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The salvation to the political crisis Ethiopia currently finds itself lies in its people. As long they are allowed to have a genuine say they are capable of bringing their country back from the precipice. As we always say nothing is more important than the survival of the nation. And no individual or group can be above the nation. One of the key takeaways from the presser given last week by the presidents of the four member organizations of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is that Ethiopia’s salvation does not solely lie in the Front. The crisis confronting Ethiopia was described as posing an existential threat and was primarily attributable to the Front’s top leadership. All this can be traced back to its unwillingness to duly heed public opinion. In a nutshell the EPRDF does not have the wherewithal to extricate Ethiopia by itself from the crisis it is mired in.

As a country whose population is estimated to top one hundred million there are diverse interests in Ethiopia. It’s evident that political instability is bound to arise if a consensus which accommodates these interests is not forged. No political entity, be it the EPRDF or those who stand in opposition to it, can lay claim to be the only guarantor of Ethiopia’s survival as a polity. The era when the EPRDF can get away with handing down imperious orders has come to an end. It would be naïve to think that in this day and age that the complex set of problems besetting Ethiopia can be dealt with once and for all by the 36 individuals who comprise the Front’s Executive Committee. The public has had enough of empty statements like the one the committee gave a fortnight ago at the conclusion of its meeting. What it wants is and indeed deserves is to play a decisive role in implementing the reforms promised by the leadership.

Inasmuch as it has accomplished laudable achievements during its 26-year-plus rule, the EPRDF is also guilty of turning a blind eye to egregious acts which have led to the death, injury and displacement of innocent citizens. Such dereliction of duty has not only incensed the public, but also destabilized the nation. Though the recent announcement that some leaders of political parties and other individuals serving a prison term and undergoing trial would be pardoned and have the charges against them dropped, respectively, is a step in the right direction, the public officials responsible for committing crimes ought to be brought to justice. This goes a long way towards promoting peace and stability, deterring abuse of power, ensuring transparency and accountability and the rule of law as well as enabling the public to contribute its share in overcoming the troubles ailing Ethiopia.

The EPRDF needs to appreciate that ultimate power is vested in the people. Accordingly, it is duty-bound to facilitate platforms by which it genuinely canvasses public opinion regarding the causes behind and the solution to the current political crisis. Attempting to do so through the government and party structures it controls is destined to be counterproductive. Just as the EPRDF’s leaders have conceded that they had discussed everything under the sun during the Executive Committee’s meeting, no topic should be off the table when engaging the public in a dialogue. Let it vent its pent up frustration in a peaceful manner. Otherwise, it would be impossible to have the civilized and constructive discourse that is essential to developing the roadmap to democracy. This is the surest to clean up the mess Ethiopia is in.

The zero-sum politics pursued by Ethiopia’s political elite for the past several decades has been a bane to the country and its people as has the propensity of rulers, including the EPRDF, to bend everything and everyone to their will. So what is required now is to abandon the business-as-usual approach and start together posthaste the process of pulling Ethiopia back from the precipice. If there is an agreement that Ethiopia, as the EPRDF leadership acknowledged, is in the midst of a crisis posing an existential threat, there is no option but to do whatever is necessary to avert the looming menace. Needless to say this cannot succeed without addressing the legitimate grievances of the people or their full participation. The deadly internecine conflicts, which erupted due to the patronizing attitude of rulers, must not happen again. Ignoring the public’s perception that ethnocentrism is eclipsing multi-ethnic unity and as such imperils Ethiopia’s continued existence would be a recipe for disaster. That is why the people should be empowered to determine the fate of the nation.

The people of Ethiopia always have their country’s fate at heart. No one should doubt that they hold the key to ending the political crisis the nation is reeling from. Peace, democracy and prosperity can only be realized through concrete measures enabling the people to exercise their sovereign power. This calls for a demonstration of real willingness on all political forces to submit to the will of the people. However, it is particularly incumbent on the EPRDF, in recognition of the fact that it is accountable to the people, to devote its energy to defending the rule of law so as to bring about democracy and inclusive growth. It’s then that the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution may be truly exercised, that power is assumed through free, fair and credible elections, that a culture of civilized discourse can thrive, that abuse of state power can be curbed. If the EPRDF is to turn over a new leaf it must first reconcile with itself and ultimately the public. Ethiopia’s salvation does not lie in the EPRDF alone!

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