Political Woes Hampering the Development of Political Parties 

     in Ethiopia: Which Way Forward?

            

                   by Tesfaye Habisso April 13, 2009

 

 

     

The political history of modern Ethiopia has been marked by oppressive monarchical regimes up until 1974 and by a brutal military junta which pursued a policy of terror, wanton massacres, subjugation and dislocation for almost two decades (1974-1991). These successive regimes made serious and persistent efforts to effectively stifle all voices of dissent. Opposition against their absolutist and tyrannical rule was suicidal; it was unthinkable, or when it existed it was frequently equated with an act of treason.  Political opponents were presented as anti-people and enemies of the nation, and faced severe punishment that most of the time entailed physical elimination or disappearances for good as in Ethiopia of the 1970s and 1980s. There were thus no political parties in the real sense of the word, as we know them today. 

 

The Neway brothers (General Mengistu Neway and Dej. Girmame Neway) who spearheaded the first time outright opposition against the imperial /feudal order and attempted to oust Emperor Haile Selassie I from the throne by force in 1961 were mercilessly killed and hanged as common criminals at St. George square in Addis Ababa by the security forces of the imperial regime.  University and high school students who from time to time rose up against the oppressive policies of the imperial regime and demanded a democratic order through peaceful demonstrations and raised the slogan "land to the tiller" were harshly suppressed by the security forces of the Emperor. Tilahun Gizaw, the then President of the University Students Union of Addis Ababa, was murdered in cold blood in one of the streets of Addis Ababa (Afincho ber) in 1969 for his vocal anti-feudal stance, and subsequently more than one hundred students, amongst those who poured out in large numbers to observe his funeral ceremony on the second day of the latter's murder, were gunned down by a contingent of the imperial guard (actually, a mock funeral procession was planned where students who gathered at the University campus at Sidist Kilo were to carry an empty coffin and march to the streets of Addis Ababa in order to incite the people against the government).  Even peasant communities in Tigray, Bale, Gojjam, Ogaden, Sidamo, Gedeo, Hadya, Wolayta, etc. who rose up against the injustices and excesses of the feudal landlords of the day and also demanded justice, tax waivers due to successive crop failures, self-rule, autonomy and rights over land, etc. were not treated with compassion and consideration but harshly suppressed, some as in Tigray and Gojjam were even bombed by the air force.

   

Many others who from time to time dared to challenge the imperial regime perished in like manner, until 1974 when Emperor Haile Selassie I was humiliated and ousted by the military from his throne and mysteriously killed thereafter by the very forces who killed, wounded and maimed many thousands of Ethiopians in the past, zealously protecting his regime from falling into the wrong hands or the commoners. It was the military junta which in the end removed the Emperor and usurped the people's power by declaring a provisional military government in 1974/5 setting no time for national elections (the provisional government in fact lasted longer than a decade and half extending up until 1991 when it was in turn toppled by the EPRDF).  During its seventeen years of tyrannical rule and dictatorship, the military government on its part massacred many hundreds and thousands of Ethiopians, alleged and genuine members of those political parties which vehemently opposed military rule and fought for the latter's demise, such as the EPRP, OLF, ONLF, WSLF, EPLF, TPLF, EDU, ARDUF, etc. and which operated in a semi-clandestine manner in different regions of the country.  Other political groupings such as the All Ethiopia Socialist Movement (AESM), Labour League (WOZ), Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Organization (MALERID), Ethiopian Oppressed Peoples’ Revolutionary Struggle (ECHAT/OLF) and ALF (Afar Liberation Front), which flirted with the military government as allies, or "coalition of the willing", so to say, in the struggle to 'realize a socialist Ethiopia' in the Horn of Africa, soon lost favour in the eyes of the ruling Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC) and were eventually treated as strange bedfellows and consumed by the flames of the very revolution that they "critically" supported: Many of their leaders were killed; others were kept behind bars for long years; a few escaped and fled the country landing in Europe or the USA; some of them who prostrated and submitted to the sole leadership of "Comrade" Mengistu Haile Mariam were co-opted by him to join the so-called Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) under Colonel Mengistu’s sole guidance and personal grip. The aforementioned four or five political organizations were also subsequently disbanded and declared illegal through a decree that gave birth to the Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE) under the chairmanship of "Comrade" Mengistu Haile Mariam, as the sole party to lead or guide a socialist revolution and transformation in Ethiopia. The end result of this revolution is, of course, well-known to everyone at home and abroad: utter political, economic and social crisis that ultimately witnessed the crumbling of the WPE and the military government as a house of cards in 1991. 

All the aforementioned political groups also fought against each other at different times and places and lost many of their militant youth and supporters due to these senseless skirmishes.  Many others were also decimated because of internal party squabbles and mutual distrust amongst themselves. How many perished in such mysterious and despicable ways, no one can tell for sure.

   

Thus, legalized and peaceful opposition politics is a relatively new phenomenon in Ethiopia.  For the first time in the long and chequered history of Ethiopia, opposition politics was, willy-nilly, sanctioned and opposition parties were legally allowed to operate in the country in the wake of the demise of the military junta ("Derg") and the subsequent assumption of political power by the victorious Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front forces (EPRDF) in 1991 (though most of their activities especially outside Addis Ababa were seriously curtailed; wittingly or unwittingly, this situation is allowed to persist even today). Nevertheless, opposition politics was legalized by the Transitional Period Charter of 1991 and subsequently by the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1994/5. A legal regime (Political Parties Registration Proclamation No. 46/1993 as Amended by Proclamation No. 82/1994) was set in place requiring all political parties to get registered by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEB), which was established as an election management body (EMB) with the duty and responsibility of conducting free, fair and credible periodic and regular elections in the country.  Accordingly, numerous political parties, mostly regional and local ethnic-based political groups, mushroomed throughout the country, even though many of them were very organizationally and financially weak parties, and thus existed only in name.

   

Since the legalization of opposition parties in Ethiopia, three national elections were held in 1995, 2000, and 2005.  The first national election was boycotted by the majority of opposition parties alleging numerous impediments in the way of opposition parties, both before and during the election period, created by the ruling party (EPRDF) and its affiliated regional parties. Anyway, at the first national election, the EPRDF won 483 (89.94%) parliamentary seats out of the total number of 537 seats while the other political parties, mostly affiliated to the ruling party, secured 46 seats.  Independent candidates won the remaining 8 seats.

   

The second national election was held in the year 2000 under a more stable and relatively peaceful atmosphere than the previous one and was contested by all opposition parties and was also "certified" to be free and fair by local and international observers that monitored the 2000 elections, though there were some irregularities in the Southern Region (SNNP) which were subsequently rectified by the NEB. In this election, the EPRDF won 481 parliamentary seats (87.93%) while the opposition parties, due to lack of funds and often weak organization, contested only 20 percent of the seats to the federal parliament and secured 53 seats, and independent candidates won the remaining 13 seats.  The total number of parliamentary seats had increased to 547 by this time to accommodate the representation of some ten or so minority ethnic groups that were not represented during the first national election because each group's population numbered less than 100,000 and was not sufficient enough to constitute even one single electoral constituency for representation as required by the electoral law.  Opposition parties also held 10 percent of the seats in the Southern Region's national regional assembly and approximately 25 percent of seats in the Addis Ababa City Council (until the Prime Minister, utilizing his power of dissolution as provided for in the City Council Establishment Proclamation, dissolved the entire council in October, with no dates set for new elections).

   

The third and the first ever free, fair and peaceful general election that was hailed by all international and local observers as such was held on May 15, 2005. More than 90% of registered voters cast their votes on that historic day, braving very long queues and painful hours of standing at the polling stations. Unfortunately, the election results became seriously controversial and were not acceptable to both the ruling party and the opposition bloc. The two paramount elections observers, the European Union Observer Mission and the Carter Center, came up with conflicting statements, the former labelling the election in general “not meeting international standards” and the latter, basing its judgment on past elections, dubbing it “free and fair” except for some irregularities, and pronouncing the ruling party as the winner and thus a legitimate government to assume state power. The disagreement that abruptly flared amongst the ruling party and the major opposition parties regarding the outcome of the election, that is, the number of votes secured by each one of them in the polls, degenerated into deadly civil disturbances and chaos, resulting in immense destruction of human life and property. Whatever the case, opposition parties were able to secure more votes than ever before in this election, though the major opposition party, the CUD, decided not to join the legislature and also refused to take control of the Addis Abeba City Council where it had a sweeping victory--winning 137 seats out of the total of 138 seats. The full account of this general election has been already recorded by many observers and institutions, and I do not intend to dwell upon it any further at this juncture.

  

While we reflect on the urgent need for strengthening the practice of democracy and opening up the political space further for opposition parties with the aim of persuading or wooing back all those who have chosen the path of armed struggle (OLF, ONLF, EPPF, etc.) to rejoin the peaceful process, I strongly believe that a serious rethinking and reassessment on the responsibility and attitude of the ruling party, and the opposition parties is timely and necessary.  As we are all fully aware, one of the most difficult concepts for political parties in Ethiopia, both the incumbent as well as the opposition, to comprehend is that of the "loyal” or legal opposition. This concept is a vital one, however. It means, in essence, that all sides in a democracy share a common commitment to its basic values, rules of the game and procedures. Political competitors do not necessarily have to like each other, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge that each has a legitimate and important role to play. Moreover, the ground rules of the society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate. As the charismatic leader and elder statesman Nelson Mandela once said: “..One of the most effective weapons in dealing with different opinions is tolerance--the ability to take criticism and not personalize it, even if a prominent individual is specifically identified and becomes a target for criticism. Tolerance is one of the best ways to solve major national issues.” “Tolerance for dissent means, ultimately, the willingness of officials to permit non-violent activities even when they are designed to bring about a peaceful transition of power to replace the government. It also means forbearance in the face of disagreeable expression of opinion, a type of forbearance absent in laws that make criticism of the regime and its institutions criminal libel. As well, such tolerance means the willingness of the opposition to permit others to freely reject its line and choose another, either in support of the government or in favour of a third way. In short, it is clear that a society in which there is a search for true consensus and tolerance for dissent is one in which fundamental human rights are respected by all.” [Dale Bricker and Leah Leatherbee, Consensus and Dissent in the Horn of Africa, 1994].

 

When the election is over, the losers accept the judgment of the voters. If the incumbent party loses, it turns over power peacefully. No matter who wins, both sides agree to cooperate in solving the common problems of the society. The losers, now in the political opposition, whether it consists of one party or many, can continue to participate in public life with the knowledge that their role is essential in any democracy worthy of the name. They are loyal not to the specific policies of the incumbent party and government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state and to the democratic process itself.

 

As the next election comes around, opposition parties will again have the opportunity to compete for power. In addition, a pluralistic society, one in which the reach of government is limited, tends to offer election losers alternatives for public service outside the government. Those defeated at the polls may choose to continue as a formal opposition party, but they may also decide to participate in the wider political process and debate through writing, teaching, or joining one of many private organizations concerned with public policy issues.

   

Yes, the concept of the loyal or legal opposition is central to any functioning democracy. It means that all sides in political debate, however deep their differences, share the fundamental democratic values of freedom of speech and faith, and equal protection under the law.  It means, in essence, that all parties in a democracy should be equally committed to the basic values, rules and procedures of democracy.  Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition--confident that the political system will continue to protect their rights to organize and speak out.  In time, their party will have a chance to campaign again for its ideas, and to woo the votes of the people.

   

As mentioned here above, political competitors do not necessarily have to be the best friends unto each other, but they must tolerate each other's legitimacy. The right of the minority (opposition) does not depend on the good will of the majority (winning party).  The losers in an election must not be, or feel, threatened. On the contrary, they must feel comfortable to continue participating in public life.  The role of opposition is essential and equally important in a democratic state. In fact, it is nowadays widely believed that democracy cannot only function properly without opposition parties, but dies without these parties. "In a democracy, the struggle between political parties is not a fight for survival, but a competition to serve the people." [USIA Document]

  

We need to make a genuine effort to create a tolerant culture of democracy-- a political culture which is fundamentally non-violent and in which no one party or group expects to win or lose all the time. Such a culture is built upon a societal consensus not about policy, but about the process and framework of democratic political life: that the will of the people is the basis of governmental authority; that all individuals have a right to take part in government; that there shall be periodic and genuine elections; that power changes hands through popular suffrage rather than intimidation or force; that political opposition and minorities have a right to express their views; and that there can be “loyal” or legal opposition to the government in power. Furthermore, support for democratisation must be coupled with support for development in order that socio-economic as well as civil and political rights are respected.

   

The term "the opposition" is always used as opposed to the incumbent government.  In the generic sense, "the opposition" opposes and checkmates the incumbent government with the objective of extracting good governance.

   

The last decade or so of our experience in Ethiopia has proven that the opposition's Achilles heel lies in its constant rivalries and fragmentation.  Thus opposition unity has so far remained a farfetched vocabulary. The spontaneous rise and fall, and eventual disintegration of the much talked about Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) is just one example. The fact of the matter is that not one opposition party in the current composition of Ethiopian Parliament can have an impact on decision-making or influence proposed legislation tabled in parliament.  The irony is that even when all opposition parties, which have won some seats in the 2005 elections, combine their manpower, experience and support it will still be but a mere fraction of the overwhelming and massive support enjoyed by the EPRDF party due to the privileges of incumbency and its historic role as a liberation front turned to a dominant party and thus its consequential representation in parliament.  To ignore and defy this reality by entertaining and pursuing a confrontational style and language as well as approach of opposition, as advocated by a few die-hards at home and amongst the Diaspora, is to defy and ignore the realities, with dire consequences for the fragile democratisation process and the transition to and consolidation of democracy in the country as a whole and for the opposition in particular.

   

The smooth governance of any country depends on the opposition being responsible, and a responsible opposition does not scream and shout, and use bad language or emotional and unreasonable arguments (demagogy), merely for the sake of opposition and newspaper or television coverage but shows great responsibility and an earnest attempt in trying to influence policy and decision making. It means that private discussions with government Ministers and ruling party leaders can take place, influencing and advising on policy issues where and whenever necessary, cooperating in parliament where it is for the benefit of the country and its people and to make available to parliamentary committees all the necessary experience and knowledge of its members. It means proactively participating in parliamentary committees and challenging the executive branch during the Premier’s monthly question time regarding its performance and accountability. Whereas open and peaceful clash of ideas, debates, and objective criticism is necessary for building a democratic culture, unprincipled political belligerence and confrontational style of politics has a smack of selfish ambition for nothing but power and not altruism; power as an end by itself and not as a means to faithfully and diligently serve the Ethiopian people.  This must be avoided by all means and by all mature politicians, both in the ruling party and the opposition in general.

 

On the other hand, the ruling party and government must, first and foremost, desist from a “dichotomy of polarised perceptions along the “we-they” divide”. The intolerant attitude pursued so far that,  “if you are not with the liberators (as represented by the liberation movement now party and state) you are considered to be an enemy”, or that, “we fought and died for state power and thus we cannot hand over power to any group even if we are defeated in an election”, etc. must cease once and for all. Considering opposition or dissent as an enemy to the people and the national interest must stop now. If we don’t put a full stop to this misguided and short-sighted thinking now, the succeeding generation will also do it over and over again. What legacy to pass to our children and the future generations, my fellow comrades? Yes, the ruling party must unambiguously show its deep commitment to building true democracy and democratic governance in our country, as it often and publicly asserts on every forum and occasion. Toward this end, it must first and foremost transform itself from a liberation movement and a semi-authoritarian regime to a democratic political party and government, and open up the political space further for the opposition parties to operate freely and without any hindrances and impediments to their peaceful activities, such as opening party offices, campaigning, fundraising, holding political rallies and meetings, and similar constitutionally allowed activities etc. especially in the rural areas; seek for elite settlements on a number of political issues; seek the advice and opinion of opposition leaders on major policy issues; show utmost magnanimity towards the opposition in general and reciprocate in sincere and positive gestures towards the latter so that opposition parties would eventually evolve into a constructive and responsible bloc becoming genuine partners in the process of nation building, and not be forced to the seemingly weird position of opposing any idea or bill tabled in parliament by the ruling party and government, at best, or pushed to pursuing the path of violence, belligerence or insurgency, at the very worst.

   

In a country that currently suffers from severe problems in the areas of galloping inflation, shortages and insecurity in food items, potable water and electricity, low economic development, deficiencies in the rule of law as well as political and economic governance, etc., all the political parties being responsible and constructive is indeed crucial. A belligerent, confrontational and uncompromising posture and style of politics by those in the ruling party as well as the opposition bloc would be sufficient not merely to paralyse our country but also to cause panic among domestic and foreign investors and our development partners.  Sadly, political struggles in this country so far are primarily driven by the desire to be in power for power's sake and the ultimate desire to cling to it at any cost, than any meaningful concern for policy alternatives and the general public good.

     

As we in Ethiopia have embarked upon a process of democratisation for the first time, after more than a century of absolutist monarchical rule and seventeen years of military tyranny, and thus are new converts to democracy and its values, rules and procedures, inevitably, not all political organizations/parties respect their declared commitments. And not all understand properly the significance and essence of peaceful and democratic operations and bounds. We are all learners in democracy. In this learning process, some learn fast; some take more time to learn; some simply do not want to learn. This naturally affects, to some degree, the smooth transition of our country and nation to a consolidated and stable participatory/consensus democracy. In time, however, we are all convinced that all will come to appreciate the fact that democracy is a learned and not an inherited system, and it can evolve as an organic outgrowth of development and survive only if the duties of living together in one human society, in one economic and political community, are given proper consideration and respect, and on our genuine commitment to regular and respectful dialogue with all parties and interest groups in the country. No democratic right is absolute, and one major limitation of such a right is respect for the rights of others. Ignorance or neglect of this interconnection between democratic rights and duties endangers the very basis of democracy.

    

Furthermore, what the opposition bloc must fully understand is this: the dynamics of the Ethiopian political landscape is such that, it might take many, many more years for any worthwhile and credible opposition to evolve and become a reality in Ethiopia—an opposition bloc, party or parties with the capability of ‘blackmail’ or ‘coalition’ potential, as social theorists contend.  It should not be overlooked that "given the existence of a dominant party [EPRDF], which is a coalition of ethnic parties, and the ethno-territorial nature of politics", as well as the kind of electoral system in place (the single-member-constituency or the first-past-the-post electoral system as opposed to proportional electoral system), opposition parties, which are already fragmented and organizationally and financially weak, will surely face tremendous difficulties in their struggle, even if all limitations on their activities were removed completely by the ruling party, to evolve in a short period of time into a meaningful and strong opposition to the EPRDF, which has enjoyed and still enjoys the full advantages of being an incumbent political party since the last 19 years or so, and be able to checkmate government or influence decisions in parliament.  However, those opposition parties which realize this stark reality and situation, and choose to play a constructive role as ‘loyal’ or legal opposition will develop into worthwhile and viable opposition parties in the future.  This will surely happen if they diligently and patiently work and invest for the long-term realization of their dreams.  It will happen eventually and is needed to counter the current domination of the political landscape by the EPRDF ruling party.

   

Be this as it may, the present trend which clearly attests to the proliferation of too many weak parties across the country's political arena is not also promising for viable opposition parties to evolve in the near future. Ethiopia at present has about 80 or more registered political parties among which a few are national parties (about 10 or more of them claiming multi-ethnic base) and the rest regional as well as local ethnic parties, as the National Electoral Board has recently announced to the general public.  The truth of the matter is that this proliferation of parties does not augur well for Ethiopia.  There is no evidence of parties emerging to address policy issues that have not been taken care of by either the incumbent party and government or the existing opposition parties.  What we see is focus on disagreements; that when certain people or self-declared leaders no longer like each other, or seek to emerge as political leaders in their own right, they form their own new parties. Some of these parties survive as long as those who created them are able to finance and lead them. Others simply disappear when the election season is over or when their sponsors are no longer able to assist and guide them. The story of Rainbow Democratic Movement and that of the Ethiopian Democratic League can be cited in this regard; they were active during the pre-May 2005 national elections but have melted away after the elections.

   

Parties that stand the test of time are those based on solid principles and issues. That is in part what attracts large numbers of followers and financial contributions from those who see their aspirations embedded in the manifesto of a particular party.  Ultimately, in politics the bigger the entity the better its chances of success and survival. And the fewer the parties, the more mature the politicians and the more meaningful the political process.  People need alternatives, yes; but they also need political direction, and the emergence of more and more parties only serves to confuse the voters more.  And, besides, there are hardly any new ideas that these parties are introducing to our political marketplace.  They are simply short of ideas, content to say nothing at all or to repeat what others have said before and we already know and are long bored and tired of hearing.  A close look at the leadership marketplace will tell you that there is really no need for new parties.  And there is certainly no need for parties to split up.

Since the introduction of multiparty elections in 1991, ethnically dominated party system has been the norm in Ethiopia. In other words, political parties have been distinguished from each other largely based on who they represent rather than by what they represent. Political parties have been essentially indistinguishable from each other in terms of the programmes and policies that they espouse. In other words, political parties have been associated with particular ethnic groups and that association is central to what distinguishes one party from another. Under these circumstances, it does not make sense when political leaders fret to form more than one political party for a single ethnic group (for example, ONC, OLF, OPDO, OFDP, etc. for Oromo; TPLF, ARENA, etc. for Tigrai; AAPO, ANDM for Amhara; etc., etc.)   What we need to see now is parties recognizing the obvious; that they are too small and, knowingly or unknowingly, wasting their energy and resources through unnecessary duplication of efforts; and that they are too weak to stand alone and the best way forward for them would be mergers, alliances, cooperation and coalition. If they want to achieve better and more results and the sooner, opposition parties should pursue this path of “coming together” and the path of responsible and constructive opposition politics, that is, to play the role of the “loyal” or legal opposition and to abide by the rules of the game.  All other options are destined to fail.

   

Legal or ‘loyal opposition’, however, does not mean that government will not be criticized.  It only means that it will be criticized objectively and constructively with the objective of extracting good economic and political governance for the public good.  A responsible opposition is not just an opposition party vehemently criticizing the ruling party and government at every occasion and forum simply for the sake of criticizing and discrediting its achievements and magnifying its failures.  A responsible opposition will support government where their actions contribute towards the benefit of the people of Ethiopia and will give the necessary credit where due, and will assist the incumbent government in tackling major national problems that the country faces from time to time, but it will also not allow government to act when it believes that the government's actions or decisions will be to the detriment of Ethiopia and her people.

   

Thus, I am at no loss to conclude that the country's well-being will be better served when those political elites who claim to have the welfare of Ethiopia and her peoples at heart fully adopt and abide by the fundamental values, principles, rules and procedures of democracy as well as a strong spirit of reconciliation, compromise, tolerance and consensus, if not complete unanimity on basic national issues. Opposition parties in Ethiopia, on the other hand, must realize that to wrest political power from the ruling party is indeed an uphill task that requires long years of hard work and sweat. After all, no opposition worldwide can expect the incumbent party and government to hand over power on a silver platter. They need to organize and strengthen their structures to struggle and fight peacefully with sound ideas and programmes that may secure them the support of the majority of the voters and the whole people. The use of force and violence to wrest power from the ruling party and government is simply self-destructive and suicidal. Violence begets more violence and bloodshed, even civil war and destruction, not peace, democracy and prosperity. 

    

On its part, the ruling party has to show great tolerance and magnanimity towards opposition parties; remove all limitations on opposition parties that circumscribe their activities especially lack of sufficient freedom to operate at the grassroots level, campaigning, holding political rallies and meetings, etc.; accelerate democratic reforms and strengthen democratic institutions as well as conflict resolution mechanisms and also create a conducive environment that does include and not exclude all opposition parties to participate in the political process; allow them to operate peacefully and smoothly throughout the country and to participate in the periodic national elections with utmost freedom and fairness, as required by any democratic election and political system worthy of the name.  Besides, though there had been past efforts in this regard, a sincere and transparent public call or invitation by the government must be made again to the OLF (Oromo Liberation Front), the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front), the EPRP (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party) and all other dissident rebel groups to renounce violence and war, and to rejoin the political process and operate peacefully under the prevailing constitutional order.Toward this end, mutually agreeable third parties as well as relevant and  trustworthy mechanisms/arrangements should be agreed upon by all parties engaged in the reconciliation efforts and put in place so that these groups could confidently and without any preconditions renounce their armed struggle and rejoin the political process and operate in a peaceful manner as all other opposition parties function at present. Such a bold move by the incumbent party and government would bring forth a great and substantive/substantial political gain for the current rulers, and if the dissident groups refuse to make a positive step towards the government’s open and magnanimous gesture, then, they would be erased from the hearts and minds of their supporters wherever those may be and any actions the government takes thereafter will be wholeheartedly supported by the whole people of Ethiopia. This personal suggestion of mine should be seriously considered, I think, however naïve it might sound to some quarters and individuals.

   

Finally, to discuss democracy in Ethiopia today is to talk about the future, about hopes and fears. We are still at the stage of democratisation, embarking upon a process which, over the past decade or so has been taking place in fits and starts, will lead us to a more open, participatory, less authoritarian society sooner rather than later. We have not yet reached a stage where we can claim to have realised any semblance of a stable and sustainable democratic system of government which embodies, in a variety of institutions and mechanisms, the ideal of political power based on the will of the people. Further, little in the present or the past in Ethiopia promises the success of any such thing, yet people today want democracy and many believe it is the only possible solution to the twin ills of poverty and misrule. Let us all struggle peacefully and persistently to achieve the two fundamental freedoms of democracy and economic development our peoples have yearned for a very, very long time. The road to these goals is bound to be rocky and tortuous but there is no other way. As Dennis Austin states,  "No society becomes democratic without pain; no state achieves economic development without struggle."[Dennis Austin, 1995].