Promoting the National Dialogue Commission through media

We have heard many times in the past the phrase ‘Ethiopia is at crossroads’ referring to certain crucial moments in its history. We have heard it during various epochs of the recent history of the country when people felt that something pivotal was about to happen to the country. This kind of assertion was also heard from among the academics, intellectuals or people who are considered as knowledgeable and keen observers of the country’s history. They make these remarks based on what sort of developments were about to take place in the society and the establishment as a whole. These observers refer to past stories developing and events actually taking place including during possible regime changes or other critical events that may determine the fate of the country.

For instance similar observations were made when the monarchy was living its final days due to widespread protests against the way things were being handled. In the pivotal year of 1974 there were conditions in which the country was at crossroads. Unprecedented developments took place. The military began to complain loudly by voicing their woes to the monarchy.

Civil servants, the business community as well as teachers and other sectors of society voiced their opposition against the worsening economic situation of the country. The protests took another shape with the joining of the military to the masses and the exposure of the nation to a potential enemy aggression. The conditions in which they were forced to live were according to them unsustainable. Hence they boldly presented their case to the emperor; and this was also supported by the student movement. Therefore, it was clear that the country was at crucial crossroads.

With the deposition of the monarchy and the taking over of the military the country seemed to head to a more stable situation. But soon even the military government was to face opposition from various fronts including those who craved for the right to self-determination of certain communities. There arose fierce guerrilla activities in many areas in the country and after a while it was again clear that the country was at crossroads. Its future was once again at stake.

Ethiopia never had any scarcity of enemies given its crucial geopolitical situation and Ethiopians were constantly reminded of this case by having to mobilize to deter any aggression from outside or even by forces which were acting on behalf of the enemies from outside. Again there was the feeling that the country was at crossroads with the future not very clear or bright.

With the increasing assault of certain forces that struggled for cessation from the country led by the military, it was difficult to predict that the future would be bright because peace and stability was dwindling and people had begun to worry about the future. The policies and records of the military government did not convince Ethiopians in general and the lack of peace and stability for quite a while presented more challenges to the country. The future was once again put at serious risk. Many observers began to raise the issue of the country being at crossroads again.

Some people even began to support the guerrilla fighters so that the military regime is done with. People wanted peace and harmony among communities ridding of the trigger happy military government. Then, another new chapter was written with the deposition of the Derg and the take over of power by the EPRDF coalition.

It seemed that the series of wars and military campaigns were destined to end and people would never hear the sound of guns again. The new regime presented itself as a kind of ‘saviour of the country’. However, after a few years, once again a new cycle of discontent erupted. The policies of the government were accused of discriminating among nationalities and that power was systematically abused by the new tsars. People who felt that they did not get what they deserved began to present a stiff opposition not only in peaceful ways but also arming themselves and getting into the bush. Those forces that were actively helping the now in power government to reach the current stage felt betrayed because they felt marginalized from power sharing and their voices disregarded.

The resistance movement of many of these forces continued for years before the EPRDF government was deposed by a wing in itself that formed a kind of ‘reformist party’. EPRDF was made to vanish and a new party called Prosperity Party was founded by the new leaders such as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and others. Again a new hope seemed to emerge from a distance and many observers again used the phrase ‘Ethiopia is once again at crossroads’ because what it does now will be crucial for its continuation as a state embracing all the nationalities within it and making them feel comfortable with the new government machinery. The new government promised that no ethnic group or nationality or indeed political force would feel discriminated or sidelined from the central authority. Each will have their say in the affairs that concern them a lot and opposition forces that were stationed abroad were invited to return home and take part in a peaceful political discourse.

With certain forces still raising the perennial issue of the lack of participation of all of them in the country’s government, there seemed to persist a sense of discontent that has persevered along the years despite the measures of the reformist government trying to change things so that the old injustices would be redressed. Again many people remarked that the country was once again finding itself at crossroads. The success of this government was put very much in the balance if it could not embrace all political forces in its endeavours and listen to their voices attentively.

The circumstances that led to the outbreak of the conflict in the north and the instability in certain regions of the country were attributed by many to this sort of not attaining full consensus in the country among various political forces. The promise that every group would be duly represented and there would not be distinction between nationalities or groups and that every group would be heard was challenged.

It was also in reaction to these presuppositions that the so called National Dialogue Commission was founded and every political or social force or group would be given the chance to air their voice in the deliberations. During the past few years since the formation of this Commission, there have been made significant progresses towards identifying the major issues that divide the country, the possible solutions that people envisage and how to go about reforming the country along fair and equitable lines in terms of sharing power and the resources of the nation.

Perennial issues are to be well identified according to what people actually feel and well deliberated solutions are to be prospected by this National Dialogue Commission that is meant to embrace every segment of society including those who have resorted to armed struggle. This move of the Commission is crucial because no one force or group would be excluded from the deliberations. The role of the media here becomes fundamental because it needs to responsibly cover what is being done in the country regarding the activities of the Commission.

Undoubtedly, the media is a very powerful force in society considered by many as the fourth branch of government. Indeed in the current situation its responsibilities have doubled because the emergence of social media has complicated and tried to diminish its role. To avoid the risk of being eclipsed by the social media that are very popular, direct and immediate, the conventional media needs to present itself in a responsible and professional manner raising its profile higher than any of the social media outlets who try to outshine it or even push it out of business. That is why the media needs to be professional, reliable and trustworthy and not be economically motivated to take the wrong side. It needs to show people that it always keeps the major interests of the country above every other force or interest.

The Ethiopian media needs to support the efforts of the Commission in its attempts to gather as much input as possible without any bias from the participants because the success of the efforts of the Commission will contribute to build a society and a nation that is based on a certain consensus. The views of every group would be guaranteed of representation and consideration and no one would feel excluded from their fair share of the national pie.

The one huge issue that this country has been struggling against is the fair or equal representation of its nationalities in the federal government and how power sharing has been devised.

In a country such as Ethiopia where there are tens of ethnic groups and languages, the way power is shared has always presented a challenge also because there are external forces in the country who try to drag the nation into turmoil and fish in troubled waters. They try to abort its development to a powerful force in east Africa and the continent as a whole. For such sabotage there are multiple agents and forces particularly in the social media trying to sow discord among Ethiopians. That is where the media should flex its muscles and show its resistance.

One of the main duties of the media is hence to expose these destructive forces and convince people that they are enemies of the people who are busy peddling unfounded narratives and venomous assertions among communities. The media should give due emphasis to these developments and actively support the efforts of the National Dialogue Commission reporting on each and every development and keep the public well informed so that they have trust and confidence in what the Commission is doing.

Ethiopia cannot afford to squander this opportunity once again as it has done in various other chapters of its history. Opportunities do not always recur easily because things continue to evolve. The country’s position vis-à-vis outside forces is also bound to change. We need to seize the moment and take full advantage of similar developments so that the country addresses its crucial issues and go ahead one step to the right direction.

Attaining full peace and permanent stability would facilitate the growth of the country. For all this the role of the media cannot be overestimated. It is a key force capable of swaying things to this direction or that one. It can be destructive but also constructive. Hence, we can once again assert that Ethiopia is at crossroads. But we must not let it take the wrong path. The efforts and positive contribution of the media are precious and irreplaceable. We should all realize and acknowledge the importance of this fact and support the media because we cannot afford to fail in this endeavour.

The development trajectory of the country can not continue if we fail to settle this issue of national consensus through the efforts of the National Dialogue Commission. And the efforts of the Commission need to be well covered and promoted by the media so that people are well aware of what the implications are and not be sabotaged by the enemies of the country.



Recommended For You