Ethiopia: Democracy as a Unifying Vision
By Tadesse Nigatu
Most of us agree that Ethiopia is at the cross-road. It is at the cross-road because we have irresponsible and repressive government that is destroying our nation. The hopeful year-long popular and peaceful resistance initiated by the brave Oromo youth in Ginchi and engulfed the rest of the oppressed Ethiopians is being severely suppressed by the EPRDF government. The government is suppressing the peaceful resistance under the pretext of restoring civility through emergency declaration. The result of which will be indefinite military rule that put Ethiopia back to the dark ages. All this is only to prolong its tragic regime. To add insult to an injury, the lack of a clear vision and strong organization or organizations put the future of our Ethiopia in the unknown.
We know that various organizations are hard at work to come together to form some sort of alliance among themselves. These organizations include the struggle-tested Medrek , the Shengo consisting of many political and civic organization, the newly formed the Ethiopian national movement consisting of four organizations, the efforts by Oromo political and civic organizations to develop a common political platform, the alliance between Amhara resistance and All Amhara movement II and others. All these efforts are good and encouraging but not enough. At the speed, they are going about it, and the lack of common vision that brings them all together, it is unlikely that we form a viable organization any time soon to rescue the nation at this testing time. The old way does not work. We need to forge a new vision and work harder and faster to form stronger unity.
In this write up, I suggest that all organizations come together under one clear vision. And that vision is the vision of democracy. I hold the opinion that if all of us adopt the vision of democracy it can address all the pain points that each organization has and bring them all to a common political platform whether they are pursuing the interest of a given nationality or if they are pursuing the interest of the whole nation. In other words, adopting the vision of democracy can bring the “Ethiopianists” as well as the nationalist organizations under a common platform and speed their cooperation. Let me start by revising the concept of democracy1.
The Concept of Democracy
The word “democracy” means “rule by the people.” This definition tells us that the citizens of a democracy govern their nation. The principal purposes for which the People establish democratic government are the and promotion of their rights, interests, and welfare. For democracy to work, everyone must be free to participate in the political community’s self-government. This means that political freedom lies at the heart of the concept of democracy. In a democratic system, three core concepts need to work together. They are Democracy itself, Constitution and Freedom. Let’s look at each in brief.
Under Democracy we find
· Rule by the People through free and fair elections and other forms of participation,
· Popular sovereignty—the idea that the People are the ultimate authority and the source of the authority of government—is a fundamental principle of democracy.
· The political equality of all citizens is an essential principle of democracy.
· In a democracy, the just powers of government are based upon the consent of the governed.
· Free elections and other forms of civic participation are essential to democracy.
· If the People are to rule, they must have practical means of determining who shall exercise political power on their behalf
· If they are to rule, the People must also monitor and influence officials’ behavior while in office.
· Elections are at the heart of the practical means for the People to assert their sovereignty.
· Elections in themselves do not fulfill the requirement of modern democracies; they must be free, fair, and sufficiently frequent if the People’s will is to have effect.
· “Free elections” means all adult citizens can vote in elections and stand for office. Candidates for office are not in any way blocked from addressing the electorate.
· “Fair elections” means elections that are fundamentally honest. Voters must not be stopped from voting and all votes must be accurately counted.
· “Frequent elections” means that elections must be held often enough to enable the People to exercise their control of government.
· As overseers of government, the People must have alternative sources of information.
· No single source, especially an official government source, is sufficient.
· Freedom of the press is therefore an essential aspect of democratic government.
Under Constitution or Constitutionalism, we find
· The use of constitutions to limit government by law
· The People do not give power to government to oppress or abuse, but rather to protect their fundamental rights, interests, and welfare. Therefore, they limit government power by authoritative fundamental laws called “constitutions.” In every democracy, the constitution is a written document.
· Constitutions are the means used to state what powers government shall have. In defining these powers, constitutions limit them. This is so because governments may exercise only the powers defined in the constitution.
· Constitutional government is government that as a practical matter is limited both in what it does and how it acts.
· Government is limited to acting within the law and cannot make up rules to suit its convenience. The law applies to everyone, including those who govern. No one is above the law.
· An essential means of limiting government is establishing a rule of law, beginning with the constitution itself, which is a fundamental law. Thus, the rule of law is a primary element of constitutionalism.
· The judiciary in political systems has the power of judicial review to enforce constitutionalism.
· “Judicial review” refers to the power of the courts to declare laws passed by legislatures to be null and void if they contradict the nation’s constitution.
· In these judicial systems, the rule of law begins with the rule of the most fundamental law, the constitution.
· Some legal systems employ further means to establish limited, “constitutional,” government. A “bill of rights” in constitutions, which, combined with judicial review, ensure that the legislation, legal decisions, and acts of government officials do not violate basic rights.
Under Freedom we find
· Freedom, equality, and dignity of the individual. Liberal democracy recognizes the moral primacy of the individual and that all persons have certain fundamental rights. A central purpose of democracy is to protect these rights in the practical world of everyday life. Examples of these fundamental rights are
· Freedom of religion/conscience—the right to practice any religion or none.
· Political freedom—the equal right, for example, of all citizens to participate in choosing those who govern and to remove them at will through elections.
· Freedom of the press, including electronic media.
· Freedom of individual expression—orally, in writing, and symbolically.
· Right to privacy and to a private sphere of life free from governmental interference.
· Right to freedom of association in public and private.
Democratic principles as tools to bring different political organizations together
We can think of a Political organization as coalitions of different smaller groups who agree on common goals. The smaller groups are in turn formed by individuals who themselves have purposes that they agree on. So, in the end, a political organization is a coalition of groups of individuals. In democratic organizations, the coalition exists to promote the rights, interests, and welfare of individuals and groups.
In today’s Ethiopia, opposition politics can be broadly categorized in two main groups of Organizations. In one group, there are organizations that focus on the interest of national/nationality pursuing equality or even separation or secession. This group is generally labeled as nationalist. In the second group, there are organizations that claim to stand for the interest of the whole Ethiopia. Some label this group as Ethiopianist. In most cases, these two groups are at odd with each other. I know this type of labeling is misleading since both the nationalists and Ethiopianists are not coherent organization as there are many separate organizations who do not work together even though they are labeled the same. Labeling aside, what is common in all of them is that they all focus too much in their difference but not on what they have in common.
For these organization to work together, they need to carve common interests which units them. In other words, they need to find common rights, interests and welfare that appeal to most of their members if not to all.
To be frank in today’s repressed Ethiopia, one does not have to go far to find common interests that Ethiopians share. In Ethiopia, all the universal human and political rights are suppressed severely like nowhere in the world. The economic interests and the welfare of the Ethiopian people are being ravaged by the corrupt ruling party officials. Ethiopia is under military rule heading to a medieval era life style. If these atrocities cannot draw the opposition organizations together, I wonder what will?
A closer look at what both groups want to achieve reveals that their objectives can be satisfied if democratic principles are implemented and a democratic system exists. This is because, in a true democratic system, People are the ultimate authority as well as the source of the authority of government. That the political equality of all citizens is an essential requirement of democracy. That every citizen exercises equal right and that citizens have the right to the freedom of association in public and private. This is to say, if the opposition organizations are serious, most of the differences of not only between any groups but between any people can be addressed.
If all citizens are equal and individuals have the right to form association of their choice to pursue their group interests without any restrictions, then then the demand for secession can become meaning less.
As noted earlier, the challenge of coming together is not just between the above mentioned two big groups. There are serious challenges of working together between organizations who claim to stand for Ethiopia or between organizations from the same nationality. The source of the problem is the same-lack of clear direction that is common for all involved. Again, accepting and applying the democratic principles by all can go a long way to bring them together.
Let’s accept it for what it is, that the opposition organizations shy away from adopting the universal democratic principles. Instead of adopting democracy and its principles to become a united force, they insist to stay in their silo. The result is the existence more than forty or fifty small fragmented groups which in the end helped the repressive regime to stay in power comfortably.
What is more interesting is that most opposition organizations have declared democracy in their programs as the ideals that they pursue. If they all truly aspire to be democratic, then the next step would be to try to live it. Democratic principles are not subject to different interpretations. They mean what the read. They are clear and concise and should be taken for the value they state. If they are taken for what they are, there is no room for national, religious, gender or other inequalities. And these are what we need to work towards.
If there is no inequality, that is, if every citizen is regarded as equal by the constitution, then there is no genuine reason for separation or secession as there is no one who can benefit from a weakened and smaller nations. In the same token, there should not be any domination or discrimination of one group, language or culture by another in the name of unity.
So, if the desire of all political organization is to see a democratic, peaceful and developed Ethiopia, to benefit all its citizens, the direction is clear. It is implementing the principles of democracy. We all need to stop “beating around the bushes” and head directly to own democratic principles and values and apply them.
We need to dismantle the outdated small organizational huts that we are hiding behind for decades. In their place, we should build some strong and viable democratic organization/organizations in a hurry to rescue our people from this divisive and repressive regime. There no time to waste. We have already wasted enough time and resources living in fantasy silo.
If organizations are formed to purse their own personal interest in the name of the Ethiopian people or any nationality, they are not political organizations. They are rather business or trader organizations and are not the concern of this write-up. But for the genuine political organizations, accepting and applying the universal democratic principles and based on that forming a strong alliance between themselves is a must and in a hurry.
Democracy is a life style
It is true that we all must understand the principles of democracy. But that is not enough. The other big and very relevant part is to live it. To live a democratic life is to practice its principles and values in every aspect of our lives, be it, in family setting, in dealing with friends, and when we are engaging in our communities. Democracy is not just for politicians or political organizations; it is for all of us the citizens to exercise it and live it every day.
Democracy means, to respect each other, to regard all as equals, to accommodate differences, and to acknowledge individual and group rights. To practice democracy is to tolerate those who have different opinions from our own. To practice democracy is to care for each other. To practice democracy is to be honest and not take what you did not work for.
If each one of us practice democracy, it will automatically become our culture both at home, in our communities, and then throughout the nation. It is only when this happen that we can defeat the repressive regime of the Woyane and its ethno-centric and corruptive culture.
One thing should be clear and that is, if everyone of us do not practice democracy, we are not going to build a democratic nation. Even if the Woyany regime goes, a democratic Ethiopia is not guaranteed unless there are enough citizens who live by the democratic principles.
The opposition organizations must admit that not only we were unable to lead the peaceful struggle that has shaken the regime, but we were not even able to follow it. In short, we were nowhere to be found when our brave youth stood against repression and they needed our support. We could have offered seasoned political leadership to save the peaceful democratic struggle. Instead, the barbaric regime suppressed it in front of own very eyes. This should awaken the opposition that we were not up to the task and need to put our acts together to be unified.
My intention is not to harp on the past. It is rather about what needs to be done from here on. We need to quickly move on to stablish a unified and strong two or three organizations not ten little groupings as it is being done now. As the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.
We can no longer live in the past. Our eyes should focus on a new Ethiopia that is democratic where every citizen feels counted as equal. The goal should be an Ethiopia where everyone gets equal opportunity to be the best she or he can. Democracy enables us to achieve this if we all are sincerely adopting it.
The brave young Ethiopians have proved to us that if we are united for the cause of justice, however brutal the repressive regime is, it can be short-lived and dismantled. If all the opposition organizations can come together under democratic principles and rally tens of millions behind these principles, justice will prevail soon. It is only when we are undemocratic and divided that injustice rules and the agony of Ethiopians prolong.
If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.
Acknowledgement: I took the concept of democracy from the following address.