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Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

Bereket Gebru 04-11-17

When I first heard of the dialogue and negotiation forum between the Ethiopian opposition parties and the ruling party, I foresaw a hard time filled with conflict. So, I wrote an article under the title “buckle up parties for it’s going to be one bumpy ride.” Everyone could have predicted that the parties were going to have a hard time before arriving at an agreement. Almost all of the people around me felt like the negotiation was going to take a long time before a valuable agreement was reached.

Now, we are just citizens concerned about the fate of a promising engagement between the political parties in our country. No matter how tough it might be, we understand that a persistent engagement could yield a new era in Ethiopian politics in which political parties would work together more closely.

The negotiators from every party, on the other hand, know much more than we do. They have a firsthand account of how hard it is to converse with one another. That gives them the chance to gauge their expectations more realistically on the length of time it would take before an amicable agreement could be reached. Their engagements over the past few months have also provided them with a clear image of the enormity of the challenge before them. Therefore, their decision to participate in the dialogue forum was an expression of willingness to take on this long and arduous task for they understand the true extent of the fruits its success bears. website states: “political competition alone does not always create a political climate in which parties can work together in a peaceful manner to deliver socially inclusive and sustainable development for the people they represent. Relying solely on the element of inter-party competition is like balancing on one leg: do it for too long and you will fall.” The website goes on to say:

The dynamics of cooperation in political competition are crucial to sustainable democratic reform and the promotion of common ground in democratic consolidation. Mechanisms for competition (such as elections) and mechanisms for cooperation (such as dialogues) can be thought of as ‘joints’ that allow both legs to move forward.

Dialogue is a reliable route to inclusiveness and active participation of a wide spectrum of the general public. Represented through various political parties, the views of the general public are debated in dialogue forums. The sustained engagement of political parties, therefore, helps assess various options and adopt the one that works in favor of everyone involved.

The decision by Blue Party and Medrek to walk away from the dialogue forum is one that draws back on the cooperation of parties in the country and the development of democracy in the country in the long run. After such a long time of disengagement between the ruling party and the opposition parties, the promising opportunity created through the dialogue and negotiation forum should have been respected by all parties.

With wide expectations that the dialogue would be a hard course for those involved in it, it is extremely unlikely that representatives of these parties expected a walk in the park. Far from such matters, the complaint by these parties is that ‘it is impossible to continue the discussion while several opposition political leaders and members are still in prison.”

Using this platform to try to blackmail the ruling party into releasing their political leaders who have been found guilty of cooperating with terrorists is a flagrant abuse of their status as members of the dialogue forum. After all, Merera Gudina (Ph.D.) chose to align himself with people and parties that have been declared as terrorists by the Ethiopian government. He made a conscious decision to do something that has been declared illegal by the state of emergency - meet and deliberate with terrorists.

It could also be possible that the parties joined the dialogue forum hoping that they would be able to have the leverage to have their imprisoned leaders released. That would mean that they do not see any positive outcomes from an engagement with the ruling party and other opposition parties. By walking away from the dialogue forum, they intend to portray the ruling party as difficult to have conversation with despite the fact that it is the ruling party that called for the dialogue forum to be established.

One thing they failed to notice is that walking away from a forum of sustained dialogue between parties does not help any party’s cause among the general population. If anything, it could make the public despise such parties as the move disrupts the popular anticipation.

The bottom line, however, is that opposition parties have repeatedly shown to the Ethiopian people that they do not have what it takes to engage in sustained dialogue and change things steadily along the way. For some reason, they still have this fantasy that the political change they dream of would become real through an abrupt action from somewhere.

As demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, opposition parties have made a habit of walking away from responsibility whenever they face the minimum amount of challenge. Their assumption of parliamentary seats could probably have contributed to the widening of the democratic platform, pushing the level of democracy up considerably. However, they opted to boycott the popular decision to be members of parliament, effectively wiping away any sense of trust by the people.

They have now fled the scene yet again. The action creates a moment of De-ja-vu for the Ethiopian people as they have seen that one time too many. All it states is that they have learned nothing from their actions a dozen years ago.


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