Ethiopia:What is this election for?

By Kebour Ghenna
October 6, 2019

Yes, what is this election for if it does not answer the relevant and serious political, societal and economic questions of Ethiopia, or help us pursue common interests and aspirations, or make the country easier to govern… What good is it? For people to vote but nothing is really resolved or reconciled

Kebour Ghenna Desta

What the 2020 voting will do is nation-deconstruction, not nation-building, national disunity, not national unity, disintegration, not integration. In these conditions, whatever democracy we claim to exercise devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which the ugliest us-versus-them instincts takes precedence. Ethiopians today view their fellow neighbors not as fellow Ethiopians, but as enemies to be vanquished. The simple truth is that Ethiopia is losing its sense of mission or purpose as a country.

The upcoming election would be different, radically, clearly and manifestly from those of years past. For a start it will be the most consequential in our lifetimes; survival of the country, as we know it today, may depend on it. And yet our discourses are just limited to speculating whether ELECTIONS WILL TAKE PLACE OR NOT! Surely there’s a big storm out there somewhere…No?

The government is creating the illusion that everything will be sorted out with this election and that individuals must give their total support for its success. Yet what kind of success is the government referring to, if any, is not clear.

This is the first time, in our history, that we’ll vote mostly along ethnic divide…. We’ll choose between an ethnic identity and multiculturalism. I take no joy in this assertion. This is not an election about issues, not about innovation and productivity, not about fighting violence, famines, disease, misery, depression, inflation, living in peace, traffic, price of onions…This is not about Egypt, debt, climate change, privatization, or rural financing. This is about ourselves, about our willingness and readiness to live together. Can we… do we… want to live together. WHAT DO WE WANT?

This will be an election where our chronic lack of shared vision as a country will be clearly manifested. Without a shared vision, the tendency is for citizens to devalue one another as they glorify themselves and their ethnic identity, believing that they are the best thing to have happened to their country. Such selfish greed hardly allows for time to think of Ethiopia in real terms as a collective treasure to be valued and protected by its inhabitant.

No surprise there!

The country’s constitution for the past 25 years or so served to accelerate this division, turning the people against one another. This was a constitution specifically designed to divide and split the hell out of us, and to a remarkable extent, it has succeeded in doing just that. Funny enough many still want to keep this constitution with all its faults than fight for another that keeps Ethiopia together.

This is an election devoid of ideas in dealing with the rise of ethnic hatreds. Prime Minister Abye knows it, his government has yet to define Ethiopia’s national purpose, reflect on whether centralism or decentralism will be the governing political strand of the country, develop a sound architecture of political institutions and rules, agree on the way decisions are made, including consensus with each regional state having a veto power on critical decisions.

We’re in an “Election -or-Die” trap. No politicians seem willing to consider postponing this election, until the country stabilizes.
And when you’re in an Election-or-Die trap, leaders will want to get out of it in the worst possible way. That is, they will choose the worst way forward – ignore the problem, more entertainment, and more feeble and divisive policies. The politics of strife and conflict and the struggle for power will be tactfully relegated to the regions, while the leaders (federal and regional), like master juggler, play quietly the regional or ethnic elites against one another.

So why insist in holding the election next year? Why not sort out the reasons and grievances that brought about the rise of ethnic politics first? Why not find a way to call this generation of Ethiopians to a constitutional convention to shape Ethiopia’s future and to prevent a national unity crisis. Such mega constitutional politics is not something new. The US, Canada, most East European countries, South Africa passed through such mega constitutional upheavals. Surely this requires leadership to set the direction, and I still believe Abye, together with the regional presidents and other leaders, is the one who’s well placed to conduct this reform.

Will such initiative help us build a united, forward looking, progressive Ethiopia?

You decide.


  1. Well articulated and to the point. Those who rigidly are for elections do not seem to take into consideration the dark clouds hovering over Ethiopia. The priority of the political elites including the incumbent should be stabilizing the situation in the country. Holding elections in the unstable situation we are now in is the wrong priority and will likely exacerbate the crisis. The forces like the TPLF have another motive i.e. more destabilization and conflict in the rest of the regions. The TPLF looks to have consolidated its rule in Tigray and wants to act as a king maker and care taker.


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