Crisis of Self-Defeatist Partisan Politics


Greg Gutfeld, a TV personality, once a host of a show on the Fox news channel, and reputed for his sharp political analysis, recently delineated the extreme practice of partisan politics that has unusually been embraced by America’s liberals following the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the White House. He would claim that it is better to be left-leaning and wrong than conservative and right.

The trend, in many ways, is a common practice in Ethiopian politics too, having dented our collective virtue.

History and the contemporary present a continuous intransigence that has woven into the fabric of our political culture. Ranging from wholesale to retail politics, the latter of which is arguably non-existent, the standard practice is confined to the zero-sum game mentality. Regimes have come and crumbled, all suffering from the same symptom, with the current one concurrently asserting that a difference in government is akin to a change in everything about the past.

The rise of one political force has meant the fall of another with transitions often costly, both in human and economic terms. In the name of new beginnings, progress is rewound. Shared values and causes are forgotten, and worse yet, the menace of partisanship fast spread across the fault lines of party politics.

Unfortunately, these perceptions and practices have a domino effect. If history has taught us anything, politics of the past 26 years has been reminiscent of the period before. The chickens have come home to roost, and this very attitude has created cracks within the leadership of the ruling coalition party and the political life of the country.

The EPRDFite winner-takes-all attitude, through the first-past-the-post electoral law of the country, has ensured political dominance, for the most part, without significant policy measures to speak of or a practical multiparty state to parade. Concurrently, it may have been too late, for at this level of public discontent meaningful steps towards multipartyism will boomerang and warrant a political death for the EPRDFites. Ethiopia, thus, finds itself against an intractable wall.

In an atmosphere such as this, politicians look for the narrowest possible path to avoid cooperation. The factions split along the thin lines of vested interests. Even within the four parties that formed the ruling coalition, lingo-cultural priorities often manifest themselves in the form of partisanship.

Since May 1991, the nation has undergone a sociopolitical overhaul. A federal state drawn along lingo-cultural faultlines is one foundation that the “new” Ethiopia fetches its strengths and weaknesses from. The relative political and economic empowerment of the regional states is an example of the former. The absence of strong institutions, however, has steadily weakened the legitimacy of all the three branches of the federal government that should have checked and balanced one another.

As a result of this, political elites have become the chief architects of the construction, reconstruction or even deconstruction of what they deem is the national good but is in truth a political goal. Thus, the fair distribution of resources falls short of expectations. Instead, corruption and wastage have become symbolic of government, not to mention a snag on sustainable economic development. Demand for opportunities, goods and services continue to bulge, while the solutions, short-term at that, have always been a matter of closed-door discussions.

However, for a country with a youthful population, where civil liberties have long been neglected, the prospect of bringing long-term political stability is dim. The troubling couple of years that have passed are good indications of this.

In the 2005 general election, the first definite signs of demand for political freedom were glimpsed, only to disappear into thin air quickly after. Then, in the course of the past dozen years, we witnessed numerous but sporadic unrests and large-scale demonstrations. After the last general election in 2015, the sum of all discontents was translated into constant civil unrest which continues to this day in two of Ethiopia’s most populous regions, the Amhara and Oromia regional states.

The EPRDFites once again missed the opportunity to address the causes. In a typical partisan manner, they drew their eclectic prosecutorial toolkit to charge some government officials with corruption and declare a state of emergency.

Nonetheless, the exit strategy to maintain the status quo seems to be floundering. Nothing seems to dampen the spirits of whoever is causing such disruption and that any form of intransigence is more likely to inflame both the problem and the discontents.

For the EPRDFites, there needs to be a different way of calculating the right and the wrong. The zero-sum game mentality is but a sure way of coming up short of the correct solutions. Even in a simple mathematical equation, what is universally applicable can produce the same result after being calculated using the same formula. We can only get it right when it is right but only if we have the guts to do away with the age-old extreme partisan politics.