October 30, 2008
I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In this article, we would like to draw the attention of Ethiopians in the Diaspora to the sweeping political and social changes that are shaping up in the
The lessons of experience from the democratic process can and should be useful guides to our collective endeavors for the formation of political pluralism based on peaceful and open political competition and the unencumbered participation of
The majority of Ethiopians choose the
If he succeeds in his bid for the Presidency of the
In order to give meaning to the potential lessons that Ethiopians in the Diaspora and those with access to information in
The Ethiopian context and the need for a new paradigm of thinking:
There are valid and urgent reasons why we must be willing to learn and amend our old behaviors and ways. The primary one is the fact that Ethiopian society needs dramatic transformation in order to improve the lives of all citizens. That is to say, Ethiopians citizens are eager to embrace peaceful change for the better. For that to happen, they want to participate in shaping their own destiny. They want voice. They want Ethiopian political and opinion leaders as well as intellectuals to take the high road of civil discourse on issues and move away from focusing on personalities and personal squabbles Because of fear of civil discourse and political competition, successive Ethiopian regimes have failed to accommodate the aspirations of
Untold number of innocent Ethiopians, especially youth, lost their lives during the repressive regime headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Hundreds of thousands left their homeland. Thousands toiled in jail. The country lost its most important assets, public confidence in government and, human capital. In addition, the regime spent billions of dollars to maintain law and order and, to preserve a non-responsive political and economic system that ultimately fell. These precious resources were critical for development. The regime never made a sustained effort to deploy civil discourse and dialogue. It failed to reach out to opponents to settle civil unrest. It relied on brute force and on fear, political traditions the current ruling party applies consistently. It is hard to claim that the majority of Ethiopians gained from this chapter of their history.
The successor regime led by Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and its umbrella political machine, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), converted the country into what one is tempted to call a private monopoly. Its governance has literally linked the state and the party. New stakeholders with untold wealth and influence have emerged. The majority of Ethiopians remain desperately poor (less than $1:00 a day), disempowered and dependent. Under the TPLF/EPRDF and for the first time,
During the 2005 general elections, thousands of Ethiopians were jailed en-masse. Blameless girls, boys, women, men, mothers, fathers and, grandparents were killed. Their sole crime was peaceful protest and participation during an election process to which the ruling party was not committed. Similar to the regime it replaced, the leadership of the ruling party, forced thousands to flee their homeland. It sent the entire leadership and active supporters of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (KINJIT) to jail.
We can identify numerous other examples that show damaging effects of the ruling partys governance on the countrys future. Two additional ones will suffice. The regimes ethnic-based education policy is a disaster for the future of the country. It is producing a generation that cannot compete for quality jobs. Narrow, ethnic based and qualitatively deficient, the current system deprives
Ethnic federalism robs the Ethiopian people the means to maintain their hard won identity as Ethiopians. Free flow of people, capital, goods and services is highly restricted by design. Access to information among
Deficits in governance and trust:
Denial of fundamental human rights, abrogation of the rule of law, repression of civil society and independent political work and disempowerment of all classes of Ethiopians, isolation from one another, huge unemployment continue unabated. A July 2008 research paper by a major multilateral organization entitled Information Access, Governance and Service Delivery in Key Sectors: Themes and Lessons from
All three deficits show structural and policy deficiencies that have characterized the Ethiopian state for the past 17 years. The governance deficit shows that Ethiopian citizens do not have access to information on resource allocation; donor assistance; decision- making processes; procurement of goods and serviced. Information is often hoarded and hidden from beneficiaries and citizens deliberately. Participation by citizens, accountability to citizens and transparency in the use of resources and, procurement of goods and services are kept opaque (unclear) and restricted. Decisions on allocation of federal resources are kept from the public eye. Appointments at the local and regional levels are based on party loyalty and affiliation. The intent is to safeguard the political, economic and financial interests and dominance of the ruling party and its supporters. Linkage between state and party facilitates denial of information to the public. There are no independent civic organizations or independent and free media entities to inform the public. State owned media serves the state and the party.
In the same document, the authors indicate, there is a wide attitudinal gulf between service providers of the government (HIV/AIDS services and drug, water, and sewage services, satellite television to provide education) and the citizenry. Lack of trust between government and citizens is inextricably linked to governance. The authors confirm that it is virtually impossible to distinguish the state from the ruling party. The two are interwoven and serve the same political, financial, and economic interests of the ruling party. They show that decentralization has not enabled rural peasants, cooperatives, civic associations, local and regional governments to make decisions or to influence decisions by the party and the state. Decentralization is used as a means of control. It is not used to promote public voice and participation.
Questions of institutional autonomy and inadequate information (to the public) characterize the Ethiopian health system, the mass-media, water and sewage and others). Lack of access to public information deprives citizens to claim and demand legitimate services and investments. Under these conditions, citizens do not play any role in providing any oversight in matters that affect their lives. One of the most disturbing findings in this report is the role of fear in
The above research study shows that the leaders of the Ethiopian ruling party and its supporters do not have any stake in empowered and free Ethiopian citizens. Hoarding information, denying access to public information, centralized decision-making and total control of civic society are part and parcel of monopolizing the instruments of the state to serve the party and its emerging stakeholders Financial resources, foreign aid, budgets, loans and credits and technical assistance all go hand in hand with this form of governance. The demand for good governance is therefore at the heart for peaceful transformation in
Last summer, the Gallop organization conducted a survey and established low level of trust of Ethiopians in their government, especially, leaders, elections, the judiciary, rule of law and police and security forces. The only institutions in which Ethiopians had a high level of trust were churches and mosques. For those who had hoped that the election of 2010 may become free and fair the above and other findings may be disappointing. We have confirmed reports that the TPLF/EPRDF confiscated documents and, arrested leaders of the AEUP in Afar, Northern Shoal and
It is against the above political and economic realities in
Why we should make efforts to learn and change:
The paradigm of thinking of the past will not get us anywhere. Politics of repression and fear have proved costly to the Ethiopian people. Social and economic development policy has not changed the lives of the majority because of poor and non-representative governance. We cannot deny the fact that some social groups, segments of society and classes in
In light of the above, we believe that the Ethiopian people long and hope for farsighted and transformative leadership at all levels. The Ethiopian people are aware that transformation for the better does not occur by chance. They know that it rarely occurs by clinging to outdated mindsets and world- views. They are aware that it does not happen without Ethiopians from all backgrounds reaching out to one another. They know that change hardly occurs by focusing on bitterness, animosity, unbridled competition, greed, jealousy, egoism, demonizing others and, perceiving differing views as sources of rivalry instead of sources of enrichment. They have shown us that change will never happen if political elites and leaders do not challenge old assumptions about ethnic division and rivalry. The Ethiopian people have shown us the capacity to live with one another peacefully; to pray together; and, to suffer together. Their expectation from their political, social and opinion leaders is a better tomorrow for their children. If any one knows suffering and need, it is the peasants, farmers, urban and rural poor of
Therefore, we are convinced that the Ethiopian people wish to see a forward looking and positive orientation among Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans political and opinion leaders. Such reorientation to bridge manmade divisions and misrepresentations among all of us and within
The need for a common framework to influence
The first step may be to be humble enough to recognize that no single Ethiopian group has the answer for
The expectation thaton and by itself, a President Obamas administration will change the Ethiopian political situation radically is dreaming. We should also recognize that the TPLF/EPRDF has alternative foreign support.
The most important point is that Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans, political and opinion leaders must do their groundwork first. Different factions and political groups with stake in the countrys future must demonstrate that they can trust one another. They must establish credibility that they can work and collaborate with one another towards a common purpose. They must show that they have a better alternative for the Ethiopian people. Policy makers in
In short, political actors must demonstrate the maturity to lead a complex and large nation. They must represent their interests and voices honestly and candidly. Political change in the 21st century does not take place through remote control and through self-serving agendas. The fact remains that the struggle for democratization does not reside in foreign capitals. It resides with the Ethiopian people and with Ethiopians. As they say, A fish out of water does not survive. In order to make impact, political work must reflect the real lives of the Ethiopian people. What we can and should do is support all of the Ethiopian people to be the primary drivers and motives of change.
The arguments to shift
The above caveat aside, Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans (especially youth) in the
The argument that other foreign powers, including
The further argument ought to be that current
Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans should point out the fact that the
Recently, the leadership of the ruling party denied the existence of wide spread famine. It used food as an instrument of public policy. The limited independent media has been obliterated. Independent political parties have been disenfranchised to the point where they do not play roles in support of citizens. At the same time, the ruling party is planning to carryout national elections in 2010. Given repressive conditions that are well documented, it will not be hard to predict the outcome of the elections. These are potent arguments to present to a new
The author believes that it will be prudent to point out that, a new and forward looking US foreign policy towards Ethiopia must be based on the hopes, aspirations and determination of the Ethiopian people to achieve freedom, democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the establishment of the institutional foundations for a more inclusive and prosperous country for all Ethiopian citizens. Only an all inclusive and prosperous
In summary, the author firmly believes that we should point out our hope a new
The author believes that we should be unequivocal to state that the Ethiopian people do not wish to continue to be dependent on foreign aid. They possess the requisite human and natural resources to make the country independent and prosperous. What they need is diplomatic and technical support to allow freedom, democracy and the rule of law to flourish. What they need is to use donor resources to unleash the potential of the Ethiopian people and not to enrich a privileged few. The Ethiopian people recognize that the lead responsibility to transform
We assume that the lead responsibility for articulating the above positions and, advocating democratic transformation for the Ethiopian people must be in the hands of Ethiopians and, a new generation of political and social leaders. The question then becomes what Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans can learn from Senator Obamas vision and messages to support the Ethiopian people. The author and his colleagues believe that there is a great deal to learn. The governance deficit of the ruling party cited in this article cannot be understood in isolation from the gap in leadership qualities within the opposition camp. Over the past three decades, there has been a surplus of political parties, factions, and groups. Their existence in different forms has not changed the Ethiopian political landscape. Each one seems to follow a trajectory that does not pull the other to collaborate and work together for a common goal. The hard and difficult task of discussing and arriving at a common agenda to serve competing interests and, more importantly, the interests of the Ethiopian people continues to be illusive. Senator Obamas transformative leadership offers us lessons of experience that we can use in advancing the causes of democratization, the rule of law and the creation of the institutional and policy foundation for sustained growth and development for all Ethiopians.
Why are Senator Obamas vision and leadership compelling?
It will be impossible to capture all of the attributes that make the Senators world view and leadership qualities tantalizing, gripping and relevant to Ethiopians. We will only try to highlight values and messages that appear to manifest universality.
· Forceful vision, unified purpose and sense of direction for his country that goes beyond the traditional rhetoric of class, party affiliation, race, region (state), age, gender and ideology. His vision focuses on the long term needs of the country: restructuring the economy and creating new jobs; harnessing alternative energy sources to make the country more independent from imports; providing health services to all citizens; making education affordable; investing in infrastructure; strengthening the institutions of freedom and equality including redressing incomes gaps between men and women; promoting equitable and fair income tax policy; and, restoring the countrys image and prestige overseas. These principles show a personal commitment to break from the past in fundamental ways. His inspirational leadership style is transformational. Positive and consistent in his messages, he has emphasized change over the status quo; politics of hope over politics of fear; unity over party rancor and division; love over hate; humility over arrogance; team-work and collaboration over individual ego; shared prosperity over individual or corporate greed; mutual respect over smear and name calling; and, listening over lecturing. These are indicators of his transformative leadership attributes. In reinforcing these qualities, Senator Obama has elevated the political dialogue to a higher level. It is for his leadership qualities that General Colin Powel called the Senator a generational and transformative leader. What he says and what he does show convergence. Any one reading his best seller books and listening to him finds the consistencies remarkable.
· Ability to organize and mobilize at the grassroots level: The old party structure and method of work has been replaced by a 21st century model of creating commitment among volunteers, grassroots groups regardless of party, ethnic or class affiliation. He has used information technology to organize elections outposts in all parts of the country; communicated his vision and programs to mobilize funds at unprecedented levels; and, empowered young supporters to use their creativity and energy to work for his mission and vision. For the first time in Presidential elections since President Kennedy, young Americans feel hopeful about the future. They feel engaged. Senators ability to reach out to different social, political and opinion groups and leaders is a hallmark of his success. Setting aside differences that were apparent during the Primary Season, Hillary and Bill Clinton are campaigning for him in so called battle ground states. He has reached out to prominent experts including the Republican Paul Volcker, Larry Summers, Warren Buffet and many others to seek advice and to sharpen his policy messages. The Democratic Party has been fully mobilized and unified behind Senator Obama and his vision. His focus is more on what unites Americans rather on ideological and party divisions.
· Well- established track- record of impeccable integrity and honesty. The barrage of accusations against him; the personal attacks; the hidden messages about his race and religion; and, his so called past affiliation with shady characters never detracted him from his vision for his country. He is trusted because he is trustworthy. He says and he does what he believes. He has been able to raise more money than any one in American electoral history because people know his integrity and honesty. They know that they are making an investment in the future of their families, children, grandchildren and the future of
· Positive energy to do the right thing that has become infectious and that has galvanized hundreds of thousands of young Americans to work for him as volunteers; encouraged millions to register and vote for the first time; prompted millions to attend his rallies; and, persuaded millions around the globe to pay attention to this Presidential Election. It is reported that people around the world with access to the Internet follow this Presidential election as closely as Americans. One major television network reported that, if the world community could participate in this election, Senator Obama will win in a landslide. His messages give hope at a time when the American financial and economic system and the entire market oriented economy of the globe is on the verge of collapse. He showed principled, measured, and calm leadership during the financial crisis.
· Empathy: Placing oneself in the other persons shoes and understanding what he/she is experiencing is an important quality of any leader. Senator Obamas reflective and thoughtful personality enables him to listen carefully and attentively. Citizens with broken homes and without employment and insurance; citizens who do not have the means to send their kids to college; and, families unable to pay their mortgages have an empathetic ear in Senator Obama. The experience gained from his grandparents and his mother and direct exposure to the plight of the poor in
· Genuine humility that comes from inner strength and inner self-confidence. His ability to seek views from different opinion and political leaders has become legendary. He is respectful of the views of others. He is not afraid of differing opinions. He welcomes them. He does not focus on personalities but on issues. He is ready to listen to understand. He is willing to learn from others, even from those who oppose his views. He makes judgments based on sound reasoning and, based on the merit of each case rather than on political expediency. Mortal souls will be infuriated and will react when attacked. Instead, Senator Obama pays greater attention to his vision and purpose for the country. In doing this, he has earned the respect and admiration of the electorate and of millions around the globe.
· An unusual grasp of and understanding of the values, traditions, and norms of American society: The fact that he comes from a White mother and White Grandparents who nurtured, encouraged, taught, empowered him; sacrificed for him; and, raised him cannot be discounted in understanding Senator Obama and his values. The strong values and principles that he demonstrates do not come only from sheer academic brilliance. This author believes that they are also shaped and strengthened by the social, cultural and extended family environment that shaped his upbringing. In many respects, one may even argue that the Senator has not been as afflicted and traumatized by the African-American experience. The vision and values he expresses are beyond race. In short, he represents the best in American society. He is an American asset. He has demonstrated the capacity to transcend old and outdated definitions of race and class origin. He has broken old taboos as we have seen over the past 21 months. He has redefined the meaning and application of political work in the
This author suggests that Senator Obamas personal qualities and leadership attributes summarized above are generic and universal. Therefore, it will be wise to reflect on them; debate them; and apply them in supporting the unfinished business of supporting national reconciliation, universal human, economic and social rights, free elections and the rule of law, freedom and, democracy in Ethiopia. Those of us who have the privilege to live and witness democracy in action can begin using his key personal and leadership qualities to change attitudes, behaviors and values in our own interactions with one another. Political actors and opinion makers, including those in the media, can deploy them to promote constructive and positive messages. They can use them to organize seminars, conferences and dialogue on Ethiopian issues. Responsibility for change starts with each of us.
The author believes that the Ethiopian people deserve good and better governance that will give them voice; that will make government officials accountable to them; that will release the creativity of their given potential. Millions of Americans heeded to Senators Obama call for The Change We Need. The Ethiopian people hope and aspire for peaceful change and, not perpetual tensions, fears and conflicts. They long for a time when the country will stand on its own feet. The author believes that the country has the requisite human and natural resources capital to transform rapidly and join the family of middle income countries. The Diaspora can channel its considerable intellectual, financial, technical and technological skills to steer policy makers to bring the ruling party and all opposition groups to sit around the conference table and discuss the modalities that will accommodate competing and seemingly conflicts interests. The Ethiopian people deserve such initiative. Senator Obama shows that outreach with differing factions, personalities and groups are possible and necessary.
The author shares the hopes of those in the Diaspora for peaceful democratic change in