Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.d) Canada
Over the past one hundred years, Ethiopia has traded through tempestuous and turbulent conditions that can only be described in apocalyptic terms: droughts and famines, wars and conflicts, massive population displacements, appalling human rights violations and state orchestrated terror. Nascent efforts have only been made in the past decade to untangle this country from the shackles of backwardness and adversity in order to put it on the right track towards obtaining and achieving development. So, the least this country needs at this critical juncture is a relapse to its unpleasant past. Over the years, unimaginable scale of conflicts, wars and other man-made and environmental cataclysms have brought difficulties and hardships on Ethiopians during the former brutal military dictatorship and prior to that during the aristocratic dominion. Currently however, Ethiopians are experiencing peace, stability and democratic rule for the first time in the history of this nation since the current government came to power. Further, they are working unremittingly in order to improve their lives and livelihoods by fighting poverty and underdevelopment and most importantly, Ethiopians want to protect and preserve peace because without peace, one can not imagine development.
Despite the age-old human as well as environmental cataclysms that prevailed in this country and because of the prevalence of peace, the process of democratization, pluralism, good governance and decentralization is currently taking roots in Ethiopia in order to tackle the colossal developmental challenges that have confronted the people of this country. Cognizant of this fact, the Ethiopian government has made poverty eradication, democratization, good governance and sustainable development as its number one priority. Also, the government has acknowledged that democracy; good governance and human rights issue are matters of survival and not matters of choice for the Ethiopian people for those issues are the root causes to bringing economic development and prosperity for the Ethiopian people. As a result, Ethiopia has thus far made a commendable effort with regard to the aforementioned issues that possess a paramount and fundamental importance upon the lives of the people at large. Also, the government has particularly been very active in espousing explicit pro-poor and pro-rural development policies during the past few years and it has been very successful in that regard.
The most important manifestation of a pro-poor policy is the allocation of public expenditure to those populations in areas of poor predominance. Therefore, the government has been engaged in the process of institutional reform that is leading to a reduction in the role of the government, corresponding growth in the activities of civil societies and the private sector. Consequently, much progress has been made in the social, economic, political and humanitarian sector because Ethiopia has made democratization and good governance not a choice but a fundamental citizen’s values and norms. For that, it has established the human rights commission and the Ombudsman that function independently just like the justice system that is entrenched within the constitution of the land.
The constitution of the land guarantees the rights of equal rights to all citizens and gives the right up to and including the right to secede to all nations and nationalities within the country. One of the most fundamental citizenship right is the right to elect and to be elected in a fair, peaceful and democratic electoral process. For that, an electoral board has been established with a defined function and structure and with a system and the qualification for voting and holding elective office. The board among others supervises registrations and elections certifies elections; appoints the officers of election and the registrar; prepares a budget; manages the records of the Board; trains officers of election; certifies candidates for elective office; and recommends election districts and polling places.
After many years of authoritarian rule, Ethiopia has made a successful transition to a democratic electoral system whereby people can choose their leaders in a competitive and free contest at regular intervals, and within which these leaders have effective authority. Free, fair and democratic elections require among others independent institutions, a free and fair press, civil and political liberties, and choice. Democracy can be more than free and fair elections, but it can not be less. No democracy can afford to be complacent as it is a work in progress, and the people can not be spectators. Everyone must remain engaged in a peaceful and transparent manner in trying to make democracy a reality for all people. Generally, in a democratic election, there will be a genuine choice of voters because there will be a positive competition and not a negative collusion between and among political parties, that every citizen has an equal voice and opportunity to choose their leaders not infected or influenced by capital, wealth, status etc., that it should be transparent, uniform and effective. This means that ach vote should count and finally when all votes are counted, the winner will be the one with the most votes. Within a democratic election, the Electoral Board will remain impartial and non-partisan and regarded as such by the public at large. The Electoral Board should always create a conducive and enabling environment for participation and an educated citizenry. Also in order to establish the credibility of the electoral process, all parties have to work very hard to make the electoral process peaceful, democratic and successful. Generally, elections are the cornerstone of creating a democratic political system. In the past decade, it has become a common phenomenon in the developing world to raise concerns on whether multi-party elections can possibly be held in a free and fair atmosphere or whether any ruling party can genuinely foment an enabling environment for peaceful, orderly and transparent elections. Such had been common pre-election concerns mainly of few opposition parties in Ethiopia who have been ceaselessly obsessed in finding faults with the government of the day and in aggressively portraying the ruling party as undemocratic and power-hungry. This assertion has often been reinforced by few biased and unprofessional journalists and election monitors alike. Concerns of this nature are often overblown by few opposition parties often assisted by few biased local as well as foreign media outlets and by very few disillusioned Diasporas. More often than not, the expressed pre-election concerns and criticism of the opposition parties are projected to serve as a convenient justification and credible line of reasoning for post-election allegations of irregularities or ensuing claims of vote-rigging. However, the fact remains that within the context of Ethiopia, the recently concluded third national election has been declared free and fair by independent international observation missions such as the renowned Carter Center. Also despite its flagrant breach of the agreed code of conduct set for the election observers and its obvious prejudiced views, the EU/EOM has fully concurred with that assessment of the Carter Center soon after the May 15 elections. In appreciation of the enabling conducive environment created for the highly contested recent multiparty elections, the EU/EOM stated that “The decision by the Government of Ethiopia and EPRDF to launch this electoral process with international observation and unprecedented openness was a courageous and bold move”.
For any election to be peaceful, fair and democratic and generally to be successful, media outlets must do their share and contribute positively. Same will be true for the upcoming Ethiopian election. Fair and professional media will among others enhance the media’s own reputation. Therefore, the information they disseminate should not solely rely on a single source with no attempt to independently confirm the stories or entertain the version and views of the other side. Most importantly, the media should refrain from being biased. Accuracy is essential for any information to be credible, reliable and beneficial but most often than not some media outlets lack objectivity, fairness, balance and impartiality expected from professional journalists. As a result, most media outlets vis-à-vis the Ethiopian election process have by and large been a blend of uninformed opinion, speculations and biased accounts with full of generalizations and presented no substantive or concrete evidences to corroborate the veracity of their written account or to support its provocative assertions and accusations. Hope they will correct that for the upcoming Ethiopian election.
In the recently held national elections, the government of Ethiopia created an unprecedented conducive environment for a free and fair election further enhancing the process of democratization in the country. Therefore, in order to strengthen and optimize the ongoing economic and political reforms in Ethiopia and ensure continuity of the prevailing enabling environment for development and growth and for achieving the desired results of the major development ventures currently under implementation, it is critical that the media continue supporting the estimable initiatives of the Government of Ethiopia. Unbiased and knowledge based information and responsible journalism is thus very important in informing the public at large on the on going socio-economic and political reality of the country.
Instead, what is currently observed is that few media outlets such as VOA, Deutsche Welle Amharic radio broadcasting services and few foreign media journalists are becoming very busy lobbying and knocking at every governmental and non–governmental doors in order to mislead the international community on the upcoming Ethiopian election. They say that democracy is going backwards in Ethiopia, that the government is turning more and more to dictatorship and that there is no human rights, that opposition parties are under arrest simply for political reasons etc. The reality however is that Ethiopia has continued to embark on what it firmly believes i.e. on democratization, good governance, on poverty alleviation and on sustainable development because these are again a matter of survival and not a matter of choice to the public at large. Therefore, there is no turning back on those hard fought values and norms. No one should have any doubt on that and most importantly, no one must be misled by few negative propagandists from within and the Diaspora in that regard. Therefore, it is important that governmental and non-governmental organizations alike and the media build confidence on the democratic process flourishing in Ethiopia and continue their cooperation and collaboration in order to further reinforce peace, stability and good governance in the country.
Generally, by understanding the rules by which we are governed, we can avoid the horrible problems that plagued us during the recent election. By applying the principles of due process and the rule of law we can stop the seething discontent that continues to afflict us with so many social problems today. Rule of law brings hope for peace, hope for justice, and hope for a day when right will always conquer might. Hope for a day when truth will always overcome deceit. Hope for a day when love will truly be the highest law of our land.
The Rule of Law is threatened today by seemingly innocent schemes of ambitious individuals who seek to undermine the principles of due process for the sake of grasping power that will decree what law is and enforce its edicts with unbridled force. The Rule of Law decrees that Law shall govern us according to the will of the People. The Rule of Law is worthy of our highest aspirations and dedicated efforts as a united people.
Political understanding teaches that political parties in countries with multiparty system and experience know way in advance that they have to thoroughly prepare themselves for the challenge from their political opponents, take time to do their homework in that regard and choose the best candidates in order to represent their parties quite well. Their candidates must acquire among others best quality not only on ethical or moral issues but they must also posses an exemplary professional leadership qualities. They must have the capacity to serve the public at large with dignity, honor and humility. They must understand the laws of the land and be able to respect and be governed by the constitution of the land. Further, they must be of a quality to represent their respective parties in a political debate and win votes for their respective parties. Further, a civilized society does not rush to violence and destruction. It opts for construction and development endeavors instead. The role of the media should therefore follow the same way. By doing so, media outlets can play their part in making our nation a safer place to live and a safer place for future generations.
Monitoring can also play an important role in conducting a peaceful and democratic election by instilling domestic and international legitimacy and in resolving contentious election fears of vote tampering and other irregularities. Monitoring can also help reduce any violence that may happen during the electoral process by giving necessary technical assistance and technical expertise for training local monitors that can strengthen domestic electoral institutions, that can reinforce long-range development of political parties and the civic society and eventually help maintain peace agreement between winners and losers provided that they are guided by and strictly follow the sole monitoring principles; i.e. being fair and unbiased. Monitoring may also promote reconciliation between former adversaries provided that all parties adhere to the guiding principles of a fair, peaceful and democratic electoral process or in other words, they all respect the law of the land or guiding principles of the constitution regarding electoral procedures. The presence of election monitors may also serve to prevent shenanigans and give parties greater confidence that the vote was free and fair. The key to achieving this outcome is to have monitors who are seen by all sides as neutral. Monitors are often foreigners that arrive prior to the vote at the invitation of the host nation. While most monitors are unbiased and fair, there are also those who go contrary to the guiding monitoring principles and who may come up with hidden agendas. Hidden agendas are detrimental to the overall democratization process in general and the electoral process in particular. Also foreign monitors often undermine local state of affairs related to culture, language, history and the way of life of the local population to effectively evaluate the vote. This problem can further be compounded because of the fact that monitors are not entirely independent and have direct and/or indirect contacts to the entity that has funded their mission. When that happens, their reports may be tailored to the demands of the funding government and/or non government institutions with which they have contacts rather than fulfilling the mission of monitoring the election. As a result, biased, unfair and undemocratic process can happen and that can have a damaging impact on the overall process of the election; it may even destabilize the nation. Therefore, Unbiased and professional monitors have an important role to play in that regard. When we talk about monitors, we tend to focus solely on international monitors and more often than not forget the role of indigenous knowledge and capacities of conflict resolution mechanisms. Here, the role of the elderly vis-à-vis ways and means of resolving disputes and conflicts is instrumental; therefore, it must be given priority even over the so called international monitors. Since indigenous elders possess a proven track record of being non-partisan and since they are neutral and respected by any party as well as the society at large, their role within the electoral process can be of a significant importance and thus their involvement is not only important but indeed at times it can be indispensable; therefore, they must get the due attention.
Any unrestrained political wrangling has the potential to trigger widespread social turmoil, nation-wide insecurity and political uncertainties that could unravel the very fabric of the society. And that is exactly what worries many patriotic and concerned Ethiopians at present. At this critical time, political parties on both sides of the political divide are required to exercise considerable restraint, tolerance and willingness to compromise. The parties are legally and morally bound to refrain from any action or activity that may adversely influence the situation on the ground. Therefore, they should cease activities that could further antagonize public sentiments or fuel the flames of discord. It is believed that increased global integration creates a conducive and enabling environment for the international community to create a positive setting for poverty eradication and livelihood improvement for millions of less fortunate people in Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. Further, this will help narrow economic disparities and increase global integration between the rich and the poor countries. Unbiased and professional journalists and monitors have an important role to play in that regard.
Generally, the Ethiopian people are fed up with conflicts and wars and languages of violence. Instead, they are busy focusing on poverty reduction and venture of development and they have an uphill battle to conquer that. They are thus keeping their eyes on the price and the price is peace; for, without peace, nothing can be achieved.