Bravo AEUP, CUD, EDP and EPRDF for a Historic Leap into a well-ordered Democratic Society

Adal Isaw

October 30, 2009

Although the many questions that pertain to a democratic life may be universal, some leaders and thinkers have explored the same questions in a unique, powerful and timely fashion. Such leaders and thinkers have served as benchmarks—for those of us who’re faced with similar inquiries to the same set of the many questions that a democratic life poses. The questions faced by the leaders of AEUP, CUD, EDP and EPRDF might have not been uniquely attributed to them, but their recent civil engagement for a needed political action to produce a lifesaving national document is unique, powerful and timely.

These Ethiopian leaders have explored and produced a desperately needed national document, at a time when Ethiopia is at a crossroad bombarded by many years of abject poverty and detractors that work overtime to cease its existence. Ethiopia has won and those with other plans in their political playbook are served with another tacitly conveyed binding national document; the time for actions and reactions prone to violent and backward public discourse is over. It should further be noted, by producing a document for the peaceful democratization of Ethiopia, these leaders of AEUP, CUD, EDP and EPRDF have become the needed benchmarks for all future pallbearer young generation of Ethiopians.

It’s now incumbent up on us Ethiopians, to contrast and compare the fruitful and exemplary political engagement of AEUP, CUD, EDP and EPRDF with those for whom the historic national document is waiting to be signed on time—before the 2010 Ethiopian Parliamentary Election. More than anything else, it’s now the responsibility of peace and democracy loving Ethiopian Diaspora— to come to terms and see this national document for what it is. It should not expect for gimmicks to bubble or for a theory of conspiracy to flourish; period.

The arduous collective work to propagate for the peaceful democratization of our beloved country has begun. And it is up to the Ethiopian Diaspora—to either make it its duty to propagate the peaceful democratization of Ethiopia or, to go on tangent and openly stay hostile to a lifesaving national document that no civil and democratic nation and institution will say no to. Ethiopia has won big; because, the mere intent in this binding document disarms the few hostile voices of democracy and democratization in Ethiopia—without a single shot to the air.

These Ethiopian leaders have disarmed the naysayers with plain and simple words of democracy and peace, thereby lowering the threat level that might have existed otherwise endangering the livelihood of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. Thus, the binding national agreement in and itself has become a historic leap of political action—to civilly pave the boulevard to reasoned political dialogue which is essential to well-ordered society.

The political cooperation between these disparate Ethiopian political parties should continue and continue for one very simple reason; the work they can do together to better Ethiopia and Ethiopians is infinitely greater than the interest they garner by paying homage to their political and ideological convictions. It is the interest of Ethiopia that brought these otherwise disparate political parties to work together in the first place, and, this same interest should make them come together time again, whenever our country is faced with problems that need a united Ethiopian effort to answer.

You see; unlike physical science problems which, when answered are answered once and for all, political problems of the kind we have in our beloved country, manifest a unique open-ended quality. Each “answer” to a given political problem entails a new set of problems, and as a result, the duty of creating a decent and humane political order is never done with. With this in mind, this type of exemplary political work should continue to enable Ethiopia tackle the bigger and harsher impending and imminent problems with a united fist.

The unison shown by these Ethiopian leaders of different parties to sign the binding code of conduct has propelled Ethiopia one less a threat away to democratization. But more than anything, while it has given Ethiopians the needed sigh of relief from fear of the unknown, it has unambiguously broken the remaining political backbone of the violent prone self-exiled-opposition into unsalvageable pieces. Those who were eager to see nothing but disorder and blood have been served a notice that no matter how contentious their political thoughts are, nothing will deter AEUP, CUD, EDP and EPRDF from working together to democratize Ethiopia peacefully.

Ethiopia’s endurance is paying!!!


On the Upcoming National Elections [2010] and Beyond:

By Tesfaye Habisso

“ The key element in the exercise of democracy is

the holding of free and fair elections at regular

intervals enabling the people’s will to be expressed.”

[Universal Declaration on Democracy, IPU Members

in 1997]

Ethiopia’s brief experiment in democracy and its attempt at installing good/ democratic governance in a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual society of ours since the last 18 years or so, I am afraid, has not yet been as successful when compared to its noteworthy achievements in the areas of transport infrastructure development, economic growth (GDP), and the provision of social services (condos for the urban poor; potable water, health clinics, schools, roads, etc for the rural peasants). Based on vast available literature on the subject of democracy, one can discover that the domination of the political system by one party [EPRDF since 1991], the multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious makeup of the society, the prevalence of an ethnically dominated party system, abject poverty, and the difficulty of adopting democratic values, rules and procedures as well as a culture of tolerance among political elites that have inherited a legacy of political power changing hands through the barrel of the gun and not via peaceful, competitive and free, fair and credible elections, etc. are some of the major factors that can be mentioned as major impediments to our democratisation efforts and struggles yesterday, today and in the years to come. Owing to these factors, the pace and progress of the democratisation process and the successful transition to and consolidation of democracy in our country has so far been full of fits and starts, the periodic elections often marred by violence and public disorder resulting in accusations and counter accusations of vote rigging and fraud by the losers in the periodic elections, often targeting the ruling party and government. Thus, the procedural quality of electoral democracy surrounding the conduct of regular free, fair and credible elections, the respect for political rights, such as the right to vote, to form political parties and to compete in elections, the respect for civil liberties, such as the freedom of expression and association, and the extent to which the government is accountable, responsive, transparent and respectful of the rule of law still leaves a lot to be desired.

Many scholars forcefully argue that the ongoing democratisation process cannot succeed and a democratic political system cannot become consolidated unless the principal political elites in the society agree upon the rules of the game of that system and are willing to abide by those rules. The basic rules of a democratic system are to allow for full and unhindered contestation and participation. Elite support for democracy is often the product of agreements between all or some key political parties and leaders. A comprehensive elite settlement takes place if all the paramount political groups in the society participate in the agreement. A comprehensive settlement will most likely provide for full political contestation since the principal political groups will be able to contest power in the resultant political regime. Such elite agreements have two important consequences: they create patterns of open but peaceful competition among all major elite factions and they transform unstable political regimes into stable regimes, in which forcible power seizing no longer occur and are not widely expected. In essence, an elite settlement transforms disunified elites into “consensually unified elites”. Consensually unified elites “operate stable, politically representative regimes,” where “government positions pass peacefully among different persons and factions”, usually through “periodic, competitive, and binding elections”.[Burton and Higley, “Elite Settlements”, American Sociological Review 52, June 1987, p. 297]. A regime transition that results in a long lasting democracy is likely to be the product of an elite settlement, while a regime transition that leads to a failed democracy is likely to be devoid of a settlement.

Be this as it may, the process of becoming a democracy is most often fraught with more problems and challenges than is usually acknowledged. According to Donald L. Horowitz, “…democracy is exceptional in severely divided societies, and the claim has repeatedly been advanced that democracy cannot survive in the face of serious ethnic divisions. At least since John Stuart Mill pronounced in Representative Government that democracy is “next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities”, a respectable body of opinion has subscribed to such views.” [Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, University of California Press, 1985, p. 681]. In a similar vein, Francis Fukuyama, in his book, “The End of History and the Last Man” states: “…democracy is not likely to emerge in a country where the nationalism or ethnicity of its constituent groups is so highly developed that they do not share a sense of nation or accept one another’s rights. A strong sense of national unity is therefore necessary prior to the emergence of stable democracy, just as it preceded the emergence of democracy in countries such as Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Germany. The absence of such a sense of unity in the Soviet Union was one of the reasons why stable democracy could not emerge prior to that country’s break-up into smaller national units.” [Ibid, The Free Press, New York, 1992, p. 216] Political experience has unambiguously shown that in poor multiethnic or plural/heterogeneous societies, for instance, transitions to democracy have proved to be mostly rocky and violent, and this often gives rise to warlike nationalism and violent ethnic conflicts. In such societies a peaceful transition to democracy is exceptional, and the certainty that democracy will prevail is in question. Democratic movement in the first place was born out of a unique set of conditions prevalent in the Western world. Some of the ingredients necessary for the evolutionary birth of a democratic order are believed to be: (1) industrialization; (2) rise in literacy levels; (3) abundance of resources; (4) isolation from negative outside influences and (5) political theoreticians whose vision spans the past, present and future and who have a grasp of the physical disciplines required in that particular age []

For many scholars, democracy is a delicate flower that requires a host of social and institutional prerequisites. One scholar suggests that democracy requires a populace endowed with nine psychological traits, among which are tolerance, realism, flexibility, and objectivity, and further, that the country must have economic well-being, economic equality and an educated citizenry [Carl Cohen, Democracy, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1971]. Another political scientist names seven conditions necessary for democracy, including a “strong concern for the mass of people” and “high social mobility” [Alfred De Grazia, The Elements of Political Science, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1952, pp. 546-547]. Robert Dahl describes three essential conditions for a multiparty democracy to function; these are: (1) extensive competition by contestants including individuals, groups or parties for government; (2) political participation that provides the choice for the electorate to select candidates in free and fair elections; and (3) civil and political liberties that enable citizens to express themselves without fear of punishment [Robert Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p. 221]. In his evaluation of the “third wave of democratisation” of the seventies and eighties, the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington concludes that states become particularly susceptible to democratisation when they have reached a certain minimal level of social and economic development [Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century, Norman, 1991, p. 59ff].

Most often democracy has come to be equated with mere superficial and easily recognizable mechanical processes, the most recognized of which being regular elections. Elections are indeed a necessary but by no means a sufficient condition for the completion of a democratic transition. The mere casting of a vote does not make a democracy even when the elections are indeed free and fair [Silindiwe Sibanda, Poverty and Democratic Participation: A Pyramidal Construct of Democratic Needs, The Center for Advanced Studies of African Society, Cape Town, South Africa:]. It is believed that a country has completed the transition to democracy when “the government resulting from election…has the de jure as well as the de facto power to determine policy in many significant areas.” [Linz and Stepan, “Toward Consolidated Democracies”, pp. 14-33]. Whatever the case, a democratic transition is a long and difficult process that may take many decades to complete. Even if the country has transitioned to a democratic political system, the journey towards stable democracy is not secure and completed.

Then, at what moment does a successfully democratising state become a mature democracy? When can its democracy be termed consolidated? Some scholars use the “two turnover rule” to define “democratic consolidation”, that is a democracy is considered consolidated when power has changed hands twice as a result of free and fair elections. Others say that democracy is considered consolidated when it is “the only game in town”, that is when no significant political party or group seeks to come to power by means other than winning a free and fair election. Others measure the degree to which the country has achieved the institutional and legal characteristics of a mature democracy, using indicators such as competitive politics, regular elections, broad participation, constraints on arbitrary use of executive power, free speech, and respect for civil liberties, including minority rights. Once a country has completed a democratic transition, it is left for that democracy to be consolidated, a necessary condition for a lasting democratic regime.

According to Linz and Stepan, a “consolidated” democracy is a “political regime in which democracy as a complex system of institutions, rules, and patterned incentives and disincentives has become, in a phrase, the only game in town.” Haggard and Kaufman state, “a democratic consolidation is a process through which acceptance of a given set of constitutional rules becomes less directly contingent on immediate rewards and sanctions and increasingly widespread and routinized. Consolidation is essentially a more important process than transition. A government may be able to transition to democracy, but if it does not consolidate said democracy, it may relapse into authoritarianism or other non-democratic forms of government. Additional factors must be in place if a democracy is to be considered “consolidated”. First, the conditions must exist for the development of a free and lively civil society. Second, there must be a relatively autonomous political society. Third, throughout the territory of the state all major political actors, especially the government and the state apparatus, must be effectively subjected to a rule of law that protects individual freedoms and associational life. Fourth, there must be a state bureaucracy that is usable by the new democratic government. Fifth, there must be an institutionalised economic society [Haggard and Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 15].

Today, as we talk of the upcoming fourth national elections in 2010, I think the aforementioned challenges should be taken into account when re-examining and re-assessing our heretofore efforts to realize a functioning and stable democracy in Ethiopia. Furthermore, a few salient points regarding democratic elections must be raised and discussed/debated now in order to avoid the re-occurrence of some of the ugly and dreadful features that we witnessed in the electioneering exercise during the past decade or so in our newly democratising country, more so in the aftermath of the 2005 national elections. In our case, we can boldly assert that we have not yet moved far enough from the politics of confrontation, acrimony and hostility that has bedevilled the national political arena for a long time, reminiscent of the politics of the Ethiopian students movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It is believed that Ethiopia could build upon its manifest potential and significantly transform its democratisation and developmental prospects if its principal political parties were to pursue a more constructive and responsible approach to politics. The prevailing political stalemate, it can be argued, does not derive from any fundamental divergence amongst the major political parties but remains associated with the increasingly confrontational style and language of their politics. The prevailing political divisions, often of an incendiary nature, have their roots in the country’s troubled political history and the heterogeneous nature of the nation’s ethnic makeup (comprised of over 83 ethnic groups, “nations, nationalities and peoples” as the FDRE Constitution defines them). The divisive potential of such differences should not be underestimated but they do not impinge upon the contemporary debates on development strategy, democracy and improved/democratic governance.

Therefore, the urgent task for the incumbent government and party is to create conducive conditions to promote mutual trust and confidence between political groups and organizations which are committed to peace and democracy, and interested to be parties to the political process. This can be done when political freedoms are not proscribed, political space open and conducive for all political parties, and when all of us show in words as well as in deeds that we are committed to respect the verdict of the people and that we are not in any way entitled to impose our will by force or pressure on the people. Belief in and commitment to the principle that the people are the ultimate arbiters of policy matters is fundamental in building trust and confidence. Where all political groups and organizations accept to be bound by the results of the ballet box, it is only natural to recognize their rights to articulate and propagate their programmes their own way, and thus the need for sufficiently permissive political space for all contestants of political office. And where this right is fully recognized and respected, there is no legal or material/moral justification for any group to resort to armed conflict or any confrontation.

Over the last decade or so, it cannot be denied that opposition political parties have not been given free reign to organize and operate, except perhaps during the 2005 national and regional elections campaign period only. Instead, these parties were confined to their headquarters, invariably located in Addis Ababa. This non-conducive political environment has to give way to an open, transparent and conducive political situation where political space can provide freedom to all opposition parties to organize and operate freely without infringing the freedom of others in the political arena. After all, politics, the activity of resolving a delimited set of matters that are public and common, takes place not in the imagination, nor merely in human minds, nor in any random place, but in spaces duly constituted for such as activity. Because its concerns are by definition public and common, its activity must take place in a public common place, and all opposition politicians committed to peaceful and constitutional competition must be provided this public space without any constraints.

Yes, democracy has its own rules. It can survive and flourish in our country only when all of us commit ourselves to play by the rules of the game: contestation and participation. It so happens that those who play by the rules of the game are those who not only understand its true meaning and substance but are also confident of themselves and their political objectives, and the political goal which gives one confidence is that which addresses itself to the true needs of the peoples of Ethiopia for democracy, peace and prosperity. After all, elections are peaceful competitions to serve the people and be ready to shoulder the immense challenges of extricating our peoples from the quagmire of abject poverty and under-development, helplessness and hopelessness, and surely not a struggle for self-enrichment and other selfish ends.

Yes, the 2010 national and regional legislative elections are fast approaching and the election season will soon overwhelm us. If we are not careful, soon legions of eager politicians representing different political parties, independent office seekers and their acolytes will be scurrying here and there engaging in all manners of conduct and for some of them, all manners of misconduct, in their energetic pursuit of office. People will soon be claiming that their opponent, whom heretofore we all thought was a relatively honourable person, now sits at the left hand of the Devil. But the real issue is, for what purpose is the party candidate running or being fielded and the independent candidate taking part in the election drama? Being in politics for the sake of politics is pitiably selfish. One should only engage in politics if she/he believes that she/he has the necessary education and capability and seeks to move to a more elevated and productive plane—that of democratic governance. And democratic governance implies dedicated, efficient and quality public service free from corruption and discrimination. A politician who is not capable of good/democratic governance is like getting into a new car that has no engine. While it looks good, it gets you nowhere. Thus, we should ask all potential politicians—party candidates as well as independent office seekers--, “Are you a politician because you have something to contribute or are you involved because you are looking for a secure employment or for something to take away for your own selfish ends and interests? Are you there because you like the sound of the title “Honourable MP” and because the sound of sirens has become an intoxicant to your ears? Or are you seeking office so that you can help our elderly folks get the necessary old-age care, help the adults and the youth find work to feed their families their daily bread and because you feel unequalled exhilaration when you see healthy, well fed children smile as they walk, books in hand, on their way to school?” Now that the election season is soon to overwhelm us, we all have a choice to make. Will our politics be small and selfish or will it be visionary, and will it be beneficial to those whom we purport to serve?

These are some of the vexing questions before us all, political parties and independent candidates. These questions are freighted with great importance. Thus, may we answer them with all the wisdom we can summon? Because Ethiopia is a recently minted democracy, our responsibility to hold fair, free and credible elections acceptable to all contestants in the nation’s political arena peacefully and bring good, democratic governance to our people is indeed acute. We may not face any greater collective responsibility for the remainder of our lives. In an older, well-established democracy, the relevant institutions and political culture have had time to root themselves in the social fabric of these societies. In such a situation, where the people err by electing bad leadership, the nation or community can endure because democracy has become a way of life. The dividends that have previously bestowed have built a reservoir of goodwill to see the people and this noble concept through the lean years.

When a democracy is young, as in our country, however substandard, flawed elections or a period of poor governance can give a mortal blow and wreak havoc to the democratic experiment. The ugly aftermath of the May 2005 national and regional parliamentary elections is a glaring example in this regard. The process of democratisation is not much different than the growth of a human being. Hardship an adult can endure may be fatal to an infant. We, as leaders of our State and communities, are the appointed guardians of a precious infant, Ethiopia’s democracy. Like any decent parent, we must place the survival and well being of that child above our own narrow interests. No decent parent feeds himself/herself until he/she can eat no more but let his/her child starve.

We as elected officials, we as government officials, we as community leaders and stalwarts, are among Ethiopian democracy’s founding fathers and mothers. Let us be as good parents to democracy as to the children of our own flesh, fibre and blood. Let us not let democracy be orphaned. When democracy is new, that is precisely when it must prove itself to the people, to the poor masses. If it does not produce noticeable fruits in the form of bread and butter—basic necessities of life such as shelter, clothing, food, healthcare, education, etc.-- and a modicum of safety, security, employment and freedom, the population, because it does not have a deep grounding in this form of government, may well decide the tree is barren and turn to something else that appears to have a more immediate yield. Cynicism, demagoguery, mistrust and selfishness creep in where faith and hope should reside. In such an atmosphere, democracy may be in jeopardy.

Here I will say something that at first seems to contradict what I have said before and that is, Ethiopia’s history indicates that it can survive for some time without democracy. In fact, democracy is the sole guarantee for Ethiopia to survive as one nation of many nations—a multi-nation federal state. However, history—and the large gulf that separates Ethiopia’s reality from its potential—is conclusive proof that a country cannot flourish in the long term without embracing political democracy and the economic empowerment of the individual and the group/community that democracy implies. This thing called democracy is a complex, and at times, an ungainly animal. From afar, it looks like an inefficient form of governance; but up close, it is the most practical one.

Under a dictatorship, it is easier to render and implement decisions. One person—a dictator/ leader—and his cabal say yes or no, do or don’t. Matters are settled by a decree with lightning speed. Arbitrariness is the backbone of such an arrangement. No need to engage a legislature or the populace at large or worry about the courts and the legality of what is proposed. The minute a despot speaks, the matter is over. The grave danger of this type of governance/government is that, over time, it leads to total oppression, widespread malfeasance and worst of all, the misdirection of our country’s future. Above all, a developmental state such as ours, or any other state for that matter, cannot function without an efficient, effective and ethical bureaucracy; it cannot deliver the necessary goods and services to the general public in time. With government of such a capricious and closed nature, you reap that which you sow.

On the other hand, constitutional democracy and its associated checks and balances are the best form of government because they recognize the flaws in the human character. If we were all saints, government would be unnecessary, as social theorists contend. No, democracy does not work because we are angels and saints. It is necessary because it is the form of government that best restrains the demon in us all. That demon goes by many names—ambition, greed, self-interest, patronage, cronyism, ethnocentrism, corruption, are just a few names.

Just having the democratic forms and institutions are inadequate in themselves. The people with whom these institutions are entrusted must contain the values of democracy in their hearts and minds. A constitution is but a piece of paper and a piece of paper, no matter how special the words inscribed therein, is easily shred. The real constitution that begets good, democratic governance is not found in the piece of paper, it is found in the spirit and thoughts and philosophy that gave rise to what was written. What I am saying is that, for the constitution to be real and genuine it must be written in your mind, your heart, and your behaviour.

Moreover, seeking the welfare of the masses must be the primary step, the motivating force to any meaningful structure or conduct of government. For good/democratic governance and democracy to take hold, the answers to two questions, “Why do you run for office” and “Why will the people elect you” must be the same. Dissatisfaction and trouble reign wherever and whenever the answers are different. If you run for office because you wanted to enrich yourself but the people elected you because they thought you would bring them better social services, surely, some sections of the population/community will be disappointed. Something has to yield in this situation because you cannot serve two masters—you must either serve them or yourself. Either you will have to change your ways or they will have to accept your self-aggrandizement but both cannot get what they want. Where there is such a fundamental discord between the elected official(s) and the electorate, contention will be your pardon. Conversely, where there is general harmony of interests, you have established the essential foundation for good governance.

You as political leaders of the State can and must be the primary example of good governance to the people. The people may not always be in contact with national officials, but, if you do your work properly, you must be in close contact with your community. By doing your jobs, you not only become the best exemplar of grassroots democracy you become democracy’s protector.

In order to serve this vital function, you must have a vision for your State, your Zone, your Woreda, your village community. If you do not have a vision or a capability as well as sufficient time and energy and vigour for improving or serving your community, you should seriously think about pursuing another vocation. This one may not be for you. Of course, state and local government cannot do everything but you must work with and for the people to bring them the vital services within your mandate to deliver. What the people need from you is not shrouded in mystery. It is easy to discern their needs and concerns provided you care enough about those who elected you. They are looking for improvement in health care for their families, education for their children, better infrastructure, economic growth and employment; safety and security. They want to enjoy their hard-won constitutional rights, freedoms and liberties.

As I said before, you cannot do all of these yourself. But you do have some funds and manpower to address some of their concerns. To the extent you control assets, set your budgets to meet the social service priorities of your community. Move around your State, your Community; take time to express your vision for improving it to your people; let them express their ideas and concerns to you. Listen to their cries, discern their concerns and needs. Some of their ideas will be good, don’t tarry in accepting these ideas. Embrace their good ideas to refine and improve your thinking and your programmes. Accepting someone else’s ideas is not weakness. It is wisdom. If you do follow this tack, your supporters will continue to give you support. Those who once opposed you, will begin to think better about you. Those who hated you, will begin to respect you. Just by listening with an open ear and honest heart, you have taken an important step toward good governance that uplifts the spirit and well-being of the entire community.

In this regard, remember not to shun or harass and persecute your political opposition. Do not mistake electoral politics for military warfare. These people are your fellow nationals and your political opposition not your mortal enemies. Only one person can win an election. But if the election is done fairly and credibly, we all stand to gain something from it. However, if we turn elections into a form of warfare, there is no true winner or loser. We all suffer in the end. Even the so-called winner loses. Given the sharpness of the electoral warfare, even the winner cannot quickly divorce himself from the combative spirit that governed during elections. Once a person gains power by any means, he becomes convinced that his opponent will try to steal that power by any means. This type of victory is no victory at all. This type of psychology is not conducive to good governance and the progress of democracy. In such a situation, a person sleeps with one eye open and one foot on the floor. No matter how high or soft the bed, no one can find comfort in such an arrangement. Thus, it is better to make peace after the elections and the best way to obtain post-election peace is never to engage in pre-election warfare. Better a person erect and live in a modest house in peace than build a large mansion only to destroy half of it.

Remember that your political opponents are human beings with brains and reason. They cannot be wrong on all issues all the time no more than you can be right all the time. Your opponents are entitled to respect and dignity. Listen to them, give them adequate political and economic space as well as proper support, financial and other. Do not starve or humiliate them. Always remember you are not perfect. Even the good decisions you make are not perfect and have their flaws. Often the solutions of today’s problems are the parents of tomorrow’s challenges. No one has a monopoly on truth and knowledge. Accept in good faith the constructive criticism of your political opponents.

The concept of loyal or legal opposition is central to any functioning democracy. It means that all sides in a political debate, however deep their differences, share the fundamental democratic values of freedom of speech and faith, and equal protection under the law. It means, in essence, that all parties in a democracy should be equally committed to the basic values, rules, and procedures of democracy. Parties that lose elections step into the role of opposition—confident that the political system will continue to protect their rights to organize and speak out. In time, their party will have a chance to campaign again for its ideas and programmes, and the votes of the people. Political competitors do not necessarily have to like each other, but they must tolerate each other’s legitimacy. The right of the minority (opposition) does not depend on the goodwill of the majority (ruling party). The losers in an election must not be, or feel, threatened. On the contrary, they must feel comfortable to continue participating in public life.

Finally, the holding of free, fair and credible elections rests on the shoulders of the National Electoral Board or Commission of Ethiopia. Although the support and cooperation of the whole people and government as well as all political parties and the latter’s supporters in the nation’s political arena are required, the responsibility of the Electoral Commission for conducting a peaceful, free and fair election should be duly emphasized. In many newly democratising countries, most complaints that arise during post-elections are attributed to shoddy elections conducted by partisan, ineffective, unprofessional and unscrupulous election officials or commissioners of questionable integrity and their support staff from the top to bottom following their superiors' instructions, often resulting in unnecessary violence and bloodshed. Many election observers and monitors forcefully contend that 50% or more of such election-related bickering, showdowns and other related problems can/will be satisfactorily resolved if the National Election Board or Commission is governed by unquestionable professional ethics, independence, impartiality and the highest code of conduct in its responsibility of effectively and efficiently managing and conducting free, fair and credible elections acceptable to the electorate and all competing parties participating in the periodic elections, and in the security forces (army, police, militia, etc.) remaining aloof and non-partisan. Even mere perceptions that the Board or Commission is not highly independent, professional/ capable or impartial enough to conduct free, fair and credible elections in the country or that the security forces are interfering in favour of the ruling party would send shockwaves across the political marketplace, forcing the competitors in the political arena especially the losers in the elections to challenge or question the credibility of every election results and judge them as unacceptable and to resort to all sorts of violent methods to reverse or change the outcome, besides launching endless accusations and smear campaigns to tarnish the democratic election. Such undesirable outcomes must be avoided as far as possible by rectifying or doing away with all possible weaknesses, shortcomings and deficiencies, real or imagined, that surround the functioning of National Election Board and the security forces of the country before the campaign period begins and crafting comprehensive settlements between all or the principal political elites in the nation’s political marketplace regarding the rules of the game that will be meticulously observed and respected by all parties during voters’ registration and the campaign period as well as before and after the polling day, from voting to observation to vote counting and declaring the election results, etc. As the saying goes, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Last but not least, let us all protagonists and their supporters in the power competition insure that our campaigns will be absolutely peaceful and that no single Ethiopian injures his body or loses his/her life in the upcoming national elections whatever the cause or the outcome. This must be our solemn oath to our people who have suffered so much senseless death and destruction in the recent past in the name of democratic and peaceful elections in their modest attempt to elect their political leaders who are supposed to bring them peace, security, service delivery and prosperity and surely not death and destruction. How long do we seek to make our poor citizens sacrificial lambs for our selfish ends? This brutality must end once and for all. As signatory of numerous international, continental and regional declarations and charters on democracy, human rights and democratic elections, let us rise as a nation to meet or fulfil the expectations of the international community, the African Union and above all our peoples by making the 2010 national elections free, fair and credible, and move beyond that objective to build genuine democracy and good governance in Ethiopia. Now that we, opposition parties and the ruling party, have agreed upon and signed a lasting code of conduct for the upcoming elections and those beyond, let us all endeavour to diligently and meticulously translate this historical document to practice and make all Ethiopians happy and contented of the outcome, now and in the future. For God and our country! Amen.


By BAN Ki-Moon

885 words

Two weeks ago, I visited the Arctic. I saw the remains of a glacier that just a few years ago was a majestic mass of ice. It had collapsed. Not slowly melted -- collapsed. I travelled nine hours by ship from the world’s northernmost settlement to reach the Polar ice rim. In just a few years, the same ship may be able to sail unimpeded all the way to the North Pole. The Arctic could be virtually ice-free by 2030.

Scientists told me their sobering findings. The Arctic is our canary in the coal mine for climate impacts that will affect us all. I was alarmed by the rapid pace of change there. Worse still, changes in the Arctic are now accelerating global warming. Thawing permafrost is releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Melting ice in Greenland threatens to raise sea levels.
Meanwhile, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
I am therefore all the more convinced we must act -- now.

To that end, on September 22 I convened a special summit on climate change at the United Nations for some 100 world leaders -- history’s largest-ever such gathering of Heads of State and Government. Their collective challenge: transforming the climate crisis into an opportunity for safer, cleaner, sustainable green growth for all.

The key is Copenhagen, where governments will gather to negotiate a new global climate agreement in December. I will have a simple message to convey to leaders: The world needs you to actively push for a fair, effective and ambitious deal in Copenhagen. Fail to act, and we will count the cost for generations to come.

Climate change is the pre-eminent geopolitical issue of our time. It rewrites the global equation for development, peace and prosperity. It threatens markets, economies and development gains. It can deplete food and water supplies, provoke conflict and migration, destabilize fragile societies and even topple governments.

Hyperbole? Not according to the world’s best scientists. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak within ten years if we are to avoid unleashing powerful, natural forces that are now slipping out of our control.
Ten years is within the political lifetime of many attending the summit. The climate crisis is occurring on their watch.

There is an alternative: sustainable growth based on green technologies and policies that favour low emissions over current carbon-intensive models. Many national stimulus packages devised in the wake of the global economic downturn feature a strong green component that creates jobs and positions countries to excel in the clean energy economy of the 21st century.

Change is in the air. The key lies in a global climate deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature rise to a scientifically safe level. A deal to catalyze clean energy growth. Most urgently, an agreement must protect and assist those who are most vulnerable from inevitable climate impacts.

What is needed is political will at the highest levels – Presidents, Premiers and Prime Ministers – that translates into rapid progress in the negotiating room. It requires more trust among nations, more imagination, ambition and cooperation.

I expect leaders to roll up their sleeves and speak with – not past – each other. I expect them to intensify efforts to resolve the key political issues that have so far slowed global negotiations to a glacial pace. Ironically, that expression -- until recently -- connoted slowness. But the glaciers I saw a few weeks ago in the Arctic are melting faster than human progress to preserve them.

We must place the planet’s long-term interests ahead of short-term political expediency. National leaders need to be global leaders who take the long view. Today’s threats transcend borders. So, too, must our thinking.

Copenhagen need not resolve all the details. But a successful global climate deal must involve all countries, consistent with their capabilities, working toward a common, long-term goal. Here are my benchmarks for success.

First, every country must do its utmost to reduce emissions from all major sources. Industrialized countries have to strengthen their mitigation targets, which are currently nowhere close to what the IPCC says is needed. Developing countries, too, must slow the rise in their emissions and accelerate green growth as part of their strategies to reduce poverty.

Second, a successful deal must help the most vulnerable to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. This is an ethical imperative as well as a smart investment in a more stable, secure world.

Third, developing countries need funding and technology so they can move more quickly toward low-emissions growth. A deal must also unlock private investment, including through carbon markets. Fourth, resources must be equitably managed and deployed in a way that all countries have a voice.
This year at Copenhagen, we have a powerful opportunity to get on the right side of history. It’s an opportunity not only to avert disaster, but to launch a fundamental transformation of the global economy.
Strong new political winds now fill our sails. Millions of citizens are mobilized. Savvy businesses are charting a cleaner energy course. We must seize this moment to act boldly on climate change. It may not come again anytime soon.
Change is in the air. Let’s seal the deal on a better future for us all.

Somalia – the new axis of conflict

The nature of the intractable civil war in Somalia is undergoing a change, adding an
ideological, sectarian dynamic to the confl ict. For the fi rst time in modern Somalia,
Sufi groups under attack are taking up arms and effectively fi ghting Al-Shabaab with
popular support on the rural plains of central Somalia. This new axis of confl ict,
where Islamist fi ghters are battling one another along religious lines, has the potential
of changing the confl ict dynamics in the long run.
Somalis are generally pragmatic and moderate Sufi Muslims.They do not
share the strict, Saudi-inspired Wahhabi interpretation of Islam of the hard-line
Al-Shabaab group.1 Historically, loosely organized Sufi groups rarely entered
the political arena, with the exception of the anti-colonial wars in the 20th
century.2 Over the last two decades of civil war, characterized by a lack of central
government, Sufi leaders had managed to steer clear of clan and political wars, but
this pragmatic and moderate approach came to an end when Al-Shabaab fi ghters
began desecrating their religious shrines in the south of the country late last year.3
An impressive example is Al-Shabaab’s policy in the port city of Kismayo. In
December 2008, the group targeted Sufi sites, among them ancient graves of clerics
and other prominent Sufi s – sites Al-Shabaab deemed un-Islamic. As Sufi scholars
increasingly felt discriminated against and targeted because of their religious
practices, they saw themselves in a religious zero-sum identity confl ict and decided
to take up arms.
A clear, but limited challenge
Recently, Al-Shabaab fi ghters were able to launch two particularly prominent
attacks in their battle against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the
African Union (AU) troops in Mogadishu. On 7 May, Al-Shabaab fi ghters attacked
the TFG only a few blocks away from Villa Somalia, the presidential palace,
thereby showing the apparent weakness of the TFG. On 17 September, Al-Shabaab
successfully attacked the main AU military base with two car bombs in the capital,
killing 17 peacekeepers.
Until very recently, the main Sufi resistance group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a
(ASWJ), has been militarily active only in the central Somali region of Galgaduud,
where the major local clans and sub-clans (Habir Gedir, Dir, and Marehan) as well
as Sufi sheikhs have put their support behind ASWJ. While having more armed
fi ghters than Al-Shabaab, they are not as well trained, as ASWJ fi ghters are drawn
from the clan militias which generally lack formal military training. Nevertheless,
the group was able to defeat Al-Shabaab in two strategically crucial towns
connecting southern and northern Somalia. From 1 November until 16 December
2008, ASWJ successfully engaged in fi erce fi ghting with Al-Shabaab in the town
of Guraceel. On 25 January, ASWJ openly engaged Al-Shabaab militias in intense
fi ghting, reportedly killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 60 others in
Dhusamareeb. Subsequently, ASWJ succeeded in driving Al-Shabaab insurgents
out of several towns of the region. In their place, the Sufi movement has established
its own incipient local administration, liaising with UN offi cials and patrolling the
locality. Grassroots support and local clan-backing has allowed this new movement
to transform rapidly from a civil to a military force.4 In addition, ASWJ has openly
come out supporting the new president of the TFG, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.5 More
recently, ASWJ is reported to be active also outside the Galgaduud region, and have
taken over two towns in the Gedo region in accordance with the TFG.6
It is, however, important to acknowledge that ASWJ is still a small part in
the equation of the fi ght between the TFG and Al-Shabaab. While the religious
opposition to Al-Shabaab and its radical interpretation of Islam is wide and deep in
Somalia, it has not been able to organize itself politically or military on a broader
level. Furthermore, ASWJ itself lacks a political vision and, thus, fi nds it diffi cult to
sustain its rule in the areas it controls.
Al-Shabaab - strengths and weaknesses
It appears that the accomplishments of ASWJ imply two realities. First, the severe
Wahhabi governing methods of Al-Shabaab, which echo those on view in Pakistan’s
Swat Valley and includes stoning and amputations, elicit little local support. In fact,
the same could be observed of all radical Islamic groups in Somalia since the 1990s.
Al-Shabaab gained their performance legitimacy in setting up Islamic courts and
bringing law and order to the areas under their control, giving them strong support
in parts of the country. However, popular resistance to the insurgency today is
reported more frequently and conducted more openly. For example, on 26 March,
hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in protest against a ban on the sale of
the narcotic Khat. In reaction, Al-Shabaab further intensifi ed its strategy of coercion
and intimidation of the Somali population by carefully selected assassinations and
arrests of clan elders, several of whom have been murdered. In the latest high profi le
assassination, Omar Hashi Aden, the Minister of National Security, was killed along
with 30 other people in a large-scale suicide car bomb in Beletwyne on 19 June,
leading to a strong condemnation by a broad cross-section of Somali society.7
Second, the wide territorial dominance of the jihadists is perhaps more a function
of the lack of any countervailing force than an indicator of any innate strength. In
this sense, Al-Shabaab is benefi ting particularly from the weakness of the other
groups, fi rst and foremost the TFG. As Roland Marchal put it, “Al-Shabaab may
not be so powerful militarily speaking, but it is the smartest to keep the warfare in
conditions that are suitable for its low membership and its lack of popular support”.8
In fact, the movement should be weakened considerably since two of its main
political pillars have been removed by the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and
the introduction of Sharia law by the new government. Facing a foreign enemy,
segmentary lineage societies close their ranks and overcome their internal splits and
rivalries to fi ght a common enemy. No doubt, this coherence falls apart as soon as
the common enemy disappears. In part, this dynamic is causing popular support to
wane for Al-Shabaab.9
Nevertheless, Al-Shabaab is still able to recruit and attract considerable backing
in certain areas for various motives. Besides ideological reasons, religious or
nationalistic, the movement is also attractive for economic survival as Al-Shabaab
has the means to pay their mainly young fi ghters. In addition, the movement
represents a means of empowerment and certainly provides the ground for sheer
power-seeking people to further their political stance.10
At the same time Al-Shabaab is increasingly becoming aware that they are
increasingly alienating the population in areas they administered according to an
overtly strict reading of Sharia law. Contrary to the perception of Al-Shabaab as
a mere ideology driven movement, it did prove its ability to change its political
strategy in a pragmatic way in order to regain ground: Trying to consolidate its rule,
Al-Shabaab quite successfully adopted a new approach in the city of Baidoa by
building its economic, social and educational infrastructure and holding talks with
traditional clan leaders.
The TFG is attempting to take matters into their own hands. On 21 June it signed an
agreement with Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a in which it agreed to cooperate in political,
security, humanitarian and development areas. At the same time, the TFG appointed
a former offi cial of the Hizbul Islam insurgent group, which fought alongside Al-
Shabaab, Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad Inda’ade, as state defence minister.11 But this
does not constitute a break through in their battle over power with Al-Shabaab.
A closer look at the fi ghting between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a
shows how fl uid clan loyalties can be in Somalia. For now however, none of these
attempts and changes in the dynamics of Somalia’s civil war have been able to
fundamentally change the current stalemate between the TFG and the insurgent
groups, prolonging the ongoing war.
Georg-Sebastian Holzer
is a Research Assistant at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced
International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. He focuses on confl ict management
with a regional specialization on the Horn of Africa.
1. For a short overview about the Al-Shabaab movement see: Paula Christina Roque,
‘Somalia: Understanding Al-Shabaab’, ISS Situation Report, Institute for Security
Studies, 3 June 2009.
2. Roland Marchal, ‘Islamic Political Dynamics in the Somali Civil War’, in Alex de
Waal (ed.) Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa, Indiana University Press
2004, pp. 114-145.
3. Mohamed Mohamed, ‘Somali rage at grave desecration’, BBC 8 June 2009 http://
4. ‘Ahlu Sunna Takes Control of Provincial Town’, Shabelle Media Network,
29 January 2009; UN Security Council, ’Report of the Secretary-General on the
situation in Somalia’, 9 March 2009.
5. ‘Islamist Group Supports President Sharif’, Shabelle Media Network, 13
February 2009.
6. ‘Islamist Forces Join Government Troops in Bakol Regio’, Shabelle Media
Network, 27 March 2009; ‘Ahlu Sunnah Take Trade Town Along Kenya Border’,
Garowe Online, 17 August 2009; ‘Ahlu Sunnah Capture Second Town in Gedo
Region’, Garowe Online, 19 August 2009.
7. UN Security Council,’Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in
Somalia’, 20 July 2009.
8. Email correspondence by the author with Roland Marchal, 30 July 2009.
9. Stephanie McCrummen, ‘In a changing Somalia, Islamist forces see support
wane’, Washington Post, 7 August 2009.
10. Ken Menkhaus, ‘Violent Islamic Extremism: Al-Shabaab Recruitment in
America’, Hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security, US Senate, 11
March 2009.
11. Recent events show that the pragmatic alliance between Al-Shabaab and Hizbul
Islam is dissolving. See, e.g. ‘Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels declare war on rivals’,
Reuters, 30 September 2009.