Ethiopia: Laying the Foundation of Democracy
By Ali Galib,
Ethiopian Press Agency (Addis Ababa)
The Horn of Africa and its people had long inexorable ethnic historical contention and the international conspiracy under the umbrella of the various western colonial powers.
The latter have employed different forms caused harm and led the neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa to inter-level and inter-state conflicts that caused economic catastrophe and hamper people’s life. The ethnic conflict in Africa is a many sided violent struggle waged at several levels. It had also involved nations, regional/ethnic groups, clans, and is fought between and within states. As commonly defined, ethnicity certainly is a factor in the conflict, that has already taken place in inter-state level and intra-state level in the Horn of Africa.
Since in nearly all cases, the fighting opposing parties belong to groups with different ethnic groups which were fighting against the injustice and oppression on one side and the Government leaders who began restricting and proscribing opposition parties in order to strengthen their leadership and to establish authoritarian or dictatorial regimes. For example, Ethiopia and Somalia were for a long time in an overwhelming situation caused by ethnic wars from injustice, oppression, border conflicts and ecological conditions that infested the Horn of Africa.
Why countries in the Horn of Africa do not maintain common regional security arrangement, peace, stability, reliable democratization, and intra-state economic amalgamation for economic development, for their people who suffered from the long inter and intra-state level conflicts, rather than the armed conflicts that each country to assure its security through building military aptitude and technological equipment which exhausted the economy of their country. Why not change the crisis into a triumph of the people of the Horn of Africa and unite the continent to build the region on a popular progressive and anti-authoritarian dictatorship, that would indeed be aspiration to the rest of the continent. This will realize the unity of the African continent that become impossible to realize when Dr. Nukroma aspired and struggled for a long time for this aspiration to unite Africa.
Despite the peace brought by the EPRDF in Ethiopia, a country can be secure if only its neighbours too feel secure. As war and other coercive means internal or external is not the possible means of settling disputes, the problem is, the countries of the Horn of Africa must have buoyancy that they are willing to settle their internal and international dispute through negotiation and other non-coercive means.
Why countries in the Horn of Africa do not construct super-ordinal goals that can be best achieved by co-operative efforts of the countries in the Horn of Africa to realize more forward looking development. Such believe can arise from the generation of common projects with the neighbouring countries that promise mutual gain. For example, the development of joint rivers projects as the Blue Nile which links Ethiopia with the Sudan and Egypt and the Wabi Shebelle that links Ethiopia with Somalia would provide all parties involved with electricity, and that would lead to co-operation in other economic fields. In Europe, joint management of coal and steel production has led to co-operation in other economic fields that led the European countries into a defined progress. Being one of the countries in the Nile Basin, Ethiopia is affected by the rapid population growth and national resource degradation in the Nile Basin which caused the risk of intensified hunger and poverty in the region. In this aspect, Ethiopia has been working hard to avoid disruption and enhanced its economy by promoting the economic integration to tackle poverty from the country. To realize this objective, the nation has implemented the project of electricity which enabled to maintain common regional security arrangement, peace, stability and intra-state economic amalgamation. For instance, Djibouti becomes the first country to benefit from this goal by using this electric production.
Concerning the social affairs, every nation, nationality and people in Ethiopia has the right to speak, to write and develop its own language; to express, to develop and promote, its culture; and to preserve its history. After a long struggle, in the 1990s the winds of change have swept across the region particularly in Ethiopia which is experiencing democracy, economic reconstruction and conflict settlement. Ethiopia has brought drastic changes, revealing a new tendency towards democratization and peace. The most significant aspect of the democratization process is the transformation from a single-party to a multi-party system. There is no doubt that the democratic transition is the product of multiple factors.
First: the internal factor includes political and economic crisis. Second: The events of 1991 political developments in Ethiopia have brought to slaughter the military oligarchy regime which ended the century old domination, but twisted the country to become a land where even thinking was forbidden during 17 years of the Derg rule. The events in 1991 were a time when the military Junta was ignominiously defeated by the hands of the EPRDF in all over Ethiopia.
Moreover; it represented an important milestone in the troubled history of the Horn of Africa. The events of 1991 created new power relation that facilitated the co-operation of the rest of the Ethiopian nations and nationalities which frustrated the aspiration of the dominant minority and applied political democratization and economic liberalization in Ethiopia; it holds a special place in the history of Ethiopia which was characterized as a “prison house” of the oppressed nations and nationalities.
It is not irrefutable to say that the change in Ethiopia in 1991 became radical and dynamic makeover in the political structure of Ethiopia, because it realized the optimistic dream of the Ethiopian nation and nationalities, it broke a new ground, by introducing democracy and the principle of self-determination for federated regional unites in a formerly highly centralized and unitary state. It is plausible that the application of democracy that recognizes and fully respects the right of nation and nationality will construct a new life and a new society based on equality which can be a good example for the countries in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia after intense civil war becomes one of those countries as Mozambique and Angola in Africa that outmoded Marxist-Leninist single-party system and introduced multi-party systems and held free and fair elections. The EPRDF, under the leadership of Meles Zenawi changed the history of Ethiopia.
The question is why Ethiopia applied this kind of federation? And how Meles put the democratization/regionalization policy in to effect? To reply to the question, I like to portray that there was no other option than to apply this form of federation that brought life for the people of Ethiopia, first we should have to know that Ethiopia is a country of heterogeneous variety of ethnics, culture, linguistic and religious diversity and represents a wide variety of nations, also we must be acquainted with the situation of the Ethiopian people and the condition they were living under the hammer of the post regimes. It was not expectancy from the impending and invincible EPRDF to take off the entire great burden from the people of Ethiopia who were dispirited and needed peace and stability to overcome the accumulated conflict and intractable bloody incidents of the post regimes as Mengistu declared in his slogan ‘Everything for the war front’, that induced burden of under-development.
The EPRDF has not only prevented the violent dismemberment of the country, but also provided peace and security for the great majority of its population by applying federation and laid down for the first time in history of Ethiopia the legal foundation for a full-fledged democracy to bring unity of the indigenous people of Ethiopia in peace, if not, Ethiopia’s political situation stood at a crossroads, and the optimistic dream of 1991 would have been changed into a nightmare. It would have been able to contain one of the most devastating ethnic and regional wars in Africa as what is going on in Somalia or more worse. In the post regimes, unity of the indigenous people of Ethiopia has emerged from the barrel of the gun, than it was from democratic solutions. It was the result of force than peaceful or democratic changes. Thereupon, the EPRDF regarded peace as a reliable guarantee for all round unity, development and progress, and as the pillar for the realization of any and all noble objectives, and gave priority the security of the mass, and end the atrocities of the post military regime where minority exercised tyranny over the majority. First to know the EPRDF and what brought it to assume power and guide the country? Ethiopia had a complex past that needs to understand and put in a circumstance. It is important to look back at the post regimes period and learn from the past errors and transgression, because the recent past of Ethiopia needs to be taken seriously, to try to find what went wrong and why? According to this question, the past was full of historical injustice, exploitation, oppression, humiliation and misdeed up to genocide over the majority of the Ethiopian people by a minority including disaster of wars and demographic situation. Moreover, Ethiopia has been in damp that have no secure, it had been in a dramatic situation of inter-state level ethnic conflicts, because of the merciless regimes who were punishing the mass economically, politically and socially. And an intra-state level conflicts caused by border disagreement with the neighbouring countries. Through such analysis the EPRDF arrived at a better understanding of which path to pursue and which to keep away from.
The EPRDF came to cure the injury of the people. The conceded condition that made it possible for multi-nation federalism to be introduced by peaceful in Ethiopia is by applying regional federalism and sharing of power and resources amongst the regions to bring stability, unity and development though there are still certain contradictions in the Ethiopian different nations and nationalities that promote contradictory views in the interpretation of the past. This is not bizarre because there is certain person who has evil aspiration in every society who misleads the society to a nightmare.
However, it is undoubted that the federation in Ethiopia has gone further and more applicable than any other region in Africa. The federation applied in other parts in Africa as Nigeria, and Sudan was used by the colonial power at time of decolonization of Africa and certain parts of Asia as India as a formula for unification of territorial unites of separate antecedents according to their interest. But in Ethiopia, federation is applied by the consent of the people without force or any other method to be regarded with suspicion.
Right after the demise of the military regime, Ethiopia embarked on the path of democracy rule. The current applied democracy and ethnic federal experiment has two objectives that respond the verdict and hope of the Ethiopian society to elevate the substantial burden of the post regimes. First, to create a country of equal nation, nationalities and peoples who are equated in all opportunity, without distinguishing one from the other. No nationality will dominate another one, since the history, language, culture, and religion of each nationality will have equal recognition. Second: to put an end to authoritarian rule by democratizing the Ethiopian state and society as a whole, this being a precondition for durable peace, development and unity of the Ethiopians, the democratization process applied in Ethiopia would keep its unity intact, rather than holding together in force. I am optimist that the countries in the Horn of Africa will one day follow the path implemented by the EPRDF by the leadership of Meles Zenawi.
The aim of applying ethnic federalism was the only essential way to influence the various ethnics, to prevent the inter-ethnic conflicts and ethnic violence against the state and provide peace, security, the recovery from the mismanagement of the Dergue and give confidence for the Ethiopian people, to avoid conflicts and as necessary means of safeguarding unity and if unity is secured unity bring development and progress. It became irrefutable success, to stop the bitter wars for secession and ethnic conflicts. The ultimate aim of changing the existed power structure of suppression, defending the political, economic and socio-cultural interest of the marginalized nation nationalities, used as strategy for resistance against the domination. The EPRDF provided a fundamental legitimizing principle of a new constitution, the purpose of which was to restructure, or re-map the entire country after expanded bloody civil wars to end the historical injustice, exploitation and oppression.
All Ethiopian nation nationalities, including the Somali people in the Somali State who were fighting for secession, which became a closed chapter in history in those era of democracy expressed their admiration to the brave step concerning the democratic measures taken by the EPRDF and its effort to free the various nation nationalities from the oppressive system of the post regimes. There was a wide anticipation that eventually, they would be free to decide their political future for themselves. It gave ethnicity absolute priority in the administrative restructuring of the country and assured the individual rights, economic prosperity and equality between and among the different nation nationalities. Ethiopian by all its diverse nation nationalities has widely shared to contribute and participate and at the same time give attention to the task of improving the economic sector with a view to improving the standard of living of the people. It is obvious that planting of successful Democratic and health economic transformation in Ethiopia have become fruitful by applying free democratic election and the people enjoy peace and wholeheartedly move towards prosperity.