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June 21, 2021
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Creating Space for Alternatives Favours Democratic Development

Addis Fortune / Addis Ababa

There is nothing inspiring about the current state of Ethiopian politics. Observers of the political sphere spend much of their time contemplating about the twists and turns of the ruling EPRDF. It is rarely that they are posed with the challenge of factoring in the numerous political oppositions in their analysis.

Usually, even after factoring in the oppositions, the outcome from the analysis does not change. This relates to the little influence the opposition camp commands.
Indeed, the ruling EPRDF has appeared to be the dominant political force within the nation’s political sphere. It is seen effectively sailing through the political waters of the nation with style, comfort and confidence.

Of course, this solo show is a result of converging factors. On the one hand, the ruling EPRDF seems to be using its incumbency very well to test its policy alternatives, adopt them to the new reality and discard those that it found to be unviable. On the other, the political opposition seems to be too weak to withstand the challenges posed by the ruling party, public expectations and evolving external environment. The resultant outcome of such a dynamics remains a political sphere tainted with the excessive hegemony of the party that seems to enjoy its unaccompanied show.

Even then, there are sufficient events that create enough buzzes for analysts to get concerned about. One such event is the latest training of students of higher education institutions.

Estimated to amount 300,000, the students were called to take a mandatory training on the policies and strategies the government under the leadership of the EPRDFites. In what seems to be a second wave of popular campaign by the state to indoctrinate citizens with its policies, after the first wave that followed the split of the ruling coalition and the subsequent publication of its major policy documents, undergraduate students across the nation were grouped into two and were thought the policies of the EPRDF. Having a certificate of completion is compulsory to register for the coming academic year.

It is said that the student training will be followed by that of teachers at the over 30 public higher education institutions. It all seems to be an effort to win the hearts and minds of the new generation of youth.

Ever since the training started, the political air got tainted with speculations and analyses on what it could mean to the students, the ruling coalition and the political opposition. Most of the analyses are lopsided towards showing the negative externalities of the training.

For the political opposition, the training is targeted at the upcoming national election expected to be held in June, 2015. They argue that the ruling party is just exploiting the state resources at its disposal to recruit new members, expand its support base and increase its chance of staying in power. This, according to their argument, is yet another evidence to the confusing line between the state and the ruling party.

But the ruling party defends its action as rightful. There is nothing partisan about introducing the developmental policies and strategies of the state, it argues. As a party entrusted to lead the nation until 2015, its argument goes, it needs to train citizens about its alternatives and the future it envisions for the nation it leads.

Debates aside, the training has two faces. On the positive side, it could spark the light of political awareness in the new generation of youth. Properly incubated, this energy could facilitate the democratic development in the nation.

On the negative side, though, making such a training a compulsory engagement deprives the right of citizens to choose their preferred political view from a vibrant market of ideas that any democracy treasures. As it limits the playlist to the theory of Democratic Developmental State, though, such a solo show would restrict the political imagination of the youth to certain lines, which, in itself, hinders the maturation of democracy in the aspiring nation.

No doubt that the new generation of youth is burdened with the responsibility of pushing the economic development of the nation forward. The task of developing the upshots democratic institutions, values and norms also rests on their shoulders.

Making these responsibilities of the generation all the more complex are the history of the nation that is filled with rivalries and the multicultural setting it has. It is only through understanding these unique challenges the nation provides them with that responsible citizens could discharge their duties.

Today’s students could not be different. They ought to rightly see the social, cultural, political and economic context in which they are going to work in, if they are meant to contribute their fair share to the progress of the nation.

There exists little debate over the responsibility of the generation, though. What remains debatable is how to empower the generation with the necessary instruments that could enable it to make the right choice.

If the whole objective is to create a democratic country, it is obvious that a vibrant market of ideas is an essential element. Such a market provides all alternative political narratives the chance to be debated. It also entails creating platforms that allow citizens to access all possible narratives and choose their preferred one from the set.

In the specific situation, this means that both the narratives of the ruling EPRDF and that of all the legitimate opposition parties sould be given the chance to be deliberated upon. Platforms meant to design the future, be it trainings or others, will be as inclusive as possible. This, specially, would be true on those aspects that remain to see significant divergence of views.

In view of the practice in democracies, the latest wave of training by the state fail to rightly reflect the mix of arguments present in the political sphere. Hence, they are more partisan than how the ruling party wants them be perceived.

The timing, approach, mix and enforcement of the latest training shows that they are targeted at expanding the political support base of the ruling party. By virtue of coaching the next generation of youth, therefore, the EPRDF seems to intend to smoothly sail through the political waters between generations.

But this could be in disadvantage to the nation’s aspiration to build multiparty democracy by limiting the space for alternative ideas. After all, there could not be democracy without alternatives.

If at all the objective is to write the democratic future of the nation, then, it is essential to create the space for alternatives. It is only through creating such a space, where citizens got informed about each of the alternatives, that democracy could be realised and sustained. And it could not be different with students.

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