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Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Aug 9 14:09:24 UTC 2005

>>From Addis Tribune,

Building Democratic Institutions of Governance

By  Sisay Asefa

The NEBE (The Nation Election Board of Ethiopia) by its very nature of how
it was formed is biased. The opposition knew this fact perfectly well when
it started. It was formed by the ruling party and as it was recently
revealed by PM Meles himself on the BBC interview-Hard Talk.

The challenge now is for the opposition to stay in the game against all
odds and build an important democratic political institution, a neutral
NEBE accountable to the nation and the people, not to a ruling party or
any other future party for that matter. This is job number one in the next
parliament, in addition to other peaceful battles of debate and dialogue
aimed at forming pillars of democratic institutions such as term limits,
amendment of article 39, land policy, and education/language policy,
investment and privatization policy in a way that is fair and acceptable
to the majority of the Ethiopian population. Building democratic
institutions may take decades, but we are only talking about 5 years
patience. In a political life Ethiopia, which has languished under
dictatorship and misrule under various regimes for hundred of years, and
in its extreme form over the last 30 years, five years is nothing.

Moreover, we must understand that the problems of political leadership and
democratic failure and peaceful transition over the last three regimes in
Ethiopia has always been absence of a strong and united democratic party
alternative, before the incumbent regimes fall under their own weight as
they did in 1974,and 1991 in the countrys recent history.

The same thing will be repeated this time if the opposition does not
organize and provide viable alternatives, and the ruling party remains
rigid and not change some of its non-democratic or even destructive
policies enshrined in few articles of the Current Constitution. By the
way, this phenomenon which is called "historical path persistence" by
Nobel Laureate economic historian Douglas North is real in contemporary
democratic transition of nations around. This is the notion that once
societies and institutions are gripped by conflict and take a destructive
path they tend to produce incentives and characters/ actors that trap them
in the same path. There are many societies that find themselves in this
path today, and Ethiopia is not alone in this regard.

If  both the opposition and the ruling party face up to the challenge of
promoting true democracy grounded on protection of individual freedom and
human rights, secured property, rights, just rule of law, equitable and
efficient land policy, and free politically choice and expression for
citizens, etc. Ethiopia has the potential to be fully democratized where
citizens have a choice among two three strong multi-ethnic political
parties that differ on ideology and policies, and avoid this monopoly of
political power that has led to failure of governance and persistent
poverty and recurring famines.

The challenge of building democratic institutions and political parties
that will guide a true democratic process in Ethiopia or any developing
country for that matter, is to create two or three multi-ethnic democratic
parties peacefully from the current proliferation of opposition parties.
For example, in the current political landscape of Ethiopia, CUD (Kinijit)
and UEDF (Hibret) can evolve as a strong and viable independent parties in
their own right, by uniting their respective coalition party members and
producing visionary and flexible, and enlightened (not rigid) leaders. The
EPRDF has also the right and the choice to evolve or change to a viable
party under visionary leadership provided it changes some of the key
policies enshrined in the constitution such as intra-party or within party
term limits to a true democracy and cand gets rid of this so-called
"revolutionary democracy" propaganda, that contradicts or retards the
movement to true democracy for Ethiopia, and most Ethiopians have rejected
on May 15 national elections. Another challenge for the ruling party and
some of the opposition parties is to eliminate top-down created ethnic
compositions in the ruling party (such as TPLF, ANDM, OPDO, etc..), and
the opposition such as in UEDF, for example where the few parties are
ethnic based at least in name, and others may be shadowy elements with
questionable viability and legitimacy and with no credible data or
information about their status or even very existence.

But, this is for the opposition to sort out and produce a united loyal
opposition party with visionary and enlightened leaders. This is not
denying there are potential credible visionary leaders among both UEDF and
UEDF some of whom are well known nationally and internationally. As to the
EPRDF, even the current head of this party, Ato Meles has declared its
individual member of coalition as massive failures in his own words.
According one major UEDF opposition leaders public statement made in an
Ethiopian Diaspora forum, it is reported that Meles has said the ANDM (the
Amhara National Democratic Movement) as a party that is stuck in Abay
George! which has never moved an inch over the last 14 years, and he
referred to OPDO as one that has not moved in spite of being carried on
its back by the ruling party, etc., and expressed a similar disgust with
his own party,the TPLF. The specific statements expressed by one of the
key UEDF leaders in this Forum are worthy of direct quote as follows:

Meles Zenawi himself has admitted the colossal failure of the EPRDF. He
had attributed to the individual failure of member organizations of the
front namely, TPLF, ANDM, OPDO and SNNP. He further asserted the failure
of member organizations of the front was due to the incompetence and lack
of vision of their leaders. It had been reported that Meles referred to
his own party, the TPLF, as dead but not buried. He humiliated OPDO by
stating that his group carried that organisation for the last 12 years on
their back but the organisation failed to walk on its own legs. He also
referred to ANDM as a useless group that could not emerge out of Abay
gorge. He did give a little credit to the constituent of EPRDF in Southern
Ethiopia. At least that organisation is dragging itself on its back. That
means, Meles himself was saying his regime had been a dying regime. The
constituent of EPRDF had lost faith in the regime. The MP from Gambella
who was elected as a member of EPRDF had been heard saying that the regime
was to blame for the genocide committed against his people

I would add to the above graphically expressed quotation that the primary
reason for the failure of EPRDF as confirmed by its own leader is the
formation of this party based on ethnicity which opens the door for
inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic conflicts ,and drives policies toward
balkanization and related policies enshrined in constitutions such as
Article 39.

Therefore, even eliminating the ethnic coalitions in the ruling party and
to freely form coalition party membership based on political preference or
ideology may remove the conflicts that threaten to destroy the
democratization process in Ethiopia, and drive some of the policies that
balkanize the Country, and market based economic development.So, the
challenge of Ethiopia is to form about three strong parties peacefully
which are loyal to the nation and its people, like emerging democracies
around the world that are struggling to be free and democratic in a
civilized manner around the world.

If the current democratization process is sustained with proper and
visionary leadership of the concerned parties, the process will have a
chance to move forward and be realized peacefully at the next election in
2010 with a democratic outcome. This will only be possible, if the
opposition stays in the game, and leaders learn to trust each other, and
the ruling party backs up this democratization process and refrains from
its dirty tricks and insult of the opposition by its extremists and
produce viable visionary leadership on its part. But, copying out in the
middle of the beginning of this unique and long journey to
democratization, by opposition, will produce nothing but a sure set back
of the will of the people expressed on May 15, and result in political
chaos of which the outcome cannot be predicted with certainty by any one.
To move along this line, all concerned parties must fight extremism in
their midst and wherever it comes from and stay in the game, and show
courage and visionary leadership.

Frankly, why would a rational opposition voter in Ethiopia vote again, if
and when the opposition abandons the struggle for, whatever reason,that it
has agreed to by boycotting the next parliament. Such a potential voter
may not vote at the next election for any party out of expression of anger
and protest. This may result in a few voters that will most likely vote
for the ruling party, and perhaps allow the ruling party to win in a
landslide by de-facto, similar to the elections before May 15 when there
is little voter turn out by supporter of the ruling regime.

As a person who had an opportunity to observed carefully the election
process on May 15 in Ethiopia on a private visit to Ethiopia, and as one
who was extremely angered by the leadership blunder of the ruling party
that led to the death of 40 innocent persons including students, and
talked to the common voters including some leaders in the opposition
party, as well as others in civil society groups, I have concluded that
May 15 vote is an expression of clear rejection of the ruling parties
policies that a few of us have tried to argue against in various learned
forums openly including in Ethiopia and to call for policy change over the
past decade. This May 15 election outcome surprised the opposition. It
also surprised and and scared the ruling party, which assumed the vote
will be as in previous elections.

Moreover, a careful observation and understanding of the the May 15,2005
national elections, is not necessarily an expression of love of the
opposition by the people, an opposition which was just formed and which
was a generally unknown entity or to the Ethiopian people. But, it is the
credit of the opposition and its leaders to provide this choice.

But, to win the necessary confidence of the voters, they have a long way
to go, which must start with staying in the game with great patience and
courage,to which they have correctly agreed to start.

Ethiopian aspiring political leaders must go beyond, "mistrust", "Kurfia"
or anger which kills constructive dialogue and compromise necessary for
democracy, and move away from a political culture of conflict among
individuals and organizations over trivial matters, abdicating their
struggle and responsibilities due to extremism and mistrust, frustration,
and learn to move forward to advance democracy with courage, honesty, and
sacrifice if necessary.

The silent majority especially among the intellectuals and civil society
groups (which this writer considers himself to be a member of)-must speak
and not remain silent out of fear or Yelunta. The English saying that
Silence is golden does not work when human freedom and the revival of a
nation and people is at stake. The Diaspora must rise to the
responsibility of speaking the truth and promoting fairness and democracy,
and dislodge itself from extremism that promotes hatred of individual
actors in the game or the process of political competition, and detracts
people from the noble goal of democratization, human freedom, and
socio-economic progress.

It the opposition moves along the proposed line and the ruling party
cooperates in this regard for its own good and the good of the country,
will have a chance to be free and democratic. All stakeholders including
the opposition parties, the ruling party, civil society groups, civil
society groups, independent intellectuals, and most important the
Ethiopian people have a chance to be free from misrule and dictatorship.

Ethiopia will then have a chance to revive and become, for the first time
in its long history, to be a member of progressive and viable free
democratic nations in Africa in general and developing nations in general.
This great country with long history,and her great people deserves that

The challenge of civil society groups and intellectuals, and citizens is
to move this process along not to collapse in the face of extremism,
knowingly or out of ignorance, fear or lack of courage and vision.

The Struggle for human freedom and Progress in Ethiopia and the rest of
Africa must continue on a sustained basis, and Ethiopia and a few African
states that have began this difficult but necessary process must lead
against all challenges

Ed.s Note:- Sisay Assefa is a professional Economist  at Western Michigan

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