By Girma Feyissa
Time is ticking. The Ethiopian New year has just ushered in at a time when the muddy streams are flowing down with lesser silt and more cleaner water.
This also marks the blossoming of the Meskel Flower everywhere, both high up in the mountains and deep down in the valleys. It is also a time when the sky is back with its natural colour under the sun shine. New Year is not only an appropriate time that describes the gift of nature but also a time to somehow see the past and expect better hope for the future.
The year coincides with the political election session in many African countries, including Ethiopia. Over half a century has gone by since the first ever glimmer of change of reign was triggered. It is interesting to look back at the political changes in Ethiopia from a ground level perspective through personal memories.
I was a high school student when the 1961 coup d’état was attempted. It was in early December when tanks and artilleries took position at different spots in the city. One was at the juncture of Empress Mennen Secondary school near my neighborhood. That was the first time I saw soldiers wearing helmets armed with M-1 rifles looking stern as if trying to conceal a big secret.
On Tuesday afternoon, the voice of Ethiopia started playing an announcement presented by Alem Mezgebe, time and time again. Most Ethiopians were caught by surprise.
Few people were able to get the gist of what the rhetoric was about. If at all there was something significant, it was the recorded voicing the Crown Prince Asfawossen pledging to serve the people like an ordinary civil servant being paid a monthly salary.
The phrase “the Ethiopian Republic” was another catch word. Leul Ras Imru Hailselassie is set to lead the Republic as president. These phrases and words of intent meant little to the general public who were not ready for such major changes.
It later transpired that the Imperial Body Guard General Mengistu Neway had conjured up with the heads of the Army, the Police and the Air Force to overthrow the throne but mistrust among them took its toll and the hasty coup d’état was soon failed even before it had begun in earnest throughout the land. It is, however, undeniable that this was a beginning of awareness among the elite with the main shortfall being “inequality”.
People, therefore, began to wonder why there should be such a wide gap among citizens in terms of land and property ownership, in education, healthcare, employment, salary and wage difference. These and other complaints kept on cooking underground for the pursuing 13 years.
The 1974 famine and communications of university students with the rest of the world and the ironic plays staged in the interim period had galvanized the quest for equality. It became apparent that change was inevitable.
Indeed, it was. City riots were rampant. The quest for equality, also known as democracy, became the burning issues of the day.
It led to the formation of the Dergue regime. That did not go well with the desires of the elite who had in turn organised themselves to form political parties to take the leadership.
There was a serious ideological difference between Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All Ethiopians Socialist Movement, popularly called MESON, while still under the embryonic stage, a struggle that cost hundreds of young lives. That situation gave way for the military to stay in power for at least 17 years.
But “democracy” was far away. The Dergue had to be gotten rid by the TPLF- led fighting force later joined by other opposition forces. The inequality that existed so far was explained not only by the difference of owning land or property but also ethnicity.
The old saying that, “a rose remain a rose even under any name” did not seem to function. Instead of counting on one’s own personality, it became the rule rather than the exception to find one’s person in the ethnicity of one’s ancestors. All these searches for identity were contested under the pretext of democracy as if one is created by his own design. Real democracy is still in the want.
Will the coming election year bring any genuine change in Africa?
The past records were gloomy. There were countries that tried to rectify their constitutions to suit their leaders by extending their terms in office. There were others who were rigging votes.
There were others who tried to use the air time and the front pages of their national press to promote their parties by enumerating the list of mega projects. They have tried to embark on as if such performances are not their responsibilities.
Some had even gone beyond that and harassed, intimidated, imprisoned and accused their opponents for all sorts of crimes that would reveal the insecurity of the ruling party thus eradicating democracy under the pretext of introducing it. We hope our election would be one of the most genuine and tidy performance in the Country’s political history.
The Ethiopian government has launched a 15 days policy reorientation program throughout the country spending millions of money perhaps to ease off some of the burning questions of the rising cost of living. Some observers allege that the objective is to create grounds for sticking to power, and thereby making attempts to identify the upcoming questions rather than giving answers to the suspended ones.