By Tewodros Yalew( Special for the campaign)
To Embrace Rights
At the heart of Civil and Political Rights rests the liberty and freedom of individuals. As opposed to the other rights deemed as economic, welfare or development; civil and political rights bestow the individual with the power or ability to design and mold his or her society as well as his or her life in the best acceptable manner as possible. In working towards this end, individuals living under the common umbrella of their state, become citizens with shared common goals and different interests. The first guarantee that can bring forth this kind of consensus building between citizens that work for their common destiny, among these can be cited prosperity and growth of the nation and its sovereignty, and galvanize their differentiated interests is the space of freedom and liberty. Within this space citizens can freely and unencumbered by the force of a single interest group, discuss dialogue and build consensus to formulate the best ideal means of sustaining their life within a particular state. When this space is stifled undemocratic governments silence every form of independent dialogue which they have not endorsed. The means of dialogue such as the right to assembly and association, freedom of expression, right to demonstration become impossible in a government that is decided upon mainstreaming the interest of a privileged group. Such privileged groups take different forms and shapes in different countries of the world, be it business elite, military, a minority, a religious sect, etc.
Freedom and liberty which are indispensable for a society that is bent upon the will of its citizens rather than the force of the powers that be to create commonly agreed upon principles of government, are as we know them today subscribed mainly in the UDHR and other international human right instruments and in most cases national constitutions that have adopted these universal moral codes. These human rights are meant to protect the individual from the undue interference of the government upon their liberty to pursue their life as they deem fit and work with their fellow citizens in their issues of common purpose.
Revolutionary or Armored Democracy?
The EPRDF that has been at the throne of government in Ethiopia for the past twenty one years has so much to prove for all that ask, is its hold on power supported by the people? Civil and political rights provide diverse ways of test for governments that boldly claim to be democratic. Major among these tests are freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, right to demonstration and petition. In all situations of patronage the free exercise of these rights can easily expose the true character of these veiled democracies. Undemocratic governments are comfortable when citizens are only concerned with their economic well being but get tempered when they want to be part of the decision making process and push for this by claiming their right to be the sole residuals of power as opposed to being mere patrons.
EPRDF’s score in these tests has repeatedly been a failure. Experience has shown their impatience for rights and their actions have unveiled their true colors of armored democracy. EPRDF has been the smoking gun of response for demonstrations on academic independence by students (thirty one people have died following student demonstrations on April 10, 2001) or even public demonstrations for free election (more than two hundred people have been shot dead by government security forces following public demonstration after the May 2005 elections). Twenty one journalists languish in prison for marching a legion of words and ideas against oppression, corruption and silence but this has unfortunately disturbed EPRDF’s peaceful abode of suppressed democracy.
An Ethiopian scholar Dr. Dagnachew Assefa has once said that EPRDF measures its success by its achievements of good governance than its score on democracy. Good governance here refers to the provision of services than the restraint by the government of its undue and illegal interference upon the liberty of citizens. But, the scholar adds that when it comes to this patronage-client relationship between the government and the governed, Hitler’s German was no less efficient than its counterparts in Europe at the time. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been the leading orchestrator of this approach of government where development supersedes any other task by the state wherein citizens sit at the receiving end of the system completely disempowered and at worst suppressed by their leaders. These words by the late prime minister in May 2012 at the World Economic Forum starkly represent EPRDF’s stance on the issue of democracy, “I don't believe in bedtime stories, contrived arguments linking economic growth with democracy”.
If such is EPRDF’s stance on democracy, it finds its solace in the Chinese, Singapore and other similar countries that are convinced of the precedence of economic growth before democracy. Indeed these countries have succeeded in building huge economies but their stability is superfluous gained through suppressing the freedom of their citizens. Perhaps the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China where more than two thousand people were gunned down for holding pro democracy demonstration epitomizes the economic growth- anti democracy model aversion for people power. EPRDF has for long tried to emulate the Chinese model of governance by trying to silence every dissent. But the Ethiopian polity is devoid of any such parallel as relative ethnic homogeneity, the Asian values or other cultural maxim that can be used by the power elites to come up with a national consolidation scheme which is indispensable to resolve differences either by simply writing them off or setting them aside. If the Chinese or Singaporean people have formed a consensus either through suppression or persuasion, EPRDF seems to have completely ignored the implications of striding for development without consolidating its power among Ethiopians. It seems it has depended on its sheer violence and armor to silence every voice of concern by the people except its own agenda.
Ethiopia is a diverse country home to different interests bent on their language, religion, ethnicity, political outlook, etc. Perhaps none other than EPRDF is well adept in reading the lines of difference in the Ethiopian polity and capitalizing on them. But once it took control of power, it has decided to make itself the single most supra entity in the Ethiopian politics representing every interest within the society. But nothing other than power greed leads to such erroneous calculation. For one, besides the total theoretical or practical impossibility of one group representing every other group, EPRDF’s party structure is incompatible with its desire. Formed out of strict ethnic identity the EPRDF’s building block party’s can only claim allegiance to their ethnic group they claim to represent. By trying to silence every other voice and locking the political space within its own agenda of sustaining power, EPRDF is pushing other legitimate groups of interest in the country towards the cliff. The HPR of Ethiopia represents EPRDF’s single most mockery of plural democracy whereby it claims 99.6 percent of the sit. In practice the government is being run by a single powerful group that completely resides over the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. But it does not stop here. The government is also in control of the media by incessantly wiping out newspapers and magazines and sending their journalists to the dungeon.
If the space of civil and political rights is not opened for all, Ethiopia finds itself in the difficult position of risking instability. The existing power in government has already gave birth to strong blocks of interest political as well as economic. Ethiopians face economic inequality and a staggering speed of inflation where the few stash the cash that has been the cause of skyrocketing prices of commodities while the majority simply looks while their hands cannot reach even their most basic needs. Millions of hectares of their land are being tilled by foreigners and the seeds of their land exported flying in the face of their poverty. These and other issues are not allowed to be discussed or, if needs be demonstrated against, simply because the government does not want to hear from the citizens. If the government is deaf to its own people perhaps their mentors have a piece of advice: Gao Xiqing of the China Investment Forum, warned Meles: “Do not necessarily do what we did”. Policies of “sheer economic growth” should be avoided, he said. “We now suffer pollution and an unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities… You have a clean sheet of paper here. Try to write something beautiful.” Yes try to write something beautiful and let the people author their future. Let universal rights of assembly, demonstration, expression, be our common guarantee against tyranny and oppression. Not armory bur the power of the people can defend the country from uncompromising interests that threaten our stable future.
I would like to finish by reciting what a former revolutionary against both the feudal regime and the Derg, Hiwot Teffera had wittingly reminisced in her book Tower in the Sky,
“On April 23, 1974, a little over two months after the revolution had erupted, Endalkachew’s government (Endalkachew Mekonen was the then prime minister), declared that the party was over. It prohibited demonstrations and strikes. Some ministers and high ranking officials of the previous government were thrown into jail accused of corruption and mismanagement. The government was not unified and had no full control over the military. That was its undoing”.
Yes governments impatient with people’s power and dissent has pushed the people and drove them underground and some to the guerilla but the end of it all was a disaster where everyone claimed to be the sole owner of the truth and disregarded the wisdom in the people to best know their interest.