Ethiopia’s Half a Century of Longing for Democracy How much longer?


By Alem Mamo

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”   —- Albert Camus

Half a century has passed since the first “democracy now!” slogan appeared in public arena and seared into the consciousness of the people of Ethiopia. This short lived excitement and euphoria was soon overturned when the military junta hijacked the popular discontent and establsihed a ruthless authoritarian rule that lasted for 17 years. Throughout this period the military regime launched a brutal campaign of terror on all those opposed or suspected of being in opposition to its rule until its demise in 1991. In the process, the democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people suffered a setback that continues to this day.

The Ethiopian people were tossed from the frying pan to the fire when the military junta was succeeded by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). What followed is 24 years of a bloody nightmare that continues to terrorize the public to this day under all the platitudes of ‘democracy’ and the ‘rule of law.’ The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has engineered and executed political violence is a brutal and heinous form of state sanctioned rampage that is similar to the apartheid system of institutional violence.

The tragic events of the last 50 years as carried out by two authoritarian rules have not only delayed the democratic aspirations of the people, but also has inflicted collective trauma on the people and dislocated the political, social and economic equilibrium of the society. Thus, addressing and restoring a sense of balance in the social sphere requires a thoughtful, mature and deliberate approach from the leaders, as well as the public. Fostering a spirit of reconciliation and enhancing peacebuilding activities must be part and parcel of re-imagining a new country that is capable of healing its past wounds while building institutions that safeguard the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

We live in a time of a great social discontent and a great push for change not just in Ethiopia but across the globe. People are demanding fundamental change in response to a decaying political and economic structures that excluded them from participating and benefiting. The situation in its brutality, exclusion and form of oppression is unacceptable in Ethiopia, which makes the need for change more urgent, so that the suffering of the Ethiopian people under TPLF’s authoritarian rule comes to an end.

No one can predict for certain when and how social uprisings come about. Social discontents and rebellions have their own evolutionary progression and they cannot be formulated or designed into structured specificities. One can be sure, however, that all authoritarian rules fear the power of the people because they know all too well that when the people are fed-up, and feel they have lost their dignity under the regime, they are not willing to settle for anything less than total change. To be successful such uprisings often attract various segments of the society, including members of the security, police and army who declare their solidarity with people.

Although each popular uprising has its own originality and authenticity in nature and form there are great lessons to be learnt from social uprisings that took place in many coutries around the globe. One of these important lessons is confronting the forces of injustice as a united front by putting aside political and ideological differences. In this regard, forces that aspire to build a democratic system of governance in Ethiopia have been guilty of failing to establish strong and united platform.

The time for a united and coordinated struggle was yesterday. Any delay in forging this critical forum is not only irresponsible, but also dangerous and could put the country in an irreversible course of political, social and economic turmoil with potential devastating consequences. At this stage, the complex challenges facing the country, and its people are bigger than any political party or the ego of any leader. The task at hand calls for putting aside all the insignificant differences and working toward building a country where all citizens have equal right to enjoy freedom and liberty. Any political leader who wants to escape the harsh judgement of history must say “this is not about me” or “this is no longer about my individual party’s program” and see through the urgency of the situation and the dire consequences of inaction.

We owe it to the future generation and to those who paid the ultimate price for the establishment of genuine democratic system of governance in Ethiopia.

The writer can be reached at alem6711@gmail.com
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