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Politicking alone

Taye Negussie (PhD)

As of late we are witnessing the ruling Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF) busily engag¬ing itself in undertaking a relentless mass “training” cam¬paign (often enforced) and targeting different segments of the population – from bus conductors to university stu¬dents and professors.

While the official version from the government side puts the purpose as an attempt to familiarize the current gov¬ernment policies and programs and the need to receive public feedback, the sincerity of such claim becomes highly suspect on many grounds.

First, the rationale of familiarizing and receiving pub¬lic feedback at a time when the government’s five year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) is nearing its fi¬nal implementation phase is no strong a case to convince a fairly critical observer. Second, a look at the timing (less than a year to the next general election), the nature and essence of the “training” scheme makes the official version a weak excuse.

Whereas some critics speak of the matter as a political campaigning of the ruling party aiming at the upcoming national election or a manipulative ploy to destruct peo¬ple from the distressing daily living realities, in my view it goes way further than that; it signals a march from a promised “political pluralism”– accompanied by a promis¬ing beginning during the earlier phase of the EPRDF re¬gime – towards, sadly, a single party dominant rule and an outright totalitarian politics. And this is more so in the face of recent disturbing trends.

While a detailed account of the structure and organiza¬tion of the “training” scheme is out of the scope of this short piece, a brief overview of the explicit and implicit assumptions of the overall core arguments in the narra¬tives of the reading materials presented for the “training” is in order.

Totalizing ideology

When viewed from a pedagogical point of view, the “training” initiative can well be considered as a systemati¬cally designed ideological indoctrination scheme with the purpose of shaping people to think and behave in the logic and perspective of the ruling EPRDF.

Put specifically, the core argument of many of the narra¬tives articulated in the “training” documents point towards entitling the ruling EPRDF a monopoly on truth and sub¬sequently the moral certitude and justification with which to judge, qualify or disqualify any course of political action other than its own. If anything, this affirms its unrivaled ascendance to a de facto single party rule – sending asunder the constitutionally sanctioned multi-party system.
In this connection, a troubling narrative was the gross condemnation of the neo-liberal political thinking. Albeit tremendous variations in upholding the various dimen¬sions of neo-liberal philosophy by various governments, its basic ideals of freedom of thought, association, expres-sion, pluralistic views and other democratic values can never be contested. Historically, it was only those openly totalitarian regimes who have dared to do so. The irony in the case of Ethiopia is that all these political values and ideals are unequivocally stated in its constitution as invio¬lable human and democratic rights.

The tacit message of the reading on the “Ethiopian re¬naissance”– a belatedly rolled up political strategy seem¬ingly to appease sympathizers of the larger Ethiopian na¬tional cause – also shows that since the ‘omniscient’ and ‘omnipotent’ EPRDF has fully and effectively settled all political scores – past or present – in so much as to leave no room for any contention, what now remains for the rest of the Ethiopian peoples is only to fully embrace and work diligently towards realizing its ‘brilliantly’ conceived plan of putting Ethiopia back to its rightful glorious his¬toric past. Thus, the people of Ethiopia need to discipline and organize themselves under the all-embracing rule of EPRDF.

Pedagogical tricks

Obviously, devious messages like this one can only be delivered to trainees via subtle pedagogical techniques ca¬pable of rendering psychological and emotional manipula¬tion. In this sense, examination of the reading materials and administration of the “training” process would reveal the deployment of the following pedagogical techniques.

Using generic title: Some of the reading materials were accorded a generic title. A case in point is the text entitled,
“The Renaissance and the Struggle of the Ethiopian Peoples.” As it stands, this form of titling portrays the subject as if it was an ‘incontestable matter of universal fact’. Thus, with this imagination the attendant is highly likely to automatically identify himself with the subject and therefore concentrate only on details without giving a second-thought about the premise and assumption of the issue.

Chaining people by their ‘past’: Under the reading dealing with Ethiopian history, we find a categorization of the Ethiopian peo¬ples into two mutually exclusive groups: the category of the previously ‘abused and victimized’ population groups and their counterpart, the ‘victor and sinning’ group. With such characterization, no liv¬ing citizen can escape from associating himself to either of these two categories. The trick here lies in chaining both the al¬leged ‘victims’ and ‘victors’ by the sense of retribution and guilt so as to readily sub¬mit themselves to the power that be –the self-proclaimed “savior”.

Idolizing economic growth: By holding the notion of developmental state high, this scheme aimed at indoctrinating the trainees with the idea that a rapid and higher economic growth necessarily in¬volves tougher governance which is worth scarifying for. Add to this, the continuous hammering with the rhetoric of two-digit economic growth and the tantalizing eco-nomic plans coupled with field visit of some show-off projects. It is all aimed at limiting the trainees to think only about the material dimensions of development so that they will never be able to consider the rather more important dimensions of enhancing human freedom, social justice, equality of opportunities, and participa¬tory and just governance.

Dogmatizing the constitution: The far too familiar knowledge by many is the allega¬tions of democratic and human rights vio¬lations by the incumbent from both domes¬tic as well as international human right activists. Although this by itself merits defense by showing how the provisions of the constitution are being implemented, what the presenters did was yet to stick to a dogmatic reading of the constitution, surprisingly after more than two decades of its enactment; hence turning it into a dogmatic rather than a working document.

Taking the last word: Despite the fairly open and candid discussion seen in many sessions, the last word always went to the hand-picked discussant that gave him/her the latitude to respond in the manner that suits to the interest of the party he/she represents.

That said, apparently the whole premise and methodology of the “training” exer¬cise appears to have been drawn on the behavioral educationalist’s model of learn¬ing, which presumes that with repetitive and continuous stuffing of information, it is possible to shape the thinking and be-havior of learners in certain desired direc¬tion.

Yet, this assumption has been highly contested and disputed by liberal educa¬tionalists who believe that the last free¬dom a person could have is the freedom of thought or consciousness that no ex¬ternal force will be able to violate. There¬fore, they firmly hold that for one really to learn, s/he essentially needs to have some fiery inner motivation, interest in the sub¬ject and most importantly sound faith and confidence in the integrity of the institu¬tion in charge, without which it becomes hardly possible to influence the thought and behavior of learners no matter how hard a training s/he is subjected to. And, indisputably this has indeed been well proven true as was the case at the end of the “training” scheme under discussion.

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