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What is transitioning in Ethiopia?

"Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome” ~ Isaac Asimov

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Major global media outlets reported about the spectacular transition, at times transformation happening in Ethiopia. CNN described the change as a remarkable political transformation never seen in the country's recent history while BBC rated the pace as so fast that it is almost observing a different country since Abiy Ahmed became the prime minister in April. On a similar note, the Atlantic emphasized the fact that Abiy Ahmed began his tenure with a series of radical, nearly unimaginable reforms starting from ending the state of emergency, freeing political prisoners, and, most notably, extending an invitation of peace to the Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki and in doing so, he has inspired a rare, renewed sense of national hope in Ethiopians—and relief in Eritreans—around the world. The Council for Foreign Relation entitled one of its articles “Ethiopia’s long political transition is a lesson for others.”


But what is that, that is transitioning in Ethiopia?

All the reporting quoted above have something in common. They all emphasized the political transition in the country. The indicators of the transition being the release of thousands, if not millions, of political prisoners, opening up the political space, the influx of the diaspora and Ethio-Eritrean peace agreement. It is true that Ethiopia is undergoing a remarkable political transition as never been before. However, what has been captured in local and global medias so far is only half of the bigger story. I rather say, it is only the manifest transition; the more evident and the expected. What is not well captured is the latent transition; the less evident, partly because understanding latent transitions in Ethiopia requires understanding the context of the Ethiopian state.


The latent transitions?

Ethiopia has been a police state. It is the country where hard power has been used for too long as a political tool. Reason has never had a place in the country; instead emotion has been used as a means of expressing self. This has limited the development of human reasoning as well as the culture of using reason for our actions and behaviors. Given this culture and history, it was a farfetched dream to imagine Ethiopia to become a country where evidence and reason mediate human interaction in such a short period of time. But what happened is what no one has imagined. 

In general, Ethiopia has undergone two major latent transitions: 1) transition from desperate hopelessness to euphoria that there will be change for good and 2) the transition from heavy reliance on accumulated emotion that erupts like a volcano, uproot political systems and disrupt the whole country to reliance on evidence and logic and demanding incremental change and reform. 

I believe these two are what has been transitioned so far in the country but less reported may be because their indicators are less evident i.e they are latent in their nature. What is more important about these two major transitions is the fact that they underlie any other form of transition in the country. The success of the political, social, economic and cultural transitions in Ethiopia depends mainly on the hope of people and their readiness to support and see the change as well as to be changed.


The manifest transitions

Ethiopia is undergoing a multifaceted transition. The government of PM Abiy Ahmed has cleared the route for transition but it far from real to say the government is leading the transition at this moment. But again the role of government in leading the transitional process varies from one sector to the other and from time to time.

1) Political transition: With increasing level of suppression and oppression in the country over the last two decades, Ethiopia was on a time bomb. “Better late than never” is the saying that the rumpling EPRDF in its 17 days meeting promised to open the political space, to release the political prisoners that they have been denying holding and to start genuine dialogue. They also agreed to change the commander-in-chief, and Abiy Ahmed was elected as the new Prime Minister at the beginning of April 2018.The new Premier did not waste time to capitalize on, and swiftly implemente the promises, to initiate institutional reforms, reshuffle the cabinet and call for reconciliation, peace and unity in the country. That is already a massive transition given the history of long lived tight political environment in Ethiopia.

2) Economic transition: Ethiopia has been in the news for the remarkable economic growth for over a decade. The major challenge in the economic sector is the fact that citizens are not benefiting from the booming economy. The new leadership has now embarked on equity issues i.e ensuring that citizens, especially the young and needy people are benefiting from the economic growth. On this line, they already started to hand over urban housing to the poor and the destitute and on the verge of organizing youth as a primary beneficiary in the expanding industrial parks.

3) The transition in the horn of Africa: In his inaugural speech, PM Abiy Ahmed indicated that he waste no time to start peace talk with Eritrea, which turned to be a major political success for the 42-years old leader. This swift peace agreement between the former Horn of Africa enemies also opened doors for many other peace deals and agreements in the region. Just three weeks after Ethiopia and Eritrea declared an end to two decades of war, Somalia and Eritrea signed a joint declaration on brotherly relations. In a seemingly final peace agreement, South Sudan agreed to reinstate the rebel leader Riek Machar as vice president to formally end the bloody civil war. The latest step of the transition in the Horn is the agreement between Eritrea and Djibouti to normalize ties. Undeniably, the political transition in Ethiopian has contributed a lot in these dramatic peace processes unfolding in the Horn of Africa.


"South Sudan suffered from the ulterior motives of East African leaders. The election of PM Abiy Ahmed came as a blessing not only for Ethiopia but also for South Sudan and the East African nations in general. This is not because I believe Dr Ahmed has no his own political interests, it is because I see he has bigger vision and a good plan for the entire East African regions" - Simon, South Sudanese Political Analyst 


What is remaining?

As I have indicated, Ethiopia is changing a lot and very fast. But much has also remained the same. It is as the saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. What particularly remains worrisome is the stagnated political discourse in that fast changing country. Political institutions are still stuck in their 20th century political ideologies and tactics with very limited attention to the changing local, regional, continental and international political contexts. Engaging and moving the political institutions at the expected speed will remain the major challenge for the government of PM Abiy Ahmed. More generally, Ethiopia still needs to work hard on  evolving its political, economic and social justice and power back into the hands of the Ethiopian people. The most preferable way of doing this is by having transitional legislation and policies in place. There are generally good intentions and favorable conditions for this transition, but the legislative and policy frameworks are still lacking.


Read 7807 times Last modified on Thursday, 11 October 2018 18:02