By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb
Addis Abeba- In the course of the twice-postponed and contested Ethiopia’s sixth national elections held last in June 2021 in some parts of the country, opposition parties, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) withdrew, citing the jailing, harassment, and intimidation of their members as reasons. The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) followed suit, citing intimidation and harassment of its members by the Somali regional branch of the ruling party Prosperity party won the majority seats in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR), and House of Federation (HoF) regional councils. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised to commence a process to hold an inclusive national dialogue the same month the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia announced the election results which oversaw the Prosperity Party as the victor.
The National Dialogue Commission and Controversy Surrounding it
In December, 2021 the Standing Committee of Law, Justice, and Democracy at the HoPR announced that the National Dialogue Commission (NDC) proclamation did not include content on powers of negotiation, but rather was limited to facilitating a platform for a dialogue process amongst the many concerned actors. The public nomination process of the commissioners kicked off with the HoPR nominating 14 individuals.
Following the HoPR announcing the 42 shortlisted nominees to the public, three major opposition parties (OFC, OLF, ONLF) rejected the process, citing impartiality, lack of representation, and absence of knowledge.
The selection process of the nominees for the commission’s board had its own controversy. Political Parties Joint Council (PPJC), a coalition of more than 53 legally registered political parties, released a statement which asked the HoPR to temporarily halt the proceedings to select the eleven commissioners and conduct the process in an inclusive and trustworthy manner.
Rahel Baffie, chairwoman of the Political Parties Joint Council (PPJC), in an interview with Addis Standard said the following in relation to the NDC, “I can say it is our only hope. We have to be sure that it’s inclusive and impartial, I believe that anyone related to politics should be out of it and not control the process. They are all stakeholders, of course, there will be a way for them to come up with their issues and answers from the community. This government, the previous government as well, should be included.”
“The role of the NDC is yet to be properly clarified for the public”Professor Mesfin Araya, NDC Chairman
Professor Mesfin Araya, Chairman of NDC, in an interview with a local media outlet revealed that the NED will accept ideas of dialogue from the public and will start functioning based on priority. Despite high expectations of the public, Professor Mesfin added that “ The role of the NDC is yet to be properly clarified for the public. For some, they thought we were in charge of the reconciliation between regions, and for others, we were going to facilitate the negotiations. But our clear role is facilitating dialogue.” Speaking on the inclusion of armed groups, the professor stressed a condition of “Unless they lay their arms down.”
Wolaita Scholars Expectations form NDC
Opinions in Wolaita about the national dialogue seem to be in sync with other parts of the country. Cautious hope, calls for inclusivity, and fair representation are at the core of demands.
Like Tamen Ena, Assistant Professor at Wolaita Sodo University, who spoke to Addis Standard, and expressed his hopes for the outcome of the national dialogue. He said,” We have had the reconciliation commission with 41 members. But we didn’t hear anything from them and then the commission was disbanded without functioning.”
He outlined four requirements that are needed to have a successful national dialogue. He continued, “The first thing, the commission should be functional, unlike the now scattered reconciliation committee. Second, the dialogue must involve the lower structure of the government and victims of different incidents, in essence, grassroots-based. Third, The commission must be independent and without government influence. Finally, in regard to the commission members, they must be neutral.
His colleague Tezita Tekle (Lecturer at Wolaita Sodo University) believes that the national dialogue commission should be inclusive otherwise she suggests that third-party mediators could be an option to look at. Like her colleague, she criticized the reconciliation commission’s track record and said, “We have had the reconciliation commission which was dispatched without functioning after three years.’’
“I know not all demands will not be answered by the commission, but major demands should be a priority. For example, Wolaita, the demand for statehood should be a priority, The people of Wolaita deserve it.”Tezita Tekle, Lecturer at Wolaita Sodo University
She insisted that the dialogue be inclusive by engaging armed entities like the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Oromo Liberation Army. In regards to providing lasting solutions, she added, “I know not all demands will not be answered by the commission but major demands should be a priority. For example, Wolaita, the demand for statehood should be a priority,” concluding, “The people of Wolaita deserve it.”
Abinet Chemere, lawyer and resident of Wolaita Sodo, agreed with Tezita on the inclusion of armed groups and argued that the main goal should be to bring peace. He said, “The cost of this war is multi-dimensional, for the Wolaita people as well as for others in the country.”
Abinet expressed fear that members of the NDC might be pressured to side with the government and along with its vision for how the national dialogue will be carried out. He argued that it is within their powers that are outlined in the proclamation to act independently and advised them to do so.AS