The Key for Sustainable Democratisation in Ethiopia
By Tesfaye Habisso
Since the demise of the military junta and the assumption of state power by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991, a wide array of socio-political and economic reforms have been undertaken by the incumbent regime aimed at doing away with authoritarian and repressive rule of the past and instituting a democratic political system in its place, on the one hand, and reversing the previous state-dominated command economy and introducing a market-led economy in its place, on the other. Although it is easier said than done to effect such fundamental changes successfully within a period of just sixteen years, noteworthy achievements have been recorded in a number of areas, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, education, health, energy, telecommunication services, gender equality, food security and in devolving power to and strengthening local governments of the various ethnic nationalities, etc. Revolutionary changes have also been executed in the reconfiguration of the state along a multi-nation federal structure, acknowledging human, group, political, social and economic rights of the citizens and the equality of all nations and nationalities, including their inalienable right of self-determination, and all these were entrenched in a constitution that has been widely acclaimed by many pundits and scholars as a truly democratic and liberal constitution.
Be this as it may, there are still formidable economic, political and social challenges facing the nation today. There are grave concerns in the area of political liberalisation particularly in enforcing the golden rules/principles of human rights, civil and political liberties, independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. As we give credit to the many achievements of the incumbent party and government, we should not also fail or condone to pinpoint, criticise and disapprove these deficiencies of the regime in place. Having been in the service of this regime as a civil servant, a parliamentarian (Secretary General and Member of the Council of Representatives in the Transitional Government of Ethiopia from 1991 up to 1994) and an Ambassador (now retired) for more than fifteen years or so, I do feel elated by its achievements and miserably disappointed by its failures and hence my responsibility and obligation to pinpoint the failures and weaknesses and suggest ways and means of rectifying them. I do not want this government to be overwhelmed by failures and eventually crumble like its predecessors. I sincerely yearn that this regime leaves a long-lasting and enviable legacy for generations to come—a prosperous and well-functioning market economy and a vibrant and stable multi-party democracy. I give my support to this government, criticising its mistakes and praising its successes and, in my humble capacity, sharing equally the blames and accolades heaped upon the incumbent regime, because it is and has been my government. In this regard, I want to discuss one persisting malady that has remained as one of the most serious stumbling blocks for the respect of human rights, fundamental civil and political freedoms, the rule of law and the ongoing democratisation process in the country. This vexing problem, I may dare say, is lack of tolerance from the incumbent regime and party in its methods of dealing with its political opponents in general and the absence of such a culture of tolerance amongst our society, particularly within opposition political parties/ organisations that have been circulating in the political market place and competing to assume local, regional or federal state power in the country through regularly held elections since 1992. The aim of this paper is to discuss this persistent and mind-numbing malady that has been afflicting the political society for so long and to offer some views on the way forward in order to realise a smooth and well-functioning multi-party politics in Ethiopia.
It is indisputable to state that political relations for a democratic and pluralistic dispensation need to be guided by a culture of dialogue, negotiation, compromise, tolerance and the rule of law. When such a political culture is lacking in the fabric of a society, a smooth and successful transition to a democratic way of life and system of rule is bound to be very difficult, if not impossible. Thus the need to learn and develop a political culture of tolerance and magnanimity and to learn to disagree without being disagreeable and becoming permanent enemies is absolutely imperative.
Though it is gratifying to observe such a democratic culture gradually developing among the political forces since recent times (for instance, reaching a consensus on the parliamentary rules of procedure by the parties in parliament a few months ago and the ongoing peaceful negotiations on the nature and composition of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia and the Electoral Law, the Press Law, the provision of offices and other facilities to major opposition parties inside the premises of the parliament building, etc. are indeed some encouraging signs of such a tolerant political culture of mutual respect, understanding and accommodation in the making), our political history of the past several decades, for the most part, has been characterised by inter- and intra-political bickering, hostility, enmity, intolerance and factional infighting amongst political forces/groups, widespread suppressions of free political thought, expression and involvement, and gross human rights violations that included indiscriminate arrests, incarceration, tortures and physical liquidation. All these behavioural traits have resulted in serious political repercussions for the country’s stability and socio-economic development prospects. This has happened in a country which by any world standards is richly endowed with both natural resources and human resource potential.
The political struggles between the different political forces have mainly revolved around and focussed on the capture of political power and its effective/exclusive control from any other contending political groups in the country. Thus, whenever one political group is in power, then it ensures that the ‘others’ are systematically sidelined through brutal force and legal-cum constitutional means. The ‘others’ also resort to any available avenues to dislodge the political group/party that is in power. Unfortunately, these political struggles are mainly executed violently and through unconstitutional means, often resulting in the death of many innocent citizens and the destruction of large private and public property.
At the centre of the alienation of one group by another is the yawning deficiency in establishing minimum standards of tolerance. The level of animosity, incivility, anger, hatred , enmity and the unwillingness to compromise and understand one another amongst political groups in Ethiopia has been phenomenal. Individuals, whether on the side of the incumbent regime or on the opposite camp, see politics as an end in itself and as a source of reliable employment and income. Hence, they utilize all their tactics and organizational skills as well as resources at their disposal to cling onto power by hook or by crook, though they often do not hesitate to talk about their altruistic motives of serving the poor masses. Some individuals on both sides of the political divide behave insensitively on what they say or do to individuals or groups who do not belong to their side. In effect, political power becomes a property of the incumbent regime and its coterie of supporters. Whoever opposes the incumbent political leadership in any form is summarily labelled as an enemy of the state and must be dealt with harshly through various ways—imprisonment on flimsy grounds, threats to injury and, sometimes, even physical elimination.
Hence, going by Ethiopia’s political experience, those in power always hold the strong conviction that it is only them who have the country at heart and do possess the monopoly of knowledge and the magic key that is the ultimate solution/elixir to the country’s endemic socio-political and economic malaise. Because no one out there knows better than they do, they are not only willing but unprepared to hand over political power to people whom they believe will only mess up the country’s affairs and the strategies they have designed and the programmes they have initiated.
Thus, given such intolerant positions, those who see no hope in capturing state power in order to put their own programmes in place choose other unconventional and ugly means to capture state power. Obviously, such diametrically opposed stances of the incumbent regime and the opposition political forces do not augur well for political democratisation and socio-economic development. Instead, such dug-in stances are bound to create, as they have done before and seem likely to do in the near future, serious political ruptures in the polity to the detriment of the country’s prospects for greater democratisation, peace and stability.
As Ethiopia heads for the year 2010 when elections are expected to be held for the fourth time under a multi-party political arrangement, tolerance among and within the respective political organisations becomes an essential imperative for sustainable democratisation, peace and stability. Indeed, political tolerance should form the political bedrock upon which the different political forces should develop and build consensually the minimum political programme for action—a programme necessary for the creation of a commonwealth and for extricating the nation from the scourges of abject poverty and underdevelopment, instead of fighting solely over the sharing of state power and the ever shrinking national cake. Short of this consideration (the ongoing talks between the incumbent party and the other parliamentary political parties ought to be guided by this premise), the country is bound to enter 2010 ( a very short period to go) when the political organizations are still seeing each other antagonistically and as ‘blood enemies’ rather than as responsible political actors and worthy partners in nation building who have equal rights to govern the country without any encumbrance from anybody or any organization. The consequence that will result from political intolerance is anyone’s guess, an unmanaged transition from a dominant one-party system to a multi-party political system with all the attendant volcanic-like political instability that will accompany it or total apathy because of what harsh measures the incumbent regime can take if violent public disturbances occur again. The bitter experience of the public in the aftermath of the May 2005 national elections is still fresh in the people’s memory.
However, political tolerance should not be applied in politics only when individuals and groups of opposing political organizations act in conformity with the wishes of the incumbent leadership. Political tolerance should be pragmatically observed through recognition and acceptance that individuals and groups are free and at liberty to practice their fundamental human rights to think, to protest and organize, to have free flow of information, to have wider deliberation and debate, to criticise the government, to act and behave differently from their own, without infringing on the rights of others. Indeed, intolerance goes against the political dictum that postulates that no individual or group of individuals have the right to usurp the fundamental human rights of an individual or group of individuals in order to add them onto their own.
What Do We Understand by Political Tolerance?
Definitions on political tolerance differ. Generally, it implies a level of fairness or equal application of rules or norms of conduct and an allowance of individual freedom. It means that those who are unlike us or who we oppose have the opportunity to express their ideas or activities in freedom. In Sullivan et.al. (1985:5) in conception of political tolerance, an important factor is opposition. They argue that the issue of tolerance or intolerance does not come into play unless one holds negative beliefs or evaluations about the group or doctrine in question.
Furthermore, political tolerance means that every citizen should have a right to join a political party of his/her choice, or not to join it, without being intimidated. This recognition and acceptance does allow for free political activity. People should learn to be tolerant of other people’s point of view even if they are different from their own. Tolerance applies not only to respecting and appreciating our social and cultural differences but equally the differences in our affiliations to political parties.
Theories of Political Tolerance
Sullivan et. al. (1982:5) identified three major theories that explain political tolerance, viz. the liberal theory, the conservative democratic theory and the federalist theory. Each of these theories will be discussed in turn, here below.
In the liberal view, tolerance is extended toward any type of expression as long as it does not harm others. The individual is largely autonomous, and tolerance towards unpopular views is a necessary ingredient at all levels. Civil liberties are protected because only harmful expressions are punished or prohibited.
The conservative democratic theory is not premised on high levels of tolerance in the mass public. It argues that democracy can survive without high level of tolerance among the masses or even among the majority of the governing elite. As long as a sizeable dissenting elite is loyal to democratic ideals and tolerance, they have the ability and duty to protect civil liberties.
Under the federalist theory, it is not required that either the masses or the elites have high tolerance. Instead, diversity, decentralisation and constitutional checks and balances will provide for the protection of civil rights and liberties. Groups will compete with each other, and as long as groups have access to the process, civil liberties will be protected.
The social theorists argue that the liberal theory seems to be capable of advancing the principles of political tolerance. Hence, in a situation where certain areas are declared “no-go areas” (areas that are considered as political strongholds of certain political parties and unsafe if you are not from the same political party) for some people, tolerance is not likely to exist.
Why Political Tolerance is Important?
There are a number of different theories as to why political tolerance is important, either on an individual level or as part of the general liberal democratic theory. The reasons are elucidated hereunder.
First, tolerance can help keep a society together, even in the face of intense conflict. If there is a general observance of rules of equality and tolerance, then the conflicts can be dealt with in a peaceful manner. If a large percentage of the populace
does not agree to tolerant principles, democracy may be in trouble. Indeed, tolerance
should be seen as the central plank of democracy because society cannot be totally homogenous.
Second, tolerance is part of the civil rights that individuals can expect in a democracy. Individuals should be able to expect to live their lives without fear of physical violence. At the individual level, tolerance ensures that the expression of opinions can be made without fear of reprisal. Attitudes of tolerance also set the stage for actual behaviours that citizens have. Individuals with tolerant attitudes will tend to have tolerant behaviour.
Third, intolerance violates the liberty of individuals or citizens, as freedom and tolerance are intertwined. Those who do not feel free to express themselves and to exercise their inalienable human rights fully are more likely to be intolerant of others, to have less heterogeneous peer groups, less tolerant spouses, and to live in less tolerant communities. Further, intolerance by some individuals may also serve as an example to others thus encouraging them to be intolerant as well.
However, it is important to note that universal tolerance is not required or even desired for the success of democratic theory. In fact, it can be argued that universal tolerance could even threaten or destroy democracy. This is what is called the “paradox of tolerance”. For example, a universally tolerant regime could end up being tolerant towards undemocratic groups who act within the legitimate or legal confines even if this could lead to the demise of democracy. Another example could be whether citizens of a democracy are obliged to tolerate those who, if they prevailed, would destroy the practice of tolerance, and even democracy itself.
Therefore, tolerance is one of many values that are essential to democracy. So there must exist a balance between tolerance and the other values such as justice, liberty, public security, peace, order and truth. In other words, it can never be always right to be tolerant. There are occasions in which we should be intolerant, especially when others are behaving in intolerant ways. Thus, intolerance in the name of tolerance can be legitimate. The major question however is how one judges that those who are intolerant are right in behaving intolerantly.
For example, when political demonstrations become violent and seriously threaten public security and order, it is not expected of the government in place to show tolerance at all, as these demonstrations lose their protection under the constitutional rights to “peaceably assemble”. They enter into a completely different category of political expression; they transform from non-violent political expression, akin to civil disobedience, to violent acts whose political message is obscured by the threat of injury and destruction of property. This is exactly what happened in the wake of the May 2005 national elections—violent and ghastly events that culminated in the demise of 199 citizens, the wounding of 763 innocent people and the destruction of public and private property worth many millions of birr. In such situations and instances there arises a tension between the government’s duty to provide security for the population and its duty to preserve liberty. When an assemblage becomes violent, it conflicts with natural rights to life and property. “ If protesters attempt….to interfere with programmes or to appropriate facilities for their own use” (J. W. Peltason, 1991:217), the state has the obligation to disperse the participants and arrest those involved in criminal activities, but not to apply lethal force. Deadly force must be used only to prevent extreme criminal activities that pose a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm, such as snipers or arsonists. Even in these cases, security forces must use discrimination to target only the sniper or the arsonist. As Barrye L. T. Price succinctly put it, “ The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened however lies in an attack—mounted at every level—upon the conditions that breed despair and violence”.
When people who happen to live or work in the area where the protests are taking place are in danger of losing their lives or their property, the government is required to provide for their security. As John Stuart Mill recognised in On Liberty, “…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”.(John Stuart Mill, 1978:9). The only real limits to the exercise of liberty emerge when such exercise violates the rights of others.
According to social theorists, the primary reason people band together in civil society is their desire for security. Consequently, during instances of violent civil disturbance, protecting innocent people and their property becomes the primary duty of the government and takes precedence over the government’s duty to protect the protesters’ right to assemble. Those assembled relinquish their right to this particular form of political expression when they allow their means of address to become violent. When governmental authorities disperse a violent protest, the protesters’ rights are not being abrogated; instead, the rights of innocent bystanders are being enforced. The government’s primary intent in these instances is to protect people from violence. There will be ample, alternative channels of political expression to which the protesters may resort at some later juncture.
Coming to Terms with Democracy and Democratisation
Democracy has been understood to mean a system or form of regime whose legitimacy derives from the principle of popular sovereignty. Even the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1994), under the section on “Political Objectives” recognizes the fact that “the government, guided by democratic principles, shall promote and support the people’s self-rule at all levels” [FDRE Constitution 1994, Art. 88]. In other words, the ordinary citizens of any state are equally endowed with the ability to govern themselves [Sachikonye, 2002:186].
In the liberal democratic sense, the basic attributes of democracy connote the right to vote, the right to belong to a political organization of one’s choice (i.e. freedom of association) and the right to freedom of expression and observance of human rights. In addition, the staging of regular free and fair elections is an indispensable ingredient of a democratic system ( see UNDP HDR, 2002: Chapter Two). However, on the question of free and fair elections, there is need for a wide consensus on the “rules of the game”, or a level playing field for political competition to take place and to ensure the legitimacy and credibility of elections.
Other critical facets of a democratic system are the existence of a system of “checks and balances” between the key institutions of the state—the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary—and the observance of the rule of law. Democracy therefore implies that the people are at the centre of the governance process and authority is derived solely from the consent of the governed—the people.
Quite clearly, these democratic benchmarks are flouted with impunity in many African countries. In this sense, apathy has reigned supreme in these polities.
The concept “democratisation” relates to the process of creating and sustaining the structures and processes of democracy in a particular society (see Sachikonye 2002:186-7). As Sachikonye (2002:186) argues, democratisation by its very nature is “work in progress” and no society can claim to be completely democratised
Democratisation should be distinguished from political liberalisation. It should encompass such basic processes as the construction of new political institutions, the nurturing of a democratic culture, the establishment of institutions to encourage or deepen political participation and the entrenchment of procedures of accountability (see Akopari, 2002:222).
In most African countries generally and Ethiopia in particular, the process of creating and sustaining democratic structures and practices has often been a chequered one. It still is work in progress, to use the words of Sachikonye as mentioned here above. The history of democratisation in the last forty or so years in post-independence Africa demonstrates how fragile the democratisation process has been right from the outset, riddled with fits and starts. By and large, most of the regimes have been characterised by undemocratic systems and dictatorial tendencies. However, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a democratic wave swept across the continent due to domestic forces (“democratisation from within”) and broader external developments (“democratisation from without”) which marked the end of the Cold War and the ideological rivalry that went with it (see Wiseman , !995, 1996:1-2).
Manifestations of Political Intolerance in Ethiopia
Several impediments interfere with the prospects for building political tolerance in Ethiopia. Some of these impediments are more severe than others. Collectively however, they have produced adverse effects on the democratisation process in the country. I now discuss some of the glaring manifestations of political intolerance in Ethiopia.
The first manifestation, that seems to have dwindled in recent times but which spurts now and then on different occasions, is what is frequently referred to as the “we fought” syndrome, prevalent in the history of all liberation movements in the Third World. What this syndrome simply means is that those who use it (i.e. the incumbent regime and its former fighters) against their political opponents contend that since they came to the helm of power by the barrel of the gun, they and the military or the army that they are in-charge of will not allow those who were not with/ within them during the struggle to take over the highest political leadership of the land, even if these groups or opposition party/parties wins/win at the ballot box. True enough, the security forces have interfered with impunity with the electoral law and process in the recent past. Thus, because of the fears of state functionaries to account for their actions to the populace, militarisation of politics takes a centre stage. Consequently, the voices of the people and civil society organisations (CSOs) end up being silenced or murdered through the coercive arm of the state. Ultimately, the state’s political support base is derived, not from the people (although the ‘people’ are usually invoked as the basis of the regime’s ascendance to and sustenance of power) but from the militarised arm of the state. Any individual or group of individuals who raise dissenting voice against such undemocratic behaviour will likely be treated extremely harshly as a conscious attempt to silence them and make them conform to the wishes and aspirations of the incumbent leadership.
The second manifestation of intolerance in Ethiopia’s politics arises from the incessant desire by leaders to overstay in power for reasons best known only to themselves.Through political and constitutional machinations and the use of Machiavellian tactics and, if these do not succeed, by applying brutal force, leaders ensure that they have perpetual access to political power. This holds true for most of the opposition leaders also, who have stayed at the leadership posts for more than a decade without holding any elections within their respective political organisations for such a long period of time. These leaders think they are indispensable and irreplaceable. The end result is that they antagonise those who wish to replace them. Similarly, ideological differences cause politicians in Third World countries not to tolerate their adversaries. It is usually their own ideology that must prevail in all circumstances. A clash in ideologies and eventual conflict become inevitable.
Third, lack of respect for the constitution and constitutionalism is another manifestation of intolerance in Ethiopia. The constitution may be used for purposes other than as a restraint upon government but in the interests of the ruling elite. The constitution may not impose upon the regime in power restraints but instead enforce or legitimise dictatorial powers on the executive arm of the government. In the end, the culture of constitutionalism fails to be engrained in the entire political system. Hence, political intolerance becomes the order of the day
Fourth, lack of a system of mediation of political and social conflicts by existing rules of the game leads to a culture of intolerance. Hence, the persistent violent spurts and intolerance in the country’s internal politics. This problem is further enhanced by a clear absence of ‘free market place of ideas’. The political system is structured in such a way that a handful of individuals have a monopoly of ideas at the expense of the majority.
The fifth manifestation is that the kind of language used in the political discourse is one that espouses political intolerance at its worst. Bad language that leads to egocentrism, provocation, and individualism have greatly caused political intolerance in the country at the expense of nurturing durable political harmony and consensus building. Obviously, the use of abusive language by one group against another is not conducive to cementing effective working relationships between political groups that espouse different political agendas and ideologies. Ethiopia’s political history is riddled with several tendencies where some political forces are seen as permanently incapable of providing political leadership and direction.
Strategies for Building Political Tolerance
Several strategies can be suggested to ensure that political tolerance takes root in the country. Some of these are discussed hereunder.
First, there is urgent need on the part of the incumbent regime and party to be genuinely accommodative of all opposition parties and divergent groups committed to the constitutional order in place and to nurture the concept of “loyal opposition” so as to ensure the smooth and peaceful functioning of a vibrant multi-party political system in the country. To actualise this process would necessitate that every political force is treated on the basis of equality and by the rules of the game consensually agreed upon in order to create a level playing field for competitive politics to be run smoothly and credibly. Hence, a multi-pronged approach where several actors, for example, Government, opposition parties, citizens, civil leaders, civil society organisations (CSOs), etc. join hands to enforce accountability and adherence to human rights and democratic/good governance.
Second, there is need to create or nurture durable institutions and structures that can foster greater democratisation away from the personality cult approach, which sees individuals as the embodiment of the party or the state. Positive discrimination of national minorities and their just representation in Parliament and government institutions should be encouraged/accelerated as this would enhance the process of democratisation.
Third, the creation and nurturing of appropriate institutions which make it possible to build the rule of law through which individuals will ultimately be subsumed is of utmost significance. Once the rule of law has been fostered, the political system will have the capacity to make individuals and organisations to abide by the rule of law and conform accordingly.
Fourth, there is need for a free and responsible media that is capable of articulating the interests of the people and the different interest groups. The media should be enabled and allowed to advance those philosophies through which democratic practices prevail and the national interest is safeguarded. The media should be capable of protecting the voices of the voiceless in an environment where the executive arm of government has excessive powers to suppress the views and interests of the poor masses.
Fifth, nation-wide mobilisation and awareness programmes should be conducted in which all interested parties can participate and do appreciate the views of others. No one individual or group of individuals have a monopoly of political and governance issues. Voter education and civic education particularly should be able to raise the critical consciousness of the citizens to enable them to tolerate one another. Advocacy strategies should breed and encourage tolerance by enabling groups to speak out vigorously for the protection of the people’s rights. This could be done at various institutional levels, including in the syllabus of schools .
Sixth, political leaders need to be educated that in matters of good, democratic governance, they need to accept and recognise electoral and political defeats and loss of power as proper attributes of democracy and constitutionalism. There is need to establish a system of governance that guarantees the protection of ousted leaders in a manner that will certainly discourage them from clinging onto power and becoming life-long presidents or prime ministers. Also, the concept of democracy needs to be balanced evenly with the people’s right to be governed well and peacefully.
Seventh, the national democratic ethos, socio-political culture and ideology should be developed further to enhance the process of greater democratisation. Every able-bodied individual should strive towards defending the freedoms and rights of the individual or group(s) against the oppression and injustice of public authorities. Individuals and groups should confront the malpractices of the executive while the legislature should avoid being partial, timid and inconsequential.
Eighth, there is need to address the vivid EPRDF dominance and the prevailing multi-party paralysis as the country heads for the year 2010. Unless some level of minimum political programme built on the basis of consensus is agreed upon and nurtured, conflict and intolerance are bound to be the end result. After all, the struggle for democracy is not conceived only in terms of a struggle for power sharing and the distribution of wealth or private accumulation but also forging cooperation and collaboration beyond ethnic, political, religious and other divides for the creation of a commonwealth, and building a strong economic and political community.The question of democracy cannot neglect issues of economic justice—basic needs such as access to food, shelter, clothing, medical care and housing. In the absence of equal opportunity for all citizens to these essentials for human existence, the equality being stressed in liberal democracy is defeated. Hence, unless a genuine attempt is made to reach a consensus on a minimum programme of action among our political parties and organisations in this regard, the end result is bound to be political instability.
Ninth, there is need for the democratisation process to be engineered from below. This approach can only be enhanced by the presence and pressure from organised civil society organisations (CSOs) on the state institutions. Political change can be effected when various CSOs construct a broad alliance capable of pushing an authoritarian state into making concessions and necessary reforms. Countries which have experienced such democratisation from below include Ghana and Zambia. In countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania, the process was one of democratisation from above. In the latter countries, the confinement of organised support for multi-party political system within the state apparatus reflected the fact that virtually the only organised political forces in these polities were and are their governments.
Tenth, the demilitarisation of politics needs to be considered as paramount to institutionalise democratic governance. The military should not interfere in any elections supporting any political party or the incumbent regime; it must remain neutral in such elections. Civic culture and authority must be seen to prevail over and above the military institution. Short of this, the civilian constituency of the state will always behave at the whims of the military in which case democratisation will perpetually remain illusory.
Finally, the international community should be part and parcel of the democratisation process in the face of weak domestic pressure from fragile CSOs and fractured and weak opposition parties. Though sustainable democracy and development can take root and blossom in the country only if the society in question wants it and struggles for it, external pressure could play a positive role, and at the moment, external pressure remains perhaps the major, if not the only, effective tool to speed up the democratisation process. Indeed, with the force of globalisation and the universalization of the democratic creed, no country can any longer exist as an island. To join the international community of nations, African states must conform to basic democratic benchmarks.
Political tolerance is certainly central to democratisation in Ethiopia. With the observance of political tolerance and the eager embrace of all political parties committed to the constitutional order and the political process in the country as genuine partners in nation building, Ethiopia can easily become politically stable and continue on its path of greater democratisation and socio-economic development. However, to achieve political tolerance implies that all parties should be in a position to appreciate the other’s way of thinking and to be guided by principled democratic politics. Ethiopians need constant reminders that they need to appreciate the virtues of others, irrespective of whether they are in agreement with them or not, for stability to be fostered. Political organisations and CSOs should be central in working towards the building of a tolerant society by including issues of tolerance to their long-term objectives. We should learn to disagree without being disagreeable and becoming permanent enemies. There should be no claims of some group(s) to be more patriotic than others on the basis of the divergent views they hold on the destiny of our nation and society. No society can become democratic because those in power allow the country to be ruled by politicians who have the same or similar political and denomenational convictions as they have themselves. After all, freedom does not and cannot mean conformity to a certain ideology believed by those in power as the sole panacea for the nation's socio-economic and political ills.We need to show utmost tolerance for all political creeds advanced by different political groups and maintain mutual respect among all political forces and all citizens.
Finally, democracy means tolerance and acceptance of differences. Be this as it may, promoting tolerance should be viewed as a long-term project. It requires an empirical evaluation of current situation, long-term strategies and availing human and institutional resources toward that end. As we struggle to emulate values of tolerance and conflict management, we always have to be aware that it is the duty of all of us to fight against poverty, the number one enemy in our midst by whatever means we have at our disposal. The two battles must therefore be fought hand in hand if final victory is to be achieved and Ethiopia becomes a prosperous, democratic and stable polity, a better liveable place for all its citizens here and abroad.