A Blessing in Disguise for the Rest of Ethiopia!
The state of Tigrai is going along with its planned election, though the current Prime Minister of the Federal government of Ethiopia has shown his displeasure and tried to stop it. The election has begun in earnest: state election was promulgated, subsequently an election commission was established, which allowed for contesting parties and independent candidates to register, set registration and election dates, though a bit in haste and a very narrow time frame. People must have been eagerly waiting as more than 50% of those expected to vote secured their voter IDs by Day 1 of the registration, and it also shows some level of organization. The local media, in coordination with the commission has begun to give equitable airtime for parties to introduce themselves: their policies and programs. In almost three decades of TPLF’s rule, for opposition parties to get such an airtime was a pipedream. To the delight of many, the ruling party agreed and is actively participating in a series of televised debates to duke it out with the new parties which otherwise are trying to dislodge it from power. The current conversation has been elevated, primarily revolving around the debate and election, and this in turn may provide a glimpse of hope to the rest of the country.
Two rounds and few more to go: so far, and to the surprise of many, the debates have been an eye opener, civil, and lively. The ruling party seems to recognize, at least some of its young leaders, that there is a wind of change in the air and the old way of arrogance and threatening the opposition with all kinds of accusations won’t be working any more. Recently there have been two diametrically opposite documents in wide circulation and released by the ruling party: one is an election manual, which if it were graded by the Carter Center, would comfortably secure an “A”; and another one a venmous propaganda and a coercive instruction (harassment) trickled all the way to parishes shaming parents of contestants from opposition parties and other activists. The former document on code of conduct seems to influence in large part what we see in the debate and directing public media utilization. Maybe the ruling party is fighting with-in, to find its true self and stay relevant with the current generation: and that is a very good thing.
The competing parties: Assimba, Baytona, NaTsinet, Salsay Weyane seem eager and hungry to engage the ruling party and do not look a bit intimidated by the new limelight and public scrutiny they are getting. The platform is giving to few among them a chance to demonstrate their oratory skills and project confidence in such an environment. Arena, the harbinger in Tigrai opposition landscape, made a serious mistake boycotting this election and is sorely missed in the debate.
The conversation among the Tigrawot community is now focused on the election: debating the issues in cafes, family and friends gatherings, phone calls, cheering for their favorite party and even picking personalities they like most; and no more lamenting over the depressing news of COVID, a possible war breakout with either Eritrea, the state of Amhara and/or the Federal government. The populace seems to enjoy the new discourse both as a new variety show but also a flickering light against all the depressing daily news and a cloud of war and economic uncertainty looming in the background. Everyone you ask is excitedly following the debate, even the recent locust invasion did not seem to ruin the enthusiasm. People are encouraged by the diversity of ideas, competence of the opposition, and watching leaders of the new generation emerge, including new faces representing the ruling party. It has elevated the political discourse in the state, hence despite the constrained relationship with the Federal government and much of the Amhara state this new development may provide a silver lining: a shift in focus from hostility, toxic rhetoric and finger pointing for all problems local and national.
Election Tigrai may encourage other states such as Oromia, Welyata and Sidama to be embolden to conduct their own election; and pressure the Amhara state to look inwards, seek legitimacy or retain power through civil public participation: election (at least local). For instance, what we are witnessing in the debate is primarily inward looking and no effort at externalizing the problem (with few snide exceptions in passing remarks). There seems to be an unanimity among the opposition in declaring self-determination, autonomy and Tigrai’s affair first: even the ruling party seems slowly moving towards accepting the obvious current reality.
The media following the debate is spending more time reporting on the debate and election, and less in a tit-for-tat with the Amhara centric media and the Federal government owned or sponsored media outlets: and that is a blessing in disguise.
The debate is showing Tigrai is a microcosm of Ethiopia and in what seems a homogenous society there is ample diversity of ideas, of which some are 180 degrees apart. But it is also showing the debate and the election can be used as the only and best alternative to state your case, appeal to the electorate, seek and obtain power: not by accusing your neighbors, pointing fingers, and externalizing your problems. This is also another good opportunity, as far as it goes, to consider it as a pilot for the bigger country, draw lessons from, improve on its shortcomings and conduct a nation-wide election in order to go beyond the current impasses and national paralysis. That will be a blessing in disguise indeed! Currently the weather is pleasant in Tigrai, so is the news!