Transforming Political Culture: What Ordinary Ethiopians can do
Politics is only one aspect of social life. There are cultural, spiritual, academic, professional, etc. dimensions to real life. Multidimensionality is what makes life tolerable, exciting and beautiful. Multiple interests intertwine and strengthen social bond. Lifelong friendships and families have been built on this platform. This is the reality in our beloved country. Political diversity is a normal condition which can’t and shouldn’t be resisted. It is the political culture which should be transformed. The warrior culture must go. The ordinary (i.e., the majority) domestic/external supporter/opposition must embrace civility and avoid thereat and violence. Transforming political culture is the key to deliver the coming generation from annihilation. This is precisely what advanced countries have done.
The journey towards a mature political debate is a trial and error process. In other words, everyone makes a mistake along the way. This is because our psychological need for cognitive consistence makes us allergic to disagreement. This need is tamed gradually. For many generations Ethiopians have shed blood internally and abroad over political issues. The young generation deserves deliverance. Surely, this proposal is not utopian rhetoric. If we look outside Africa and the Middle East, war is waged in the media, cyber space and video games. Today’s united members of NATO were once formidable foes. Ethiopia is almost three times bigger than West Europe. The grandparents in Germany, Austria, Netherlands, France, Britain and Italy have dragged along youth from distance lands of US, Canada, Japan, Russia plus the colonized continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America into two World Wars which ultimately culminated
in the dropping of atomic bomb in Japan. For many centuries, the advanced countries used to think and act along the thought that permanent war was the only reality and permanent war was utopian dream. Accordingly, western European countries wasted their lives balancing power along alliances which eventually broke out into wars. They finally recognized the futility realpolitik-after sacrificing 60 million people (about two-third of Ethiopians today). As a result, Europe lost its global prominence to the United States. Given the emergence of BRICs, European countries will find it tougher to compete for more decades to come. In any case, however, Western countries have recognized the futility of inter/intra-state war. Despite the animosity between communists and capitalists, the third world war (popularly called the Cold War) avoided direct military confrontation between great powers. Great powers resorted to competition (arms and industrial-technological race, etc.) and subversive acts (proxy wars, espionage, etc.).
Great Powers led by the United States created the United Nations, global financial (WB, IMF) and trading (GATT-WTO) institutions and NATO in order to dry up political, economic and cultural sources of intra/inter-state war. As a result, they enjoyed unprecedented decades of peace and prosperity for almost seven decades to date. In terms of size, Western European countries are only as big as the regions of our country. Yet, they maintain a larger than life image in our psyche. Albeit accumulated historical evidence, nobody pictures the possibility of war between Germany, France, Italy and Britain today. These countries have undergone through dictatorial and inefficient governments in the past; but today, they are considered as weighting scales of functioning democratic and economic institutions.
Some say the long peace (1945-now) enjoyed by Europe resulted from nuclear-but what about India and Pakistan? The transition to peace and prosperity in Europe is largely the result of a transformed value system. They have buried their long held warrior culture and replaced it with
enterprising culture. Their leaders no longer wear military suits, their armies no longer make parades, their artists no longer celebrate war, the society no longer endorses duels/vengeance/physical fighting, etc. But this doesn’t mean there is no political dissent. The political polarity in Germany, France, the UK, Japan, and the United States is (arguably) in its highest historic record. We have witnessed political corruption (in Italy, for example), resignations (in UK and Japan, for example), rise of a socialist party to power (in France for example), executive/legislative stalemate (in Germany and the US, for example), etc. Yet, war remains inconceivable.
The emerging countries have learned the secret of the West. Historically, China has fought war with Japan, Russia, India and Vietnam. For twenty years, it was barred by the United States from a seat at the UN Security Council because it was a communist. China still claims Taiwan, it denies Tibet’s independence, it still claims territories in India and has dispute over certain islands with Japan. China is the second most powerful economy-but it carefully avoids military confrontation. Similarly, Japan has buried its qualm with the United States over the Second World War. Today, it exports industrial goods there and continues to be a key Western ally in East Asia. Japan has abolished its Samrai and Kamikazi culture and adopted civility.
The key to transforming political culture lies in the hands of ordinary Ethiopians. Democracy doesn’t flourish via pompous reconciliation among political leaders. It flourishes as soon as ordinary people begin to revisit their habits. Political difference must not block other dimensions of social relationships. Ethiopians who disagree on political issues have forged successful families, friendships, organizations, etc. This must be cherished. Ordinary Ethiopians should endorse civility and discard warrior culture. Ordinary Ethiopians should avoid harboring hatred on the basis of political dissent. After all, the country belongs to all (>80 mil.) Ethiopians.