The Times are dire, but solution is within our reach–only if we want it enough!
By Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa, January 6, 2019
This afternoon, someone asked me what I think of the prospects for a peaceful democratic transition in Ethiopia in the face of the ever more deteriorating relationship between the Government of Ethiopia and the OLF.
Almost off handedly, I said that the problem is awful and gravely concerning but a solution is still within our reach.
While I acknowledge that the problems are complex and require sophisticated set of responses (and that, in an extremely difficult and trying context), I believe that there are some simple concrete steps we can take in order to ease things out.
The following is a list of such steps I could identify:
- GOE ought to start talking face to face, directly, with the OLF leadership. They need to do so as the Ethiopian Government engaging the OLF-SG, not as a party or a regional government official.
- Be transparent about the terms of your agreement and/or disagreement. Issue a joint press release and let the leaders (i.e., Dr Abiy and Jaal Dawud) do a joint press conference so that, in an open discussion in front of the journalists (and the public), they iron out the points of difference and identify actionable steps on the points of agreement.
- I believe both parties are fully committed to military non-confrontation and nonviolent political competition. We have seen both parties vowing that they are. If so, then they should sign a protocol on demobilization and/or integration of OLF’s soldiers into the national army. Once they have agreed on the protocols, then the specific tasks are:
- encamping all of the OLF soldiers in military training centers for (re)orientation and for immersion into the practices, codes of conduct, and honor traditions of the military.
- if there are soldiers who seek to pursue a non-military life, then modalities of providing them with necessities of life must be designed, negotiated, and readily executed. These necessities may be training/education, for which they need government scholarship funds. Or they may need access to plots of land so that they can resume farming (if they so choose). Or they may need a civil government employment depending on their qualifications. Or they may need benefits such as access to medical care, public housing, pension, etc.
- In line with the non confrontation pact, both parties should completely desist from actions or statements that suggest that they are trying to trick, overpower, outdo, or otherwise exclude one another from the democratization process. This can be easily done through a general, all-inclusive Consultative Inter-party Platform where all political parties are equally represented and their voices are equally heard on all the requisite components of securing an inclusive, competitive, free, fair, and credible election come 2020.
- In the absence of such common platform, the Government and the OLF must agree on a minimalist set of protocols (or a short but precise rules of engagement) for the duration of the transition. In particular, the Government must, if possible, show readiness to include the OLF political leadership in institutions that assist the realization of democratic elections (eg. Electoral Board, Census Board/Commission, boards of of CSOs observing election, boards dealing with utilization of public media for political campaigns, boards/teams dealing with campaign finance, etc, etc). In addition, it would go a long way to boost mutual trust and confidence (thereby aiding the transition process in general) if the Government involves OLF’s political leadership in some government/public institutions so that the latter can begin to have a stake in the system. (And there are many more such places than all the parties, let alone OLF, could demand.)
- In the negotiations, they should also clearly agree on minimal political points of engaging with each other until the time of the election.In my view, points such as the following are vitally important:
- complete demilitarization of the politics (by distancing the national security system–army, intelligence, and police–from the government and the politics; complete disarmament of all hitherto armed political groupings such as OLF, G7, ONLF, etc; and complete stoppage to arms deals, trafficking in weapons, and unregulated (re)arming of civilians anywhere in the country);
- total commitment to democratic election in 2020 and beyond;
- readiness to collaborate in the endeavor to address the popular demands of the protest movement;
- willingness and unswerving commitment to work together to address the plight of displaced people by restoring stability in the areas afflicted by TPLF’s proxy (border) wars;
- general willingness to respond to overarching historical injustices by unraveling the truth in such a way that injustices are acknowledged, atoned for, and forgiven so that the polity is transformed through a continuous work of reconciliation;
- mutual commitment not to tinker with the federal set up, state powers, the constitution, and the constitutional institutions and processes until a government with a democratic (i.e., electoral) mandate is in place and all the constitutional-legal requirements for constitutional amendment are met; and
- the need for separation of party (OPDO) and Government and/or State (thereby allowing for equal distance/closeness between the Government on the one hand and the political parties on the other);
- OPDO should recognize that all political parties brought home from exile are primarily invitees of the Government of Ethiopia (not of OPDO or other political parties in the coalition). The body that legitimately partners with the invited parties to facilitate the transition is therefore the Prime Minister himself (or a delegated Federal Minister), not OPDO or any regional official. As a host, the Federal Government should attend to all logistical needs of its guests (e.g., housing, security coverage, transport facilities, etc)– however small these may be–in order to disallow irritants and/or excuses.
PS. Oh, by the way, the GOE-OLF crisis is an Ethiopian crisis; it is not an OPDO-OLF (or Oromia only) crisis. After all, both are the problem children of Ethiopia.