By Kebour Ghenna
The selection of a PM is a long process in today’s Ethiopia, dear readers.
Our ‘representatives’ have been and will be battering each others’ brains out to select the ‘Deserving’ one.
Don’t expect the ‘Deserving one’ to bring us the democracy we never had. But let’s at least hope he will be a unifier?
These days one feels like a fool for merely asking the question.
Will he be smart or just slow? Can he inspire both domestic and international confidence? Who knows? What little we know about the candidates is so blurred that we are as confused as you are.
I personally would have wanted to hear all the candidates speak and “pitch” for the top job.
Where do we go from here: Chaos? Business-as-usual? Avoidance? Or tolerance and understanding?
Can a new PM make a difference and lead the country towards reforms and stability in Ethiopia?
Under EPRDF you will find that the changing of the guard is merely cosmetic: no matter who sits on the throne, the office of the Prime Minister (post Meles) has limited space to operate. Power is exercised by what is referred to as ‘collective leadership’ (Advisors to the family?). Remember, this week’s ‘election’ merely serves to maintain the status quo. Once elected Prime Minister, that person becomes part of the EPRDF dictatorial continuum.
This time however, political disintegration plagues the EPRDF. People are angrier than ever at the ruling party’s arrogance, at increasing cost of living, at corruption. With no sensible leadership from Addis Ababa, Minnesota has taken over – and until the party leaders figure it out how to open up the political space, it will only get worse.
For the now, now, the new PM will have his hands full in dealing with at least three immediate and daunting situations: (1) Managing the challenges that have weakened national unity and undermined Ethiopians’ allegiance to their country, (2) Dealing with the ‘Keros’ and ‘Fanos’ and their demands for concrete political and economic changes and results, and (3) Fighting corruption and advancing accountability.
Let’s start with the challenges to the federation. The current EPRDF’s Marxist Leninist policy on nationalities, which is filled with many contradictions, seems to have reached its limits in terms of fulfilling the people’s aspirations. At this stage the people want more freedom to be able to express themselves and to choose what is right for them.
How long can the ruling party ignore that its approach to federalism undermines national social cohesion, and that it’s time to launch wide ranging public consultations, draw the collective aspirations of the people and discuss the “national question’ of the day, perhaps even propose a new charter of rights and freedoms for the regional states.
We have no answer.
But what we know is that the current standoff offers an opportune moment for a state-wide process of constitutional reform with the aim of either a comprehensive federalization, or decentralization of more powers to all regions. We could expect greater powers to include self-government in culture, education, economic management, taxation, and policing. Such reform process could be achieved by either a constitutional convention, or a constitutional committee in parliament, followed by a state-wide referendum. These steps would generate a democratic process of debate, dialogue and engagement, and hopefully reunite the Ethiopian society.
Right now no one knows what it takes for a new revolution or abrupt upheaval to materialize. Sudden upheavals may be caused by internal forces, by the established machinery of power, a struggle for power within the Party (behind closed doors), conflicts in Oromia…We don’t know.
The one thing that all these potential scenarios have in common is that a sufficient number of people are tired of the “make-believe” old narrative, where the truth is concealed, where political differences are not tolerated, where corruption is constantly getting worse, and where predictability is constantly deteriorating – in spite of the authorities’ assertions to the contrary.
So where does that leave us?
For the immediate future, whoever is elected as PM and his party should engage in healing our social tensions, negotiations should be favored rather than the use of force, the press should be given more leeway, opposition parties should be allowed to organize and engage across the country, and in connection with coming elections, political parties should be able to compete on an equal and impartial basis. We can even go further and suggest that in addition to the two legislative branches (the House of Representatives and the House of Federation), we could add a third branch for direct citizen voting on bills. Call it PeoplePower or something. The whole objective is to ensure fair and proportional representation that recognizes the interests of all parties and people.
Second, as is the case in many African countries, economic growth has not translated into employment for large segments of the population. Unemployed and under employed Keros and Fanos of this world will be waiting nearby to protest the everyday conditions imposed on them and effect regime change. A perfect storm appears to be forming, these young men and women are poor with nothing to lose and hence cannot be bought over, or assimilated.
How to create employment and wipe out corruption… Guaranteed.
Well, why not start by dismantling the unnecessary, and frankly superfluous, body of regulatory restrictions that are hurting the economy – Most of these regulations simply don’t make sense! Let the government create a system in which it leaves people be free (with a strong sense of social responsibility) to earn a living. It’s clear that when people are free to produce and create, unfettered by excessive government interference, they create new products and services that improve our lives. If we want prosperity, we not only need more economic freedom at the national level and region levels, but at the Kebele level as well.
Third, fighting corruption and advancing greater accountability should be the other focus of the new PM. Majority of Ethiopians want corrupt officials punished. If serious about fighting corruption start enacting laws that put squarely a presumption of corruption on the accused. Wealth that is not proportionate to the legitimate income of a public or private official should be nationalized unless the contrary is proved. The new Premier should use every bit of his negotiation skills to make sure the rule of law takes center stage and that truly independent even handed justice system, together with a parliament that is accountable to the public, are in place.
Will the new PM be strong enough to deal with the current political tsunami that has hit us all? I don’t know, dear reader, but I am naive enough to hope so.