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The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is confronted with a plethora of grave challenges as it goes through the motion of appointing a new chair and Prime Minister. One of the challenges is to choose a consensus candidate. When the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi passed away in August 2012 the vacuum was filled by the unanimous appointment of his successor. As the current Prime Minister tenders his resignation and awaits a replacement it is vitally important to display responsibility and wisdom in choosing the person who will take over in view of the deepening political crisis unfolding in Ethiopia. Needless to say it is of critical importance to accord priority to safeguarding the national and public interest when tapping the candidate. The leadership of the four member organizations of the EPRDF and officials at the federal, regional and local levels would do well to appreciate that the world is eyeing Ethiopia with trepidation as it undergoes a political upheaval. In these troubling times the Front cannot afford to be at war with itself; in fact it must show unity of purpose and action to seek enduring solutions. Whether we like it or not we have no choice but to sensibly navigate the uncharted territory we presently find ourselves in to counter the existential threat staring us in the face.

As we have said time and again if Ethiopia is to become a truly democratic and stable country it is imperative to uphold the rule of law. While there is no arguing that the appointment of the incoming premiere needs to be conducted in full compliance with the law and established procedures, the process should also be informed by the ideals we aspire for as a nation. The unrest that has gripped Ethiopia for over two years now has led to the death of thousands of innocent citizens. The continued violence has compelled the government to declare last week a state of emergency for the second time since 2016. Failure to pass during these testing times decisions anchored in principles and a shared goal is bound to spell trouble for the country. At a time Ethiopia is at a critical juncture in its history it is obligatory to find a capable, compassionate, democratic, upstanding, visionary and wise leader who can steer it away from the danger confronting it and onto the next chapter. It’s also crucial to put an end to the intolerance and small-mindedness afflicting the political landscape and demonstrate that Ethiopia a strong country for whom the future bodes well. If the EPRDF destroys its own legacy and lands the country in an intractable mess even as it claims to be one of the strongest political parties in Africa and the architect of Ethiopia’s renaissance, history will judge it harshly. It has to do whatever is in its power lest this specter comes to pass.

Durable peace, democracy and growth cannot be imagined without a civilized conversation. The political atmosphere has become toxic and precipitated an unprecedented crisis precisely because of the inability of political class and the public at large to engage in a constructive dialogue as well as the propensity to correct a mistake with another mistake. Though Ethiopia is in a precarious position now, we have to think hard how to solve the conundrum facing us. Releasing prisoners still languishing in jail on account of their views and taking a range of measures aimed at broadening the democratic space will go a long way towards averting further bloodshed and restoring political stability. That is why it is of the essence to accord priority to the wellbeing of the country and its people and exert maximum effort to accomplish this lofty objective.

The ramifications of decreeing a second round of state of emergency constitute another issue of grave concern. While it is par for the course to suspend political and democratic rights during a state of emergency, extra thought should be given prior to limiting the exercise of human rights. As the government begins to take action pursuant to the considerable power it assumes under the decree pending its approval by Parliament, it is incumbent on it to respect constitutionally guaranteed basic liberties including the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Whether in times of calm or crisis, peace or war we ought to abide by the rule of law. The alternative is a recipe for catastrophe.

Even as the government attributes the need for more powers to the breakdown of law and order which endangers the constitutional order and cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement agencies and personnel, the principal objective of the state of emergency should be to protect national security and safeguard the long-term interest of the public. Inasmuch as it is necessary to mitigate the detrimental impacts of political instability on the economy and the nation’s standing on the international stage, the fundamental rights and needs of the public must also be given due consideration. It is high time to create a healthy democratic space to enable citizens to enjoy the rights they are entitled to without undue interference. Aside from this they need to be made feel secure. This calls for a strict oversight of the security forces as they go about their daily duties and the elimination of gaps that engender more destruction.

The rule of law cannot be dispensed with during a state of emergency. After all it is instrumental to combating illegality and ensuring the prevalence of justice, developing the frameworks essential to reviving the stalled democratization process, stamping out undemocratic practices that open the door to violence and turmoil, creating forums promoting peaceful and constructive dialogues, facilitating a marketplace of ideas for principle-guided democrats to engage in an open discourse, encouraging intellectuals who remain true to their beliefs through trying times and are politically savvy to come to the fore, and building a nation on a strong foundation. That is why all Ethiopians must accord priority to safeguarding our beloved country!

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