Culture of Political Discourse in Contemporary Ethiopia

Negotiations in any society presuppose the existence of any polarized or even antagonistic and contradictory views, ideas, strategies and philosophies or political views of any kind. Having negotiation on issues or conflicting ideas and views or making attempts to redress faults or compensations have always been a major component of Ethiopia’s culture.

The establishment of political parties in Ethiopia coincides with a protracted struggle for democracy and justice. Although a number of political parties are registered both at the federal and state level, it is difficult to conclude that all of them have the same level of engagement in the political life of the country.

Since 1991 and even before, a number of political parties have proliferated in the country. The level of oppression and suppression that prevailed in the country over decades has also become a raison d’etre for the establishment political parties that were based on ethnic affiliations. However, quite a number of national political parties were also established.

Prior to the ongoing dialogue and negotiations, a number of negotiations have been conducted between EPRDF and opposition political parties on specific issues like elections. Bilateral discussions between the incumbent and individual parties have also been conducted, mostly without having meaningful results and impact.

The current political dialogues and negotiations were initiated by EPRDF as a means of widening and deepening the scope of the political atmosphere in the country. This is a step in the right direction and what the peoples of Ethiopia expect from a party that has been in power in this country for almost three decades.

Negotiations on issues of national agenda are important because all parties, including opposition parties are legal entities that supposedly operate for the common good of the peoples of Ethiopia and to accelerate development of this country. These parties had already fixed important agenda items on which they can discuss while they retain legitimate rights to retain their differences.

While they negotiate on issues of national agenda, the political parties in this country hold double responsibilities as citizens and leaders of their respective parties.

The ruling party and the parties in the negotiations process need to not only adhere to the standards they have collectively set for conducting their negotiations but they have to approach their negotiations in good faith and with no strings attached.

These parties are negotiating on over arching issues of national importance that seriously affect the present and future political history of Ethiopia. The parties are therefore expected to have a much deeper knowledge on the content, direction and purpose of the agenda on which they discuss.

The other aspect of such negotiations is that the peoples of Ethiopia are watching the representatives of all parties regarding the recommendations and suggestions they give for the strategic political prerogatives that are critical for the peaceful development of the country.

One important aspect is that the parties are conducting their dialogues and negotiations on the mandates vested upon them by the Constitution. It is of vital importance to avoid unnecessary mix up between the duties and responsibilities of the government, the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the House of Federation and the institutions of democracy. It would be appropriate to identify the legal competence of the negotiating parties against the competence of the above mentioned elements of the political system.

The ruling party and opposition that signed the modality could take the entire process as an excellent opportunity to deliver their best for the country. New ideas and views that are generated in such negotiations would enable the negotiators to keep in pace with modern systems and patterns of political negotiations.

It is also equally imperative to encourage discussions and negotiations between parties that operate either in one state or several r states. This could help to further create forums for comprehensive dialogue between the parties.

A spirit of rapprochement, understanding, accommodating ideas that are raised during discussions will help to promote democratic negotiations that are conducted in a win – win strategy.

There are thousands of unifying factors that make all Ethiopians to act in unison on the well being of their country, all the more, there are hundreds of issues on which the Ethiopian parties can negotiate and act together.

Political parties in Ethiopia do not need to negotiate only for short lived agreements but focus on the larger picture. They need not go into polemics on nitty-gritty issues that have no national significance for the development of this country.

The parties are already engaged in laying the cornerstone for a new democratic political culture for the future of this country. They shoulder a collective national responsibility and even if they are legal parties of their own accord, they are duly accountable to the peoples of Ethiopia.

The significance of the current dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties is obviously not limited to Ethiopia. It has a greater bearing for the Horn of Africa and the entire African continent. The political capital of Africa is located in Ethiopia. What happens in Addis Ababa will affect the rest of Africa, directly or indirectly. Ethiopia has already become a pace setter in African infrastructure development aimed at connecting Africa. Likewise, the political maturity and the willingness of Ethiopian parties to sit and talk together will definitely set an example for African political parties that are entangled in unnecessary squabbles.

Ethiopian political parties are expected to be independent in every aspect. They should not expect any blue print from any other party of country from abroad. It is one thing to establish partnership with parties in another country or to consult them but they cannot serve as grievance or appeal courts for them. Self reliance and independence is of critical importance for any party including parties in Ethiopia.

Before he drunk the cup of poison that was given to him Aristotle told his pupils “the truth shall be your master when I am gone!” The dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties of Ethiopia should have started much earlier, however, better late than never.

By Solomon Dibaba

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Source: The Ethiopian Herald

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