election. I often wonder how the Revolutionary Democrats opted to conduct a democratic election in the absence of the essential prerequisites.

It is only later that the 13-year journey to democracy was proven to be flawed, and the whole nation learned that it needed a national political correction towards democracy, since the right way forward demands it.

Political parties were loyal to their own quest for power, rather than the national interest. They were too unkind, even towards the electorate, who were victims of their misleading campaigns. They should have stopped being motivated purely by power and taken measures to stop the worst effects of an erroneous election, at that very moment. Had they succeeded in their quest for power, certainly, they would have still acted in their own interests, whilst in office.

When they discovered that they had failed, they came up with a proposal for national reconciliation with the incumbent; a short-cut to power. National reconciliation is needed only when the disagreement is between groups with their own strong popular base. The opposition did not have strong popular support, but rather they had a mob, which had come about as a direct result of their own wrong, short-sighted, election tactics.

In the midst of the unrest, Addis Abeba was betrayed by both sides. The incumbent was living for its own quest for democracy, through revolution, whilst the opposition was living for its own self-centred quest for power.

Who then won that election in the City?

The national interest won ahead of all other surrounding interests. Those who acted in line with the national interest and took every measure it demanded, irrespective of its impact on their popularity or personal risk, lived for the same at the right time.

The international media consistently reports, however, that the incumbent, and particularly the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, were responsible for the atrocities and causalities that resulted from the riot. Before observing this, I used to believe that only local media outlets, both the state-run and private-owned ones, were unfair in their reports, but even the giant international media, it seems, offers biased views.

I do not see any reason why the then opposition, who used misleading campaigns, emotionally provoked civilians, abused the golden opportunity that the elections brought, initiated, incited, stoked and failed to cooperate, even to stop the inhumane consequences, still take no responsibility. They were not even willing to stop it after they had discovered their quest for power had failed.

They were not kind, even to the electorate, which was the victim of their self-centred approach. So what reason on earth could prevent them from taking responsibility for their own mistakes?

Basic rules of law dictate that they should not escape from taking responsibility for the damage they caused.

Yet, Addis Abeba cannot be in an absolute lamentation, after that election, as it has learned how delicate elections and democracy, if mishandled, can be.

But for how long will the city live with this old threatening culture?

It needs to get rid of it, with a solution that can permanently ensure that it will never return again.

The boys and girls, currently in the schools, give the city a ray of hope in solving the problem. The other current reality that would help the city to solve its old headache is development, I believe.

Contemporary researches show that democracies that have higher levels of economic growth and development are more stable. Economic and social conditions, therefore, have considerable influence on whether new democratic regimes can last and function effectively.

Until economic and social policies change, the living conditions of the poor in developing democracies, including Ethiopia, and the danger of political destabilisation will persist. For this reason, the consolidation of democracy, economic and social policies must be directed towards development.

Economic development will transform social structure and create a large enough middle class to form the social basis of democracy, and, as its by-product, will lead to the emergence of new political values, such as; an enhanced sense of individuality, personal autonomy, and value of personal freedom and choice, which all support both democratic institutions and practices.

A direct effect of economic development is the increase in the level of education. An educated citizenry is likely to be more knowledgeable about the political process, and more aware of their rights. Such a citizenry is more vigilant in defending its rights too, and possesses a more effective method through which to do so.

Successful development will generate more economic wealth, which allows private-sector actors to accumulate resources and seek their independence from the state, thus strengthening civil society, as a counterweight to the state. Another beneficial effect of wealth is the increased possibility of resolving redistribution conflicts.

Such development may, in the process, promote extensive social, cultural, and political linkages with the international community. These linkages act to facilitate the flow of information and constrain autocratic rulers.

The divergence in the debate lies on the degree of the importance of development on consolidation of democracy. Yet, even then, there is no denying that development is beneficial to democracy.

Thus, the reason why Ethiopia is lacking democracy is because it is not able to achieve its prerequisites. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy is education.”

The multitude effects of poverty have barred every effort made, thus far, from hitting its target. This shows that a democratic, but undeveloped Ethiopia, is impossible. Ethiopians, who could live in a more prosperous nation, will certainly find it easier to deal with democracy, in contrast to the troubled days the country has already passed through, when dealing with the concept. In prosperity, enlightened Ethiopians will make democracy inevitable.

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