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Challenges of Justice & Democracy In Ethiopia

Voices of justice and democracy are challenging modern Ethiopia. The adoption of “democracy” in the system of governance is becoming highly volatile in today’s political life. Despite its theoretical connotation and rationale, its notion has been devalued as a simple commodity that wishy-washy politicians sell to ordinary citizens. Instead of a justifiable system of governance, it became a marketing tenet of false promises for grabbing boundless power. All false convictions aired become just instrumentation tools to scoring high number of voters. Consequently, ordinary societies lost its true essence in practice.

Ethiopia’s case is not an exception. The country is supposed to be democratic as the 1st Article of the Federal Government Constitution indicates. Although Article 30(1) states it is a given right for every person to assemble and to demonstrate together with others, peaceably and unarmed, the way the federal government responds is against that. As a consequence, legitimate grievances carry the potential of becoming public disobediences, chaos, and lawlessness across different federal states. Grievances are being expressed through the hardest way possible that demands sacrifice by many innocent citizens.

The cause of today’s social and political unrest in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) seems to be intricate. It demands extensive political strategies to ease and resolve the hyper tensioned and alarmingly vague situation. Though a distant observation, it is safe to say that confidence on the existing political system is gloomy. If it can be exploited for a better end, delving into the principles of democracy and loyalty, to the rule of law that respects democratic rights, is the best action.

The way the federal government behaves against anyone who raises a voice of justice is increasingly becoming worrisome. In every protest, innocent people are dying of direct gun shots. There is no justifiable reason for such barbaric acts to control the riots and disobedience. The pretext of national security and conspiracy of external involvements should not justify these actions. In fact, they are considered as crimes against humanity.

When democratic rights fall at risk, evolution of this once monarchic and totalitarian country into democratic governance system is hard to be attained. What makes it worse is that the second largest populous country in Africa (more than 90 million) and one of the poorest countries in the world, economic and social prosperity will be hard to imagine without respect of rule of law. In fact it is becoming a major concern among those who believe on Ethiopian revitalization and democratization process.

Challenges of Article 39 and Democratization

Since the chaotic social and political unrest of 2015 in the Oromia region, and now (2016) the wake-up of Amhara, the echo of justice is vibrating throughout the country. These people are showing their valiant stance of demand for fair equity of power distribution at the federal level and a guarantee of acceptable margin of self-rule on state level administration. Moreover, some people, like Wolkait, are demanding relocation of their state administration by claiming their identity traits, Amhara. The rejection of the Addis Abba masterplan expansion by the Oromo nationals, Wolkait identity issue, the Amhara claim of power monopoly by one ethnic group (the Tigres), the Afar and Tigray people’s democratic movement are, some of the prominent examples that dominate uncertain and sensitive political landscape.

Generally speaking, these political developments do not contradict with Article 39 of the federal government which grants nations and nationalities the rights to secede. Although looking back to the early 1990s Article 39 had justifiable reason to be included, it was a shortsighted article that conceived a huge potential of Ethiopian fragmentation. The then successful coalition force of EPRDF was composed of five revolutionary fronts that had a primary objective of forming an independent country of their respective nationalities. If Article 39 was not included, it could have been difficult to form a united country called Ethiopia, and it had its own merits for a short term relief. But this didn’t serve longer as a unifying tool any longer. With increasing popular feeling of political marginalization and public pressure for economic and social prosperity, the only soft target is to hit back on the pillars of Article 39 and force the federal government to loosen the grip that glue the states. The Oromo liberation front and the Somalis regional issue comes as spot cases.

In fact, when one delves into Article 39 thoroughly, it basically gives an opportunity of fragmentation under a pretext of democratic choice of the people, whatever the motive. Literally speaking, social groups of Ethiopia have an equal chance of claiming territorial state that can produce more than 80 ethno-centric states. Although secession is hard to achieve in modern Ethiopia in a short-term political process, in a country that has ample experience of revolutionary turmoil, the issue of nations and nationalities can explode leading to civil war. The expanding political freedom among ordinary societies is pushing for a radical change in the system of governance and more political accommodation. The missing link here is appropriate federal and state democratic institutions that provide timely responses of public concern. The question is therefore, “is the government in a stage of building timely and conducive environment for political rights or will it continue to act in such a horrific terror of brutal killing and squeezing political freedom?”

Ethiopian voices are engaged in a discourse of democratization and that doesn’t arrant panic because these voices were oppressed for too long. The seismic jolt created along these waves cannot be concealed neither through guns nor through blocking of social media outlets. What is needed is accommodation, listening, being responsible, tolerant and transparent, respecting rule of law, justice, and choices.

Relatively speaking, Ethiopia has come a long way in the democratization process compared to what it was before. In spite of the very few power-mongering individuals and diminishing partisan elements with the defunct monarchist mentality, Ethiopians today care more for economic prosperity, democratic rights and inclusiveness within the existing diversity. The late Prime Minister Melles Zenawi plans for ending poverty through education is a prime strategy of modern thinking through which the Ethiopian nation can strive and prevail against all challenges.

Positivism within Optimism

A thorough observation on the Ethiopian economic, political and social developments indicate that their registered outcome is optimistic. I believe that EPRDF is an emancipator and its political path succeeded in eradicating fear from its own people. Unlike before, when the Derg ruled through RED TERROR, Ethiopians have reached a degree of fearlessness that they are openly opposing government policies and system of governance.

The change in the Ethiopian political landscape is immense. Nations like Oromos, who were treated as mere servants in the past with no say even on basic human rights, are now loudly campaigning for justice and equality. The Amharas who took it for granted that their powerhouse was the source of rulers of greater Abyssinia, have now come to terms with political representations, and fairness of justice. The Tigres, though they still control the center of the government, are equally demanding more democratic freedoms. The same can be narrated about Afar, Somalis, and Southern Nationalities, Benshangul, and Harari nationalities.

These deep rooted cumulative grievances date back to the era of former leaders. They are now loud and widespread because of the relatively expanding democratic freedom, changing economic status and global openness; every raised voice is becoming stronger and louder producing waves for the highly needed change.

The existing political turmoil might seem destructive in a short term view. It could be dangerous if the federal government tries to silence it by using aggressive force.  Nevertheless, if minimum and basic standards of democratic rights of societies and individuals are observed, today’s voices will transform the old mentality of governance and consolidate Ethiopia further.

The federal government needs to be wise on resolving the current trend. It is the harvest of a ripening struggle of the oppressed people. If challenges seem tougher, it is because they are passing through the last bottleneck of obstacle towards greater freedoms and transparency.

Paradox of Ethiopian refusal for Human Rights Observers:

When Eritreans called on the United Nation Commission for human Rights group to investigate crimes committed against them, the Ethiopian government immediately endorsed the mission. Since the commission of inquiry (COiE) was refused permission to visit Eritrea, its work became more challenging and it was forced to collect testimonies outside the country. Ethiopia was on the forefront insisting that the UN to pressure Eritrea.

On the contrary, when Human Rights groups wanted to see what is currently happening in Ethiopia, it is difficult to comprehend why it is refusing them permission to do so. Comparing that to its position in regards to Eritrea, it is a paradox and a double standard. If the country is committed to International treaties, Human Rights observers should be allowed to conduct their work and see if individual rights are being observed or not.

PFDJ Eritrea and National Security

It is wise to differentiate between how the Eritrean and the PFDJ think. Without forgetting pre 21th Century historical legacies, Eritreans have limited information about today’s Ethiopian internal political cartography. To the majority, Ethiopia is perceived as the motherland of Haile Selassie, Derg (Amhara), and Woyane (Tigray). These leaders are remembered as archenemies of Eritrea. It is hard to figure out what is within Ethiopia’s politics and social composition. Even the term, “every Ethiopian” is narrowly demarcated to include the above mentioned nationalities, and such political blindness is imposed and perpetuated for a reason.

To combat external security threats, Eritrean conducts proxy war via rebel groups of the antagonizing country. This kind of strategy helps it from involving itself in a direct war. Since its independence, Eritrea has been involved in Sudanese internal problems to halt threats from Sudan, it supported Al-Shabab in Somalia, and is continuing to arm and train a number of Ethiopian opposition forces. For example, there are more than ten rebel groups who are stationed in Eritrea. The engagement is symbiotic. Eritrea provides necessary support for rebels in return the rebels attack Ethiopian government. These rebels conduct occasional military operations inside Ethiopia that put security and stability in danger.


It is wise to recap this article by citing Article 10 from the constitution of Ethiopian Federal Government which reads:

“Human rights and freedoms are inviolable and inalienable. They are inherent in the dignity of human beings. Human and democratic rights of Ethiopian citizens shall be respected.”

The above quote calls on the government to respect the rule of law. It must be recognized that voices of justice and democracy always come in one package-you need to have a voice in order to enjoy justice. It cannot be concluded that today’s Ethiopian problems are solely related to Article 39. However, the article provides an open environment of manipulation. In its current context, opportunists can use it as a means of power struggle or for dividing the country into smaller states.  This being one side, Article 39 has serious shortcomings that need to be reformed. Nevertheless, the people of Ethiopia should not be fooled again. Opposition groups who are working with neighboring countries should refrain from being mercenaries to destabilize their own country.

A united Ethiopia is a blessing, first for Ethiopians, and then to the region at large.

About Tesfabirhan Weldegabir Redie

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  • Kokhob Selam


    What a timely article was that?


  • tes

    Dear AT,

    Some good news is coming from Ethiopia. A rebel group leader from Gambella region has returned back to Addis Ababa to continue his political struggle peacefully by abiding on his constitutional rights. This is good for him, good for Gambella and good for Ethiopia.

    The rebel group was stationed in Eritrea and Sudan as per Sudan Tribune report. PFDJ losing one destablizing agent from his mercenaries

    Unlike Eritrea, Ethiopia has a room for political opposition groups, those who want a good change for Ethiopia. Any opposition group, a group tat wants rule of law should be guided by the constitution until the constitution needs a series change> Even for this to happen(change), they need to use their existing constitutional rights.


  • Thomas D

    Dear All,

    A united Ethiopia can only be attained if the PFDJ regime in Eritrea is uprooted and the Ethiopian opposition/terrorists groups in Eritrea are taken out. The EPRDF needs to take action against the DIA regime this time NOT to help us, the Eritreans, but to help its own Ethiopia from being disintegrated. As the spoiled DIA is so ugly can do the worst thing to Ethiopia & Eritrea if permitted. After much focus and sleepless work to break the no peace no war status between these countries, DIA has able to see a glimpse of hope to disintegrate Ethiopia first and then Eritrea. The hyenas in Ethiopia must get the mad dog DIA and eat him alive.

  • Dear All,

    Good and timely article. Thanks to the writer.

    It is possible that the last political development in Ethiopia could be a blessing than a curse. When the dust settles, we could see positive results and a new beginning for the people of Ethiopia, because the other scenario is a suicide for all ethnic groups. The outcome could be dissipation of the spectre of national disunity and political instability in Ethiopia and human rights issues of ethnic minorities, like that of the people of Wolqayt, who were swallowed by bigger and stronger ethnic groups could find an answer. Moreover, those who are naive and at the same time have the audacity to think (fortunately a minority), why 1m Afars (nomads in their opinion), should own a state as big as the state of Afar, will come out of their paranoia, and accept the rights of this ancient people, who have lived in the region for centuries, if not for millennia.
    Finally, the government will be forced to be more democratic and it will understand that before anybody else it should respect its own Constitution.

  • Nitricc

    Hi Tes, you supposed be an educated man at that highly decorated philosopher lol yet you claimed, remember philopsphers never claim anyting with absolute proof and you said …

    “Eritrea has been involved in Sudanese internal problems to halt threats from Sudan, it supported Al-Shabab in Somalia..”
    What is your proof for your stupid and irresponsible claim? you better have an absolute proof and present to your readers. I could have understood if you had to say according to the UN or quote any corrupted organizations but since there are none, you better give us the evidence. it is not like you are debating with anyone. it is in a front page in very respected forum.

    • tes

      Deqr Nitricc,

      You are asking me to bring a proof if PFDJ put its hand in Sudanese matters that later divided Sudan into two. I have lots of first hand proofs. I can even give you the exact coordinates of the :ilitary camps where Sudanese opposition groups were stationed. The same goes with Ethiopian opposition groups. I was in Gash-Barka in 2004 and 2005. I have seen TPDM camps. I was in Assab in 2007 and I have seen Afar (Ethiopian) Opposition were stationed – their head office.

      On Al-Shabab, I have said before and I can repeat it now. Al-Shabab was trained, armed and financed by PFDJ until they lost ground in Somalia and UNSC council blamed Eritrea for supporting them.

      For Ginbot-7 and others I don’t think you need my proof.


      • Nitricc

        Hey Tes, no need to go right and left. I am asking to show an evidence for your claim that

        ” “Eritrea has been involved in Sudanese internal problems to halt threats from Sudan, it supported Al-Shabab in Somalia..”

        I didn’t ask you about Sudan or Ethiopia. please answer my Q

        • tes

          Hi Nitricc,

          You don’t have a question in fact. What you have is confusion.


          • Nitricc

            Hi Tes, i rest my case and I rather be a confused one than fabricator and a liar. The simplest and the easiest the way out was for you just saying … “you know what my bad ” i am sorry i should have quoted so and so but your African mentality coupled with your ignorance won’t allow you to do the right thing. I know and I rest my case. go fool the fools.