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Decades of authoritarian rule in Tigray have erected an ideological, political, and mental wall between the region’s political leaders and its people which is long overdue for dismantling.
Brick by brick, the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has fortified itself in power by building a wall around itself, and has become increasingly divorced from the people it once relied on to sustain its resistance struggle against the brutal Derg regime.
Since taking power in Addis Ababa over three decades ago and being forced to relinquish it in 2018 then retreating to control Tigray, a legion of party cadres has convinced themselves that they have a God-given, or revolution given, right to influence public policy and actions.
While there is no physical wall in Tigray, as there was separating East and West Germany during the Cold War, the time is long overdue to “tear down this wall,” in the words of U.S. president Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Two and a half years after Reagan’s directive to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall had come down and Russia began embarking on what has been a rocky and arduous but, one could argue, necessary transition towards political and economic liberalization.
As Tigray’s new interim president, you, Getachew Reda, must fulfill your promises to empower the region’s progressive forces rather than allowing the old guard to continue its dominance.
In doing so, you must first tear down the wall between the region’s leaders and its people.
Tigray’s ruling party is run through a Central Committee and politburo that are not elected and hence do not represent the voice of the people yet have tremendous power at their disposal. This power extends beyond the party itself, and pervades governance and public administration in Tigray.
There are no independent institutions in the region with the courage to speak truth to power. The government-funded media and tightly controlled civil society organizations, and even religious institutions, always dance to the tune of the orders of the government, which is to say the party.
A mindset has been irresponsibly and shortsightedly instilled in government officials, even in some ordinary citizens, that the party, government, and people are one and the same, thereby granting the TPLF the right to rule until kingdom come.
A toothless, rubber-stamping regional parliament that takes its orders from party higher-ups has been controlled in its entirety by the same ruling party for three decades.
Opposition parties are depicted not just as adversaries of the TPLF but also as the enemy of the people for the simple reason that they subscribe to a different political ideology, advocate for alternative public policies, and publicly declare that they can do the job better.
This all has created fertile ground for political patronage, cronyism, and nepotism. Politics is run through shady backroom deals, public resources are mismanaged, particularly the land, and public services such as water are not delivered properly.
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What’s more, ill-advised policies cannot be critically assessed, remedied, or reversed as problems are viewed through a partisan party lens and from the standpoint of protecting one’s political turf and economic interests.
After tearing down that wall with all its ideological baggage, political transgressions, and leadership failures, you, Mr. President, must play a leading role in aspiring to and working towards creating genuine democracy and a reformed parliamentary system whereby:
- Political party roles, duties, and responsibilities are clearly restricted to party politics, such as developing party policies and election platforms, selecting candidates for nomination, membership recruitment and fundraising, organizing debates, and party conferences.
- Free and fair elections take place at regular intervals.
- Power and decision-making lie where they should, in the hands of elected officials who are given their mandate by the people.
- The president and their cabinet are solely accountable to parliament.
- Legislators, through bipartisan parliamentary committees, collaboratively work for the common good of their constituents and the betterment of the region at large.
- The media, civil society, and religious organizations are set free to express their views regardless of whether they support or criticize government policy and decisions.
- Every effort is made to deliver public goods and services efficiently and effectively.
- Diversity is encouraged both in terms of political thought, meaning opposition parties are not stifled, and representation along the lines of gender, ethnicity, region, class, and religion.
It’s understandable that you will be unable to accomplish all these goals through an interim government and in a limited period of time. Yet you certainly can pave the way towards these goals by first and foremost tearing down the above-mentioned wall.
So, Mr. Getachew, you will do the people of Tigray a great, historic favor if you open the gate to introduce Tigray’s version of glasnost (openness and transparency) as well as perestroika (the policy or practice of restructuring or reforming the economic and political system).
The establishment, with an undying sense of entitlement and the special interests they nurtured for years, and naysayers in general, would assert that it’s impossible to do this in Tigray or that you don’t have the mandate to do it.
Nevertheless, the truth is, neither do the powermongers have any right to stay the course. But they surely will act as though they have the mandate. And their love for power and prestige is certainly not to be underestimated.
Members of the old guard relentlessly work around the clock with the objective of clinging onto or returning to power to continue having things their way.
While there is a time and place for political and diplomatic niceties, doing the right thing and making tough decisions even when it’s opposed by influential adversaries or special interests is indeed what prevails in the do or die world of politics.
In reality, it appears that the train of change has already left the station and there is no way of stopping it. So, if you remain silent or passive, it’s only a matter of time before someone else steps up to the plate to lead the reform agenda and save the people of Tigray from their seemingly never-ending pain and suffering.
Yet, who knows if you, Mr. President, have come to your highest position for such a time as this? If you are really seeking a quick recovery from the catastrophic war, along with genuine democracy and socioeconomic development for Tigray, tear down the wall and open the gates for long overdue political, economic, and social reforms the people of Tigray deserve.
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Main Image: UN Media Forum on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; 3 November 2016; by UNICEF Ethiopia; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.