By Assegid Habtewold
The release of political prisoners, the pardoning of exiled politicians who were sentenced to death in absentia, and the returning of political parties that chose to employ armed struggle are some of the most important milestones since the selection of Abiy Ahmed as the new PM of Ethiopia. These and many other reform measures that have been taken by the ruling party are encouraging and are the right steps in the right direction that solidify the change process that began a couple of months ago.
Let me quickly express what I felt this morning when I saw the warm reception residents of Addis Ababa afforded to the leadership of AG7 including the former democratically elected mayor of Addis- Brehanu Nega. Knowing some of the leaders on the stage and their high professional caliber and what they gave up to stand up against the brutality and inhuman treatments of Ethiopians, I couldn’t help it except to take off my hat to the people of Addis who came out in mass honoring these gentlemen.
These leaders would have achieved great heights if they had pursued their respective professional path like many of us here in the Diaspora. Rather, they dedicated their profession, health, family, and so on in order to fight for freedom, democracy, and justice. I don’t have proofs but I’m sure that not all of the hundreds of thousands of people who came out to welcome these leaders are members and/or supporters of AG7. For that matter, you don’t need to buy into the party’s ideologies and program, you don’t need to agree with what the leaders say and do to recognize their service. It shouldn’t be that hard to come out and honor such individuals who sacrificed a lot for their nation and its people, and the people of Addis did an honorable thing when they came out in mass to acknowledge their contribution and to show their respect.
Once I addressed my emotional feeling, as a leadership expert and student of change management, let me just pick one important section from Brehanu’s speech and say a few things. To give you a little background, I’d been writing in the last three years until Abiy was selected as the new PM urging all political parties to come to the negotiation table for a win-win deal to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and chaos. Actually, I used a scenario planning tool and wrote an article that was posted on some Diaspora websites that showed what was going to happen if they had failed to negotiate on time. Unfortunately, nobody listened. Especially, TPLF had a chance to create that environment- the environment that we witness these days but they refused and remained stubborn.
In that writing, I did put forward four scenarios that might come to pass including a coup d’etat from within the ruling party. Interestingly, the coup was boiling under the surface and successfully took place over three months ago. Of course, as I already wrote about it a couple of months ago, the coup, for the first time in our political history, was peaceful. It was led by Team Lemma.
I was super happy that the deadlock ended up that way without any bloodshed. However, since the election of Abiy, another issue I have been talking and writing about has been the need for all stakeholders to reach consensus on major national issues including how the overall change process should be handled as quickly as possible. To be honest, I’ve been expecting Abiy’s new administration to come up with a clear framework that may guide the nation throughout the change process. I was also anticipating the administration to propose a national consensus document and to put it forward for further discussion. These haven’t happened thus far.
Today, I was glad that AG7 proposed a three-phase process intended to guide the overall change process. I strongly believe that before parties compete in the upcoming national election in two years, the nation should reach a national consensus. That journey, nevertheless, should begin as immediately as possible. Key stakeholders must quickly be on the same page concerning the framework that guides the overall national transformation process. It’s critical to understand that we don’t have a lot of time. The nation must reach national consensus before the next general election.
Therefore, the ruling party, other oppositions, and key stakeholders should tap into this opportunity and respond to AG7’s proposed framework. Express officially whether you agree with the proposal or not. You may also suggest amendments. Or, even better, why don’t you come up with your own better proposal if you think you have one. By all means, this is high time key stakeholders to be on the same page concerning the ongoing change process. Each stakeholder should be clear about the overall phases of the change, what should be done in each phase, who is expected to do what, and so on.
My suggestion is to call a national forum that brings key stakeholders to engage in a consultative meeting. This meeting should agree on major items and then establish a task force consisted of representatives from key stakeholders. These individuals should come up with detailed modalities. The final document should be used to gather inputs from the public. Key stakeholders should finally endorse the final version and work constructively for its successful implementation.
We shouldn’t do things on the fly and expect ourselves to end up in a better place than where we have been thus far. We should be well organized. A change process as critical and grand as this one shouldn’t be left for chance. We have to start a new working culture.
This is historic, and once in a generation opportunity and should be treated delicately, professionally, and in an organized and timely fashion. It should be treated as a project. And, successful projects start by having a successful initiation phase that engages all key stakeholders until they become on the same page about what must change, what must not change, how the overall process should proceed, and the key deliverables… Let me stop it here.