Democratic Anomalies

What happened in Ambo a few days back makes me feel disappointed. I get dismayed realising that at a time when the Ethiopian government is doing a plausible job of mediating the South Sudanese political conflict, young students fall on the streets of Ambo and other towns for no reason other than conducting peaceful demonstrations as per the constitutional rights of citizens.

A public array of anger erupted following the shootings by the security forces. Parents and other members walking by tried to intervene, an action that fuelled the confrontations that followed.

My disappointment emanates from my valuations of the fruits of institutes of higher learning in general and universities in particular. I have lived long enough to see how the Addis Abeba University (AAU) evolved from high schools the likes of Tafari Mekonnen, General Wingate, Medhanialem, Haileselassie Secondary School, Menelik and a few others. Even then undergraduate students had to be sent to England, Beirut, UAE, US, Canada or other countries to complete their studies.

Meanwhile, however, the AAU evolved to be one of the best universities in East Africa. The university’s senate had endorsed the academic freedom of expression within the campus like other universities elsewhere.

At the annual parents’ day celebrations, the students were even reading poetry in the presence of the Emperor himself. The quest for democratic rights was incepted within the campus from where revolutionary students were born.

Of course, there were hurdles and obstacles to cross on the way to change. We were dreaming and hoping for the better.

When change did come, it came rather too early. When the Emperor was deposed from the throne, political power was usurped by the Dergue regime and was held for 17 years.

When the EPRDF freedom fighters took over and promised to bring about democracy, we felt a sigh of hope and kept on dreaming. But when democratic rights started being exercised by way of peaceful demonstrations against the stand of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, they were met with fatal force. The culprits were excused under the pretext of not knowing how to use the arms.

About a decade ago, youngsters took to the streets protesting against the results of the votes for a national election. Quite a number of lives were lost.

A commission was established to investigate whether or not the police reaction was beyond force majeure. I do not happen to know what steps were taken but I was hoping that such mistakes would not go unpunished.

Let me go back to the Ambo incident. Oromo students, wherever they are, have g links to their roots and their parents’ land. But they also know how to plan for their future.

They all may agree with the efforts being exerted to develop the country in general and the capital city in particular. They also know that the implementation of the new revised master plan should not be at the expense of impoverishing the people, whoever they may be, living off the land bordering the capital.

Marginalising people living on the peripheries of urban centres is not a new phenomenon in the world. But these problems should be seen in the light of the merits and demerits of the master plan and its implications on the lives of the people. Consultations between the university community and the city incumbents could help to reach at a compromise.

Evidently, the killings could be a cause that would open wounds that may not heal easily. Such atrocities could push matters to the brink of danger that would flare up to an even bigger crises or whatever you may call it.

After a long interval of at least eight years, the Semayawi Party had managed to call a peaceful demonstration which was an action that had given a glimmer of hope and a light of democracy at the end of the tunnel. I personally was once again hoping to see my dreams of exercising democratic rights to the fullest be realised as other political parties followed suit.

It is perhaps this light that led the students and others to voice the plight of the poor people living at the suburbs of the capital. There are, of course, other discontents.

Perhaps, there could be more demonstrations. After all, suppressed citizens never give up. But, then, the security forces should not only know the Constitution but they have to respect it. If they tend to disregard the principles of the supreme law of the land, that would be a serious problem.

It must be noted that the over-85 ethnicities of the country have lived together for centuries through intermarriage and other relations. Therefore, any issue raised by one ethnicity is a national issue.

The master plan should be based on the principles of interdependence and integrated development objectives, but not encroachment, which some bureaucrats had been using as leverage for their opportunistic goals. It ought to also be seen in light of the rights of the people.

The master plan should essentially be participatory to ensure the interest of all the people who may be affected by it. The principle of interdependence and integrated development should be at work if rapid growth is to be achieved.

This should be seen as an asset that can contribute to shape up the future Ethiopia. Surely, I am using the liberty of freely expressing my views. There could be other people who may not agree with me.

I respect their rights to differ. That would not stop hopes for a better future, and we all have to hope and work for a better future.

Source : Addis Fortune

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