Panel Discussion on current Challenges

The Ethiopian constitution is an excellent piece of work, by establishing a democratic constitutional framework that focuses on pluralistic and decentralized decision-making processes as well as on basic individual human and community rights. It provides with no doubt all ingredients for a long-lasting, stable democratic development in Ethiopia.

During more than two decades, the Ethiopian political leadership referred again and again to the historic process of the “Ethiopian Democracy in the making”, based on a clear developmental strategy and an institutionalized one-party-oriented setup. That “in the making” underlined the character of a process, and that “something” of a consolidated democracy remained to be achieved by the young but modern state of Ethiopia.

However, the individual experience of a democratic political decision making that focuses on the encouragement and participation of the citizenry in the concrete practice, did not seem to match that constitutional ideal of a democratic order.

Of course, there is no doubt that the last 27 years brought great economic success for the country, while the consolidation of democracy remained a challenge for the ruling party. Some observers argue, Ethiopia stayed in some kind of democratic transition trap for two decades, where the promise of a democratic society simply could not be fulfilled.

However, it seems that these things are changing now. Since the new Prime Minister came into power, there is an unprecedented dynamics and change of the political climate and atmosphere.

Only three months into office, the reforms and initiatives introduced by Dr. Abiy Ahmed and his leadership cabinet seem to be widely appreciated at home and abroad. His stellar beginning, marked by an impressive list of helpful and long overdue political reforms, have raised the already high expectations by the population to his Premiership even higher.

What we are also witnessing is a completely new style of leadership, that seems to be so different, so fresh, so open-minded, so much more people-focused, so future-oriented – but at the same time so little relying on a reliable governance structure that not only marked Ethiopia’s political stability over two decades but also allowed him to enter his current Office.

Now, one might wonder how that new leadership style affects the Ethiopian governance structures. Will the Ethiopian democratic system consolidate – or continue to stay in that transition trap?

Reasons enough for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) to invite to the conference “Beyond Expectations: Consolidating Democracy in Ethiopia”, that took place on July 26th, 2018 (GC) at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa. This was the second edition of a conference debate series that the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation initiated two months ago, which aims to provide room for the free-floating exchange of ideas and dialogue between stakeholders on matters of political, social or economic importance – with the hope that some of the ideas and outcomes find their way into a broader public discussion.

The event brought together distinguished opinion makers, politicians with diverse backgrounds, researchers, advocates as well as the young and the experienced who shed light on important issues related with consolidating democracy in Ethiopia. In his keynote speech, H.E. Zadig Abreha, Coordinator of the Democratic Coordination Center under the Office of the Prime Minister, discussed from his personal point of view the major challenges and prospects for consolidating democracy in Ethiopia. He emphasized on the definition of democracy, stages of democratic transition, and possible outcomes of a democratic process based on various theoretical underpinnings.

Zadig explained that the Ethiopian transition is complicated by different factors:  (1) cleavages, (2) lack of consensus on the country’s history, (3) and the multiple shocks it has encountered. However, he observed that Ethiopia always came out of security, political, economic, and societal crisis as it is a crisis-resilient country. Moreover, he noted that the unfinished nation-building and state-building processes are holding the country from completing its transition, which is a precondition for consolidation. In order to successfully consolidate democracy, everybody should be onboard and nobody should be excluded, he said.

His viewpoints were later brought up for discussion by distinguished individuals from different governmental and non-governmental sectors. Guided by Mr. Asrat Seyoum (Editor-In-Chief of The Reporter Newspaper), Mr. Lidetu Ayalew (founder and former president of the Ethiopian Democratic Party), Dr. Menberetsehay Tadesse (former Vice President of the Federal Supreme Court), Mr. Kumlachew Dagne (lawyer, representing the Civil Society), Ms. Blen Sahilu (Gender Activist), and Mr. Tamirat Gebregiorgis (Managing Editor of the Fortune Newspaper) reflected on the ideas in the following panel discussion.

Overall the conference showed how democratic consolidation spans a multiplicity of sectors, including economic, institutional and gender factors, and is a complex topic to be discussed, especially amidst recent political, social and economic reforms in Ethiopia under the new Prime Minister. The FES is confident that by opening up the floor to discussions and deliberations on the topic, it has laid the ground work for future sessions on more specific topics, including a focus on multi-party-system and civil society.

The conference brought a fascinating diversity of opinions on consolidating democracy to life by engaging the audience in active plenary sessions. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung believes that those formats might help the democratic transition and is grateful for the interest of over 180 participants. You’ll hear from us soon again.