Ethiopia has one of the most complete legal systems in Africa and despite the constant influence from the executive bodies the institutions of justice have always been in place. Although the laws provide for a rule of law, almost all of the pervious regimes were in most cases not strictly bound by the rule of law and were not enforcing strictly enforcing the provisions of the laws to be observed and respected by the public and by the government.
In spite of the fact that equality before the law is subsequently provided and professed, gross miscarriage of justice and violation of human rights was a daily practice and the existence of independent judiciary that enforces law and order was always threatened by those who either take the law into their hands or skillfully try to dwarf it.
The rule of law implies a democratic order and good governance, a constitutional government where criticism of the government is not only permissible but also a positive merit and where parties based on competing politics or interests are not only allowed but encouraged. The rule of law is meant to regulate public behavior on standard norms that every citizen should respect.
The recent vandalism that all Ethiopians have witnessed indicates that tampering with the rule of law has almost become a fashionable barbarism that is being perpetrated among the public particularly in a number of regional towns. Emotionalism is replacing rational thinking and loss of life due to sporadic conflicts has become a daily event. Such conditions would only help to add more fuel on already escalating frustration on lack of good governance which could lead to total crisis.
The situation is vexing because it is happening on the occasion in which Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed is calling for a nationwide unity, love, and peace. Over the last three years, apart from widespread grievances over lack of good governance the national economy was severely affected due to the unabated proliferation of contraband and lower performance in the tourism industry and export of primary agricultural products.
In some parts of the country temporary disruption of transport services and locking down of daily business activities in many towns in Oromia has affected the livelihood of daily laborers.
While the government is taking huge measures in widening the political space in consonance with the demand from the public and opposition political parties and in a situation whereby the government is conducting multi-faceted efforts to find ways and means to enhance foreign exchange earnings for the country, riots and disruptive actions are being taken to derail the peaceful reforms from taking ground. Civil society organizations, opposition political parties and local NGOs are not doing enough to ensure sustained peace in the country. It is true that various religious denominations have condemned the current sporadic violence that are going on in the country although condemning the disruptive actions is fine, the situation demands practical actions far beyond condemnation. The rule of law is facing challenges which could easily backfire at any point in time.
What is witnessed in Jiggiga clearly indicates that mob sprit that is out not only to disrupt the consolidation of unity and democracy in the country is prevailing. This is a threat to the survival of the country as a nation. Some think that only the government can solve this problem but the government does not have a secret recipe with which it can tame those citizens who seem to be driven by their animal instincts.
One thing is quite obvious. The recent riots and lawlessness in different parts of the country have their roots in lack of good governance, corruption and rapacity among some government officials and public servants who are not delivering services entrusted to them by the government.
Leaders of various religious denominations, political parties and various sectors have denounced the recent barbaric actions and hooliganism inflicted on the precedents of Jigigiga town but the situation demands a practical response to ascertain the rule of law. A single incident led to the genocide in Rwanda but in Ethiopia we are already encountering enough incidents that could easily trigger genocide similar to what has happened in Kigali.
In the past everything related to violence is attributed to “terrorist organizations” that have been black listed by the HPR. Now almost all their leaders are back home to be part of the democratic process in the country by conducting peaceful struggle and to take part in the development programs of the nation but who are the causes for the recent unprecedented turmoil in the country?
Despite the prevalence of peace with the opposition parties in the Diaspora, a new wave of destructive and inhuman opposition is cropping up in the country. The problem can be solved only by sharing collective responsibilities in which youth organizations should play a prominent role.
What has happened in Shashemene should never be associated with any nation or nationality in the country as it is only an action of few persons who dare to take the law into their hands and need to be accountable for their actions before the courts of law. Similarly, the destruction and loss of life that has happened in Jiggiga should never be generalized as a collective stance of citizens in Ethiopia Somali region.
In Ethiopia the rule of law can prevail with due consideration to strengthening the delivery in the justice system not only at courts but also on handling the human rights of inmates in prisons. On the other hand, enforcing the prevalence of total peace to promote the safety and security of citizens and for peaceful economic development.
Although the federal system in legally operational in Ethiopia for more than two decades, the public is still not fully aware of the political, legal and economic, cultural advantages of the system and the actual power sharing legal relations between the federal government and the federal states.
There are a number of operational missing links that need to be carefully streamlined to avoid possible misconceptions and misunderstandings that have cropped up. Community members are to be provided with a deeper knowledge on the Constitution of the FDRE, Human rights and various provisions that would help to promote the standard norms of public life.
The grievances that are being voiced by citizens in the outback areas need to be addressed with a special emphasis on infrastructure and service delivery and launching of more expanded projects to drastically reduce unemployment among the youth.
Religious leaders and CSOs need to work on various practical projects that specifically center on unity and peace building in towns and villages where the population is heterogeneous and multi-racial. Communities at the grass root level need to be supported to vigorously work on projects that can help to promote peace and economic benefits for marginalized communities and peoples.
The prevalence of the rule of law and facing the challenges of lawlessness cannot be accomplished only by the efforts of the government. Universities, schools at all levels have the capacity to organize a special training programs that can cover the entire youth population in the country focusing on the history of the nation, diversity of cultures, historical heritages, traditions, religious and secular festivals.
The rule of law prevails when the government can verify between genuine, reasonable and legal public demands from demands that are coined by interest groups or those who wish to forward demands that lack public interest in their content and swiftly act on them.
BY SOLOMON DIBABA