By Getahun Tsegaye @GetahunTsegay12
Addis Abeba – On 29 December 2021, the House of People Representatives (HoPR), approved the establishment of the Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission under the proclamation No.1265/202. The proclamation establishing the Commission stated the importance of conducting an inclusive national dialogue for bolstering national consensus and restoring social values in Ethiopia. Several other activities have been conducted since then, including the appointment of a list of eleven individuals to serve as commissioners led by Professor Mesfin Araya.
The establishment of the dialogue commission was received with heavy skepticism from various opposition parties both individually and collectively. Ethiopians of different background were also forwarding their hopes and aspirations as well as reservations on the effectiveness of the dialogue commission.
Addis Standard spoke with some residents to share their perspectives. *Sisaynesh Girma is one of them. A resident in Debre Birhan city in Amhara state, Sisaynesh, who has been serving as a secretary in one of the regional government bureaus for seven years, told Addis Standard that she was aware of the the national dialogue and had discussed with her colleagues a “document on National Dialogue” that the federal government wanted to have a discussion on.
Sisaynesh admits that she was in a state of confusion with all the conflicts in the northern part of Ethiopia, particularly the war in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions and the subsequent deaths, displacements, and damages. But she hoped the national dialogue would bring some sort of peace.
According to her, parties that are in engaged in active war must agree to a ceasefire and handle their differences with dialogue. Doing so, she explained, “peace would prevail in the country, people could run their daily activities without fear, the social fabric would [revive] again and the country would fix its diplomatic relations with the outside world so that life would go as it was going before.”
Ashenafi Angasu is a Mining Licensing and Management Team Leader who is currently residing in Debre Sina town. He told Addis Standard that the planned national dialogue was decisive for a country like Ethiopia where many nations and nationalities are living together with various political, socio-economic interests.
According to him, Ethiopia’s politics is highly influenced by competing historical narratives that really need a thorough investigations and study to verify how truly the narratives have been evolving. “To my mind some elites have exploited these narratives for their own political goals without considering what their people really need. In fact, there are a lot of elites who have been working to the best interest of their people,” Ashenafi said, adding, “in Ethiopia where we seem to be divided, the national dialogue is a wake-up call and will play a vital role in deciding our togetherness.”
He further explained that for the people to live together, all national groups in Ethiopia should come to the round table to handle their differences. More importantly, the elites are more responsible in leading the people to the right direction instead of exploiting competing narratives that fuel the division of the social fabric. “The national dialogue should be conducted in a very appropriate manner and should involve designated representatives of all sides so that the entire nation will benefit from it,” he added.
Responding if he and other civil servants in his town were engaged in the national dialogue agenda meeting, he said that consecutive meetings were happening and almost all participants agree on the importance of holding the national dialogue in hopes of ending the various conflict regional states in northern part of the country. “Had we had such trends, the current war in Ethiopia would not have happened,” Ashenafi said, and pleaded with all political leaders, elites, trusted representatives of the people and all concerned stakeholders to partake in the dialogue so that the conflict and the instability would end.
Antenew *Mengesha is a resident in Debre Markos city who has been working as a police officer for the past six years. “Ethiopia, particularly the Amhara region, has been in crisis for the past three or so years,” adding, “the planned national dialogue will hopefully restore peace and stability,” but he said he fears the hopes that the national dialogue will bring a solution is minimal, particularly taking into account the crisis Ethiopia has been facing. But his fears didn’t deter him from expressing his wishes. “I wish for the actors in the conflict to come to terms so that peace shall prevail.”
But a healthcare provider working at Dessie Referral Hospital, who spoke Addis Standard on condition of anonymity said that although the idea of national dialogue is a good start, the “how it will bring a solution is just a nightmare to think of when the country’s instability is unpredictable every single day.” According to this Doctor, the parties involved in the conflict have very extreme demands, and he explained as example, the issues of western Tigray between the Amhara and the Tigray regions. A thorough discussion should be held in the entire regions of Ethiopia to restore peace and security. “It’s going to be a very tough road to resolve all the differences and the government must dispose of its responsibilities in ensuring this to happen,” he added.
What do law professionals say?
Endalew Nigussie, a lecturer in Schools of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Ethiopian Civil Service University told one of the local news outlet that scholars have an irreplaceable role to play in the success of the national dialogue that will lay the groundwork for Ethiopia to start a new chapter by solving the problems it has faced for centuries. Endalew explained that the scholars must beat the forefront of implementing the multi-sectoral national dialogue, which,according to him, is essential to maintain the national peace and stability of the country. He called upon the political parties and the media houses to contribute for the success of the planned national dialogue.
A lecturer from the School of Law Department at Debre Birhan University, who spoke Addis Standard on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, stated that a thorough evaluation has to be conducted to find out what were the reasons the first Peace and Border Issue Commission was ceased to function and why the need to establish the National Dialogue was necessary. “The National Dialogue will have bumpy roads ahead and it won’t be an easy one,” adding,”Ethiopia has gone through a very complex historical political dynamic and at this moment the country is in an unresolved political saga.”
Describing the current government, this lecturer stated that Abiy’s government seems to have failed in understanding the very complex nature of Ethiopia’s politics. “When Abiy assumed power four years ago, his speeches were very sensational and aimed at bringing peace and harmony. He thought he could launch development, without paying much attention that such political instability could have happened,” he said.
According to him, before Abiy came into power, despite all the odds, opposition parties had room to sit for discussion. “It now, however, is becoming impractical,” he said. He explained that the Amhara and Tigray forces seem to have drifted apart and their chance of holding peace talks has been like expecting the ‘milk from the sky’.
“There are very huge rifts and oppositions right now in the country that will make the practicality of the National Dialogue very tough,” he said. The Prosperity Party, according to him, could have deescalated the country’s crisis before it reached this point. “Does this party really want to resolve the instability? I doubt it!” He expressed. Stating what he called them “huge rifts and oppositions”, the lawyer listed that the conflict between the federal government vs. the Tigray forces; the conflict between the Amhara forces and the Tigray forces; the conflict within the Amhara forces [The Amhara regional government and the armed Fano groups] and the mistrust on the functionality of the National Dialogue from a number of oppositions parties are some of milestone problems that will hinder the feasibility of the planned National Dialogue.
What is next?
Endalew pointed out that there should have been priorities that needed to be addressed before launching the National Dialogue which, he said, the government failed to do so. According to him, the instabilities and conflicts in the past four years, which had not been there before, should have been handled by the government. He accused the government of failing to ensure the peace and security of the residents in the country. The war in the Tigray region must not have happened or at least should have been resolved by now. He further called on the government to dispose of its “constitutional responsibilities”, and underlined that for the national dialogue to be effective and practical, the negotiating entities must have balancing power so that they would come to consensus but this one, according to him, seems unlikely since the government has already claimed super power and its bargaining power will outfit the rest.
Launching the national dialogue, though the planned outcome might be very minimal, is a good start,” adding, “if it fails, however, the consequences will be very disastrous and the various crises in the countries keep escalating and be unmanageable for years to come,” he predicted. AS
Editor’s note: *Full names or family names changed upon request from the interviewees.