22 September 2019

Ethiopia - from closed to open society

Ethiopia has been going through changes since Dr. Abiy Ahmed took charge of the horn African country in early 2018. 

The Positives – The changes in Ethiopia under the leadership of Dr. Abiy Ahmed have exceeded expectations of many both at home and abroad. Dr Abiy has the trust and confidence of many people both in Ethiopia and around the world. 

The opportunities – The change in Ethiopia has brought opportunities for Ethiopians both at home and abroad to engage in the affairs of their beloved homeland. It has paved ways for the opposition to contribute to the democratisation of the country. It has brought back the confidence of investors, which if nurtured properly could mean job opportunities, taxation, economic growth and march towards a better Ethiopia, that is open and inclusive. The international community is closely watching and willing to go to Ethiopia and work with the government, businesses, civic groups and other stakeholders. There are initiatives at different levels that are encouraging. The media has for the first-time freedom to operate freely.

The challenges – The change is not without challenges. The resistance to change by the political elites needs careful and thoughtful solution based on mutual understanding and open debates. The rise of tribalism and ethnicism is deeply worrying. Irresponsible use of social media and some of the media outlets including Fake news, Misinformation and Disinformation is very alarming. Polarisation of some of the so-called ‘political elites’ is disturbing. Egocentrism and individual fanaticism have triumphed over the past many months. The conflicts in universities; displacements and the resistance to change in many areas are among the challenges that need addressing patiently and wisely.

The need for Office for Civil Society

Ethiopia needs to have office for civil society to help civil society engage in local democracy actively. There are lots of areas and sectors of society that need visiting and revisiting. There is a need to organise folks across Ethiopia and help them engage in what really matters to them. They should be able to set the agenda on issues that really matter to them and help the country flourish through the process. They should be encouraged to be part of the changes in the country. When community leaders buy the ideals of organised and open Civil Society, Community Organising, Participatory and Adaptive Leadership; when they act on issues that matter to them and achieve results together; when they feel it is in their self-interests to engage when time, place and conditions allow; then they all contribute to the betterment of their homeland and help Ethiopia go from closed to open society.

Where to start

  1. Our universities need to engage students, local community leaders, elders, alumni, etc to get the best out of them. Universities have to be places of study, research, participation and hope.  Our schools also need to engage in local democracy, institutional and leadership development.
  2. Civic institutions should take stock and proactively step in and step up. All the religious institutions have roles to play. There should be honest and open discussions with the leaders of every denomination and also with traditional and cultural leaders. The contributions of civic institutions like ‘Iqub’ ‘Edir’ ‘Mahber’ etc need to be taken seriously. Civic institutions should participate in local, regional and national democracies. Strong and functioning civil society is the basis for an open, inclusive, strong and democratic society.
  3. Trade unions and unions of any kind –these unions have a lot to contribute. There is a need to work with this sector and have them actively involved.
  4. The media - online, offline, printed, video and audio. It is vital we take this very seriously especially as Ethiopia plans to go into general election. This sector is at times very polarised. The dangers of fake news, misinformation, hate speech and disinformation need due attention and proper handling. The sector should be supported to be more professional and accountable. Due attention should also be given for the sector as it is under resourced and lacks diversity. We need to see more women and young people in the media.
  5. The judiciary, police and civil service need to be taken on board. Capacity building and practical support is important to have an independent judiciary, police and civil service. All these have to be free from political interference and deliver their duties according to their books.
In general, as Ethiopia moves from closed to open society, there is a need for patience and calm and concentrate on the wider picture – peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia that is for all, not for a few ‘political elites’. Change Ethiopia for Ethiopians in an open society.  

Time to Get Out and Vote – Democracy in Action

  United Kingdom goes to the polls on July 4th.  Since the election was called by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, I have had the opportu...