Suiting Word to Deed

May 28 has a special place in the history of Ethiopia as it is on this date in 1991 that the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) achieved an epoch-making feat by toppling the military Derg regime and ushering in an era which completely transformed the country’s political landscape.

While the EPRDF emphasized the high points of its tenure when it colorfully celebrated this Wednesday the 23rd anniversary of its ascent to power, it would be remiss of it is not to take the commemoration of the day as an opportunity to reflect on what it might have done differently since it took the reins of government.

When Ethiopia was freed from the shackles of a military dictatorship in May 1991 and began the journey on the path to democracy, the EPRDF clearly set out the ideals it fought for during its 17-year armed struggle. It pledged to the people of Ethiopia that thenceforth their aspiration for freedom of expression, respect for their rights as human beings and democracy would be realized.

For a country that had been under the yoke of dictators for centuries, these three basic values were the foundations on which a democratic society could be built. The fact that the EPRDF time and again reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring these fundamental matters as it did to extricating the country from the clutches of poverty gave everyone hope that the process of building a democratic nation was well and truly set into motion.

A cursory assessment of the performance of the EPRDF over the past 23 years paints a mixed picture of both successes and shortcomings. Though belated, the result Ethiopia has been turning in over the past decade on the economic front has made it one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa and is drawing the attention of the world it has also made significant strides in the provision of basic services like education and health.

Consequently, the country is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel after eons of abject poverty, famine, strife and backwardness it is beginning to hold its head high with confidence and set an example for others. If this momentum is kept up, there is no reason why the poverty Ethiopia is synonymous with cannot become a thing of the past. There can be no denying that the EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia takes the credit for these accomplishments, which bode well for the nation’s future.

Its achievements speak for themselves and earn it a positive place in the annals of history. Inasmuch as the EPRDF’s successes during its 23-year incumbency deserve recognition, the shortcomings which characterized its administration also need to be addressed lest it is not lulled into a sense of complacency. We are motivated by nothing else but a fervent desire to see a stable and peaceful Ethiopia when we bring up the EPRDF’s shortcomings. After all, citizens who genuinely wish our country to be democratic and prosperous have to be able to engage in a frank dialogue on all subjects if we are to move forward as a nation.

The application of freedom of expression, human rights and democracy in present-day Ethiopia still leaves much to be desired. The promise the EPRDF made 23 years ago that the country’s transition to democracy would be anchored in these pillars of democracy has not come to be realized as yet. This is why we reiterate on every chance we get that the people of Ethiopia must be allowed to enjoy freely their inalienable rights that are enshrined in the constitution. Freedom of expression, human rights and democracy are not luxuries they are inalienable necessities.

In Africa, the governments of South Africa (after apartheid) and Rwanda (after the genocide), which came to power not much later than the EPRDF, have a better track record in this regard than the EPRDF. And the number of African countries which are mentioned in a positive light in various human rights and democracy report on Africa is on the rise as is the rank of countries which conduct democratic elections. The EPRDF, however, always faces criticisms in these areas. Sadly, its response to such criticisms is not always convincing.

Regardless of whether it subscribes to the Revolutionary Democracy or Developmental State political ideology, the EPRDF ought not to have put these three fundamental matters in the backburner. It is when due attention is accorded to facilitating the conditions which allow a democratic society to thrive that stability, peace as well as inclusive and sustainable growth can be ensured. Growth, which is not underpinned by democracy, cannot bring about a holistic change.

Although the EPRDF has acknowledged several times that bad governance and corruption are the biggest challenges facing Ethiopia and that it is committed to taking the necessary remedial steps, the problems still persist. The reason behind this sad state of affairs is the absence of accountability and transparency at all levels of government structures.

Citizens can participate more in the affairs of their country when they are able to express their views freely and when their human and democratic rights are respected. The contribution that such citizens make to their country’s cause is immeasurable. On the contrary, the suppression and infringement of rights is bound to lead to instability and a reversal of the gains made thus far. Hence, the EPRDF owes citizens a constitutionally imposed obligation to give the same level of attention to defending their rights as it has to economic growth. This is the only way that a democratic society can be built in Ethiopia.

The mixed record of Ethiopia over the past 23 years needs to change. While the efforts under way to eradicate the poverty that has shamed the nation before the world have to be stepped up, ensuring respect for fundamental rights, which are the building blocks in the process of crafting a democratic order, requires the utmost attention. Therefore, it is incumbent on the EPRDF to suit to action the promise 23 years ago. It is only then – and then only – that the aspirations of the Ethiopian people can achieve some substance.

Source : The Reporter

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