Ethiopia: Striving for Strong Democracy

by Zelalem

Engraved into a wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial of Washington is “Freedom is not free,” – the popular American saying- expressing gratitude for the services, risks and sacrifices of members of the military.

Obviously, the aforesaid saying indicates that today’s most democratic countries in the world had begun to enjoy freedom having sacrificed a lot in the past. The same is true to Ethiopia , to own the present democracy system , thousands of fellow citizens were perished and made great scarifies .

During the monarchical and Derg regimes there were no rooms to exercise the inviolable democratic rights.

For instance, the dictatorial Derg regime used to promote Ethiopian nationalism violating the right to self-determination which is the fundamental democratic and human rights of ethnic groups.

After the downfall of Derg, the nation had managed to own a new constitution- one of the most conventional democratic constitutions in the world.

For over two decades, the constitution that promotes freedom of press and expression has been put in effect with a view to building strong democratic society and institutions as well.

Moreover, the constitution has guaranteed Ethiopia’s nations, nationalities and peoples the right to self-determination up to cession apart from other fundamental democratic and human rights.

It is true that the building and strengthening democratic institutions to uphold the core principles of the constitutions has been a top priority to the incumbent .

That is why the General Auditor, The Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman, The human Rights Commission, and the National Electoral Board, the media and the Parliament have been established so far.

During a recent event at the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR), Government Whip Assistant Minister Atsbeha Aregawi told the public wing of the House that though democracy in Ethiopia is at its infancy, the efforts of building and strengthening democratic institutions have brought the desired attitudinal changes towards democracy at national level.

Presenting 15 years’ performance report on the democratic institutions , Atsbeha said: “Democratic institutions have been playing their due role in indoctrinating the constitutional order, building a culture of democracy, and ensuring sustainable peace.”

The institutions also enabled the nation to maintain the rapid development, protect individual and group human rights as well as prevail rule of the law. They also helped the House to gain power to scrutinize numerous proclamations and policies adopted in harmony with the inalienable human rights as well as those rights granted by the FDRE constitution, according to the Minister.

It was also indicated that weaknesses of each institution in the last 15 years. For instance, limitations identified with HPR include: the law formulation used to encounter quality constraints during passing the bills. The bills had often been subjected to recurrent amendments at the house.

This is because the house did not carry out sufficient consultation with stakeholders before making a given bill a law of the country. Some drafted bills were tabled to the MPs at the closing session of the house. Thus , they were ratified without undergoing the proper scrutiny.

Besides, some laws and proclamations that were issued during the Emperor’s regime should have been amended or replaced for they do not get along with the current socioeconomic and political trends as a whole.

Moreover, the report identified inadequate data recording system of the House to monitor and follow up the executives and lack of collaboration among democratic institutions to minimize its limitations.

On the other hand, some of the limitations of House of the Federation include delaying solutions of constitutional questions from communities, switching good governance and identity questions, and knowledge and attitudinal gaps among the leadership and workmen in their effort to indoctrinate constitutional principles.

The media as well received a huge criticism from both sides. While the public (state owned) media reported the constructive story, the private ones concentrated on destructive stories.

Mehari Yohhanes Lecturer and Researcher of Political Science at Mekele University appreciated the solid fact that a nation that had never seen a ‘sign of democracy’ for over a century and has now owned a democratic constitution and held democratic elections with progressive public participation.

He nevertheless said the pace of democratization has been sluggish, and the performance of the democratic institutions has not fully met the target. He strongly refuted the externalization to the sluggish pace of democratization.

Mahari told The Ethiopian Herald that the controversy between government and opposition parties as a major cause for failure. These parties, despite their difference, need to consult on what their ‘common nation’ should look like and how they should build their nation rather than running hostility politics.

He also puts another major blame on the ruling party itself. “The ruling party itself should be accountable for this level of performance among the democratic institutions. It has been exercising a gloomy highly centralized democracy which hindered an efficient separation of power.”

The opposition parties have also had their share, according to the scholar, they have not yet acquired the skills for building democracy. Most of the oppositions are more or less undemocratic. “These very parties have been proposing optional ideas and struggling for building democracy without obeying the constitution.”

They sometimes reflect hostile opinion and fail to set scenarios of national and public interest.

Third ,he argued that the media as a democratic institution is equally responsible, but they operate taking the two extremes. “Although the private media in Ethiopia came into existence after the downfall of Derg, they are functioning by taking one extreme- being an opposition- even disregarding the constitution, while the government or public one function as affiliates of the ruling party than defending national and public interests, both exhibiting biased reporting.”

Likewise, those media that are considered to be ‘unbiased’ have received unnecessary pressures for criticizing the government or its party or an official. This has indeed happened in both private and public media, he reproached.

Then, given that these and related major issues have pulled back the truck of democratic institutions along their path of democratization in the past two decades, what vital steps should be taken to fast-track it, then?

The answer first and foremost lies on the government, opposition parties, media, the ruling party and the democratic institutions. All should strive for one democratic prosperous nation amidst all their attitudinal, ideological and interest disparities, because they all do have one Ethiopia, which strongly requires their further commitment to settle all its developmental challenges, maladministration, corruption, unemployment and the like issues.

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