Political Power and the Art of Compromise
By Tecola W. Hagos
June 11, 2014
“The world rests on three Pillars: On Torah (wisdom), on avodah (service, worship), and g’meelut chasadim–acts of loving kindness.”
In the past, especially during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, to a great depth, the State of Ethiopia seemed to have a more integrated society than the current seriously fractured State of “nations and nationalities.” It is a challenge to all of us to think of a unifying history of Ethiopia in as far as what is presented in most history books I read is a segmented view of Ethiopia’s dominant ethnic oriented history rather than a coherent or holistic history of its complex society. To me the most important thing is the fact that we have a long history no matter how it is presented in written form. However, even if we acknowledged such narratives, we must guard against fallacies of composition in accepting limited instances to represent the whole of the human condition in all parts of Ethiopia.
I have studied many ethnic communities throughout the past history of the United States. None have I found that hate and disparage the governments of their respective original home countries as much as many of the Ethiopian Diasporas do, which led me to conclude that Ethiopians in general love the abstract notion of an Ethiopia, but hate and disrespect the concrete Ethiopians right next to us. I see it in the fact that Ethiopians would tolerate extreme forms of abuse in the hands of foreigners, but will not live with mild discomfort generated by the presence or activities in the hands of fellow Ethiopians. This is indeed a curious situation that ought to be studied carefully by sociologists and psychoanalysts in order to understand our national problems with the way our society deals with poverty and totalitarian tendencies in our rulers.
Prof Messay Kebede’s recent article is simply an information piece whereby he is echoing assertions and views made by third parties. It is neither an advocacy for violence or for any form of confrontational strategy against the Ethiopian Government. One must ask now and then fundamental questions such as questions dealing with the purpose of human life. Surly, it is not for the purpose of making politics. The fact is that human beings are involved in politics in order to realize a fulfilling life. The art of compromise is a great art of political gamesmanship, but seems to be acutely missing both in the establishment and the periphery of Ethiopia’s political scene. Two points that one must focus on is the future political life of our future leaders, such as Birtukan Mideksa: is there some political room for her for a come-back or even better to join the current Ethiopian leadership? And the other question: Quo Vadis (where to) PM Hailemariam Desalegn?
Hunger for Political Power: ጉልቻ፣ ቢለዋወጥ፤ ወጥ፣ አያጣፍጥም።
I do not accept the idea that human beings are helpless in the face of what may be considered as inevitable or predetermined ends. I believe we can always change what might seem to be a horrible inevitable end. At any rate, the future is shielded from us, all we can do is take educated guess what the future might hold for us and do the best we could to live a virtuous life. Ultimately we each live an individualized life and not a life to be lived by a committee. Prof Mesfin Woldemariam has shared with us in a succinct article a frightening prediction of our future. Although at times I failed to see Prof Mesfin’s rational in some of his statements, such as his vehement opposition to Seye Abraha at Medrek as opposed to his recent endorsement of Aregawi Berhe, which act seems to me to be in the realm of metaphysics, beyond my understanding, I truly believe Prof Mesfin’s intention is honorable and patriotic. In his own words the following is what he wrote about our apocalyptic fate:
ወያኔ ከሀያ ዓመታት በላይ አፍንጫ እየያዘ ያስከፈለውን የሚመልስበት ጊዜ እየተቃረበ ነው፤ ጥያቄው ወያኔ እንዲመልስ የሚገደደው እንዴት ነው? የሚል ነው፤ጥላቻ ወደንዴት፣ ንዴት ወደቁጣ ተለውጦ ሲገነፍል ምጽዓት ደረሰ ማለት ነው፤ ሁሉም ሰው ራቁቱን ይሆናል፤ አንደአውሬ ከጥፍሩና ከጥርሱ በቀር ሌላ መሣሪያ አይኖረውም፤ ሰው ሁሉ በክፋት ወደ አውሬነት ይለወጣል፤ ጠመንጃና ቦምብ አያገለግሉም፤ ሕንጻው ምሽግ አይሆንም፤ መኪናው፣ ባቡሩ፣ ታንኩ ከቆመበት አይነቃነቅም፤ የትም አያደርስም፤ ጭፍራ ሁሉ በየራሱ ፍዳ ታንቆ እንኳን ለሌላ ሊተርፍ ለራሱም የማይበቃ ይሆናል፤ ለነገሩ
ጌታና ሎሌም የለም፤ ሁሉም በአውሬ እኩልነት የተፋጠጠ ነው፤ ርኅራኄ ተሟጦ፣ መግል ያዘለ ልብ ፈርጦ፣ ውይይትና ክርክር አብቅቶ፣ ጥርሱን ያገጠጠና ጥፍሩን የሳለ መንጋ በደም የሚራጭበት ሁኔታ ነው።
I do not want to believe that Prof Mesfin is making a self-fulfilling prophecy for the sake of saying “I told you so” when what he prophesied becomes our nightmarish reality. I believe he is sincere in sharing his profound concern about the future of Ethiopia in that article, with the hope that his gloomy prediction can be averted. In other words, he is urging the people in power to fix the problem that had been pointed out by numerous people both organized in opposition party structures and as expressed by concerned individuals. However, spelling out gloom and doom in itself is not going to help us much. To some extent, Prof Mesfin is exaggerating the degree of calamity he is predicting. The Ethiopian public is not as reckless and as brutal as portrayed by him in its future actions. Moreover, I think his concern is misplaced, and in painting to us a frightening future for Ethiopia is not going to help Ethiopia overcome the serious problems facing us. The Red Terror, for example, would never have happened as an expression of discontent by the Ethiopian public, if it were not for the full agitation and push of the Derg and its civilian hatchet-men.
In the main up to now, our elitist solution to our profound problems is our incessant cry for change of Leadership. Of course, such expressions of discontent are punctuated by demonstrations against specific inequities championing the causes of heroic Ethiopian journalists and politicians. The way I look at our age old problems is that our leaders should be the least of our concern. We seem to forget that we are functioning in a closed system, and changing personalities in leadership positions would not make that much of a difference in the reality of our existence burdened with centuries of accumulated technology deficiency, ignorance of modern means of production, illiterate society, and poverty of all kinds. If we change every single individual now in leadership position in Ethiopia and replace each with the outspoken leaders of the many Diaspora political organizations, we will only succeed making matters worse. ጉልቻ፣ ቢለዋወጥ፤ ወጥ፣ አያጣፍጥም። It is precisely in anticipation of such ineffective new leadership after any revolution that I suggested to use alternative method of change in Ethiopia.
One possible method to effect changes at the grassroots level is to use the Ethiopian Courts by filing complaints on behalf of to get redress from Governmental inequities rather than wait on the sideline while the destructive resentment/hate pressure is building up in society. This is a long term process, but it has the added virtue in teaching us to use the legal system no matter how flawed it may be. The complaints against violations of the rights of citizens and unequal treatment of Ethiopians from different ethnic background can be lodged against individual government officials and/or the government corporate entities. That too is not sufficient, but one ought to try as many solutions and we must be creative to prevent any social explosion. One should read and digest Prof Mesfin’s admonishment very seriously even if it turns out to be a bogyman story told to frighten children.
The Art of Political Compromise
Ambassador Zewde Retta, in his monumental book on Ethiopia and Eritrea [The Eritrean Affair (1941-1963) During the Reign of Emperor Haile Sellassie I, (in Amharic)], narrates an incident that took place while Emperor Haile Selassie was living in exile in England. Young Aklilu Habtewold was working as an aid to the then Ethiopian Ambassador to France during the Italian war on Ethiopia. Aklilu having learned that the Ethiopian Ambassador had scheduled a press conference to announce his defection to the Italian side, was reporting to the Emperor that grave diplomatic debacle. Emperor Haile Selassie, rather than throwing a tantrum and cursing his Ambassador whom he lifted up from dirty to national prominence and great wealth, in great statesman discipline instructed Young Aklilu to go back to the Ambassador and ask him on behalf of the Emperor what would be done for him to persuade him to abandon his planned defection. Here is a lesson in great statesmanship: negotiation and compromise even at the gate to Hell.
The legacy of the Ethiopian Student movement of the 1960s and 1970s is rigidity and fanatical adherence to abstract ideas. The Ethiopian student body of the time of Emperor Haile Selassie had suffered tremendous distortions of self-perception settling ultimately in the 1970s on the image of Che Guevara, Marx and Lenin, with Stalin in tow, and all those aliens were immortalized in the popular students’ song of all ages, Fano Tesemara. I often wonder why we as Ethiopian students at HSIU did not sing of Ethiopian great patriots, such as Belay Zeleke, Abune Petros, Geresu Duki et cetera. Of course, much later I learned that the Ethiopian Students Movement was not a constructive endeavor, but manipulated by third parties using students to destroy their own Ethiopian nationalism. We still are living that tragedy in the way we tear down each other for flimsy ideas totally oblivious of the more important question of the survival of Ethiopia. We students were just pawns unknowingly being used for the sordid interest to benefit Eritrea’s ambition for independence. Generally speaking, the generation of Ethiopian students that traversed the gauntlet of the modern Ethiopian education system were the isolated segment of the Ethiopian society, thus easily manipulated and used against our own self-interest.
What is missing right now in all the dissention voices against the current Ethiopian Government and/or its predecessor is detailed plan/strategy to fix the alleged problems. Such plan need not be a comprehensive governmental plan. Modest changes in the lives of individuals, modest system changes, investment in morality in society, enhancement of individual hygienic life, clean environment, controlling overpopulation et cetera could have complex adoptive and transformative effect in the long run. What must we do now to force the hand that is guiding Ethiopia in the present course of governance to change? But what type of Change? For sure no one is going to hand over power just like that. In fact, the fear of persecution in case the current leaders lose power is another incentive for them to hang on to power by all means. Here is where the art of compromise, creation of escape doors, evolutionary process et cetera would ease transition and change. It is not enough to shout slogans, hurl insults, and write threatening essays across the Atlantic Ocean and a Continent, nor prophecy of doom and gloom would deliver wealth and democracy to people. What is needed is direct engagement by participating in the economic and social life of the nation in the first place, and move into political activity once planting deep roots in the Ethiopian society.
In the movie Braveheart, the former Crusader, and later leper, father of James the Bruce, advised his overzealous son that what distinguished the “nobles” from the “common” Scotts is the ability of the “nobles” to compromise in order to preserve and expand their landholdings and status in court. I am not saying that there is no place for unflinching principled stance that would make historic difference in the life of a community even a nation. Earlier I asked a generic question about the future of new political leaders including Birtukan Mideksa. There is some purpose in my question. I intend to measure the degree of willingness of Ethiopians to compromise and seek politically expedient solutions rather than stay disfranchised narrow minded fanatics whereby the art of modern politics eludes them to the detriment of the Ethiopian society and their own individual lives.
I am taking up the case of Birtukan Mideksa, who graduated from Harvard, Kennedy School of Government a couple of weeks ago, who is already a subject of political tugging by opposition political organizations. Two influential Diaspora figures, Abebe Gellaw and Girma Kassa, have written a couple of articles that are touching and personal, and in a plea for Birtukan to go back to the fold. I think this might be a moment of truth for Birtukan to come up with a wise and equally significant decision in here own self-interest. The Ethiopian Government Leaders also have an opportunity to evolve as sophisticated politicians in their treatment of Birtukan and other opposition leaders. I think the art of compromise is very much needed here under such sensitive situation. I would suggest that the Ethiopian Government appoint Birtukan for high Ethiopian Government position, such as appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations and at the same time free Eskinder Nega, Reyot Alemu, Andualem Arage and all the detained journalists and political prisoners.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn seems to fade into the contentious background of Ethiopia’s ever intriguing political power struggle. I believe that he must find his tipping-point soon and start a political and economic momentum of his own making rather than tag-on along an already obsolete political and economic structure of the last ten fifteen years. A good leader must have inner fire and a hunger to bring about profound positive change in the lives of his fellow Ethiopians. There are several untapped, untested, and virgin areas for development projects. There are serious administrative, judicial, economic, and political problems that need immediate and effective solutions. There are also serious errors carried over from previous governmental activities and errors due to poor leadership that need corrections without delay, one being the Ethiopian coastal territory on the Red Sea. Far more fully developed paper. [See Tecola W. Hagos, DISILLUSIONMENT OF INTERNATIONAL LAW AND NATIONAL SURVIVAL (2011);
I watch ETV and read all sorts of news and articles from Ethiopia and from the Diaspora on a daily basis. I am disappointed in the lack of enthusiasm and headlong engagement by the leadership of the Ethiopian Government. They seem to be in infuriatingly relaxed reclining mood, except for few, such as the Minister Alemayehu Tegenu and Engineer Simegnew Bekele who seem fully engaged pouring out their bodies and souls into their respective national undertakings dealing with the GERD. If one has to choose current Ethiopian heroes, there you have them. These are two Ethiopians I trust the fate of our right over our natural resources.
Conclusion: Get a Life, Diaspora Politicians
Warren G. Buffett, the greatest securities and equity investor in the world, said, “We are just the opposite of those who hurry to sell and book profits when companies perform well, but who tenaciously hang on to businesses that disappoint.” Buffett’s statement by analogy would criticize the mind set of Ethiopian “opposition” politicians. In simple form, what Buffett is stating is that one maintains a winning position and get rid of losing stocks. In other words it is not wise to liquidate a winning group in favor of dysfunctional losers or stocks with no record of success.
The tragic fact is that the vociferous often vicious Diaspora opposition members (the ones blogging and chatting) do not represent the majority of Ethiopian immigrants. Those Diaspora members that are belligerent and insulting of anyone with point of views different than their narrow and chauvinistic views are living in serious mental freeze having based their dissident narration on mistaken or delusional presumptions of historical events The reality on the ground was totally contradictory of such narratives of the political and economic condition prior to the rule of the EPRDF. They often forget that all of the resistance/liberation movements, some of whom in power now, were instituted to challenge autocratic and authoritarian regimes.
The lack of rational, cool, and sophisticated analysis of the present state of affair in Ethiopia has led several individuals in the Diaspora to adopt an unproductive even belligerent position in dealing with the current Ethiopian Government. In my last article, in illustrating the unappetizing and delusional hunger of some Ethiopians in the Diaspora communities around North America and Europe for dominance, I narrated the parable of carrying a crown in ones pocket in case the opportunity of kingship is offered (Prof Yacob Hailemariam), which sums up my views about the unrealistic political ambitions of some Ethiopians elites in the Diaspora. Recent articles by Ethiopian elites are becoming exceedingly anachronistic and irrelevant to our social and economic condition, especially when they are disparaging and discounting real projects and activists that Ethiopian men and women are working hard constructing, such as real roads facilitating the movement of commerce and people, real dams generating power, real buildings people use, and rail systems moving millions of tons of goods. In few cases we see our learned politicians turning into a Twenty First Century Jeremiah, the prophet of doom and gloom, telling us that the destruction of our society is just around the corner.
I navigate numerous Websites, including several Ethiopian ones, over a course of a day for years now. What is truly tragic to me is that most Ethiopian Websites are humorless, dry, and sour. In Ethiopian Websites, politics dominates everything. Even our great athletic heroes are pushed aside to make room to endless tirade of articles and comment on a single theme with hundreds of variations: answering to the question who should be in power. I keep wondering whether Ethiopians in the Diaspora might not have normal lives. I do not read involvements in communal healthy relations, except for the Ethiopian Churches. How about social involvement, academic achievements et cetera?
ONWARD ETHIOPIA IN PROSPERITY AND LIBERTY.
Tecola W. Hagos
June 11, 2014