Postpone the Election, Inclusive National Dialogue Now
Ethiopia is on the brink of implosion and the country will only survive if its leaders and the elite come together to forge a new national consensus and build a new political order that will ensure the dignity, co-existence and solidarity of its people.
The country needs an inclusive national dialogue process where all stakeholders can come together and explore critical national issues to arrive at a shared and sustainable political settlement.
A nationally owned but internationally backed national dialogue process could serve as a vehicle for all the parties to come together and examine the different visions of the future that exist in the country and agree on a lasting settlement for the future. A national dialogue would provide a means for competing ideologies and communities within Ethiopia to redefine their relationships and promote greater understandings on divisive and polarizing issues. A national dialogue could help bridge the gap between the different actors and foster a culture of communication and collaboration.
But for national dialogue to work in Ethiopia at the current moment, the government needs to recognize the enormity of the moment and create a political environment that would enable an inclusive national dialogue. Ending the armed hostilities in Tigray, Oromia, and Benishangul-Gumuz and releasing all political prisoners are among the necessary conditions for an inclusive national dialogue.
The government also must postpone the election scheduled for June 2021 if a national dialogue is to be meaningful and successful. Going ahead with the election in the middle of a civil war, at a time when societal division and political polarization are extremely intense, and when there is little consensus on the direction of the country and its constitutional future, carries profound risks for the country. Conducting elections without engaging in an inclusive dialogue and building consensus on the kind of state and people Ethiopians want to have will not serve the national interest and would simply sharpen the contradictions tearing Ethiopia apart.
The pre-election landscape is already fraught with significant problems, and the outcome is already predetermined. The systematic repression and attacks against opposition parties and their leaders have already forced the main opposition parties in Oromia, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), to boycott the election. Going ahead with the election will deplete the vanishing trust among political actors and undermine public confidence necessary for the national dialogue.
Abiy is doing everything he can to impose his vision of the future on the Ethiopian people in the same way his predecessors did, but his approach is putting the country on the brink of implosion. We can already see the ruins of his vision in Tigray and elsewhere in the country. The stench of disintegration is in the air.
It may be hard to see a way back to the historic opportunity that emerged in 2018 but an inclusive national dialogue could offer a possible pathway out of the current cataclysm and towards an inclusive and democratic Ethiopia
From my latest AJE op-ed