The dangers of failure to hear each other!



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Ethiopia has been undergoing a radical change since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power a year ago. While most of the reforms undertaken by his administration marked the beginning of a new chapter in the nation's history and as such were met with great acclaim, a series of disturbing developments occurred during the prime minister's term. Rapid political reforms spearheaded by the PM prompted hope. Restrictions on freedom of expression were entirely removed; draconian laws against terrorism, civil society and the media have been or are being replaced by supportive legislation; political parties and media organizations face no more systematic intimidation at the hands of the government. The optimism generated by measures aimed at broadening the political space was overshadowed, albeit due to the explosion of intercommunal violence, which led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and the displacement of millions of others. Meanwhile, on the economic front, chronic unemployment, the foreign exchange crisis and the growing number of citizens in need of emergency assistance continue to hurt the country. Ethiopia needs only one thing to overcome the critical challenges they face: communicating, listening to each other.

The worst scourge that has long plagued the political culture of Ethiopia is the inability to listen to each other, engage in constructive dialogues. Nowadays party politics have reached levels so fervent that the political class is reluctant to listen to opinions that do not fit theirs. Although there are more things that unite and divide the Ethiopians, lack of communication has established fertile ground for the fabrication and dissemination of lies and hate speeches. In an abject demonstration of reluctance to forge unity on issues of common concern by accommodating differences, it is becoming common to vomit vitriolic rhetoric intended to sow ethnic and religious fissures. Hotheaders unable to continue a civilized conversation are working to erode the values ‚Äč‚Äčthat Ethiopians have developed over the centuries. If they knew Ethiopians always take care of each other, no matter what!

Let's make an example here in support of the point we are trying to make. The kind Ethiopians living in the vicinity where Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed on 10 March showed the same regret shown by family members to the victims, mostly non-Ethiopians, as if they were members of the family, even if they did not know about them in person. They also raised everything they could to keep a vigil at the scene of the accident in memory of the victims. This display of compassion was an expression of sincere sadness; it certainly was not a publicity stunt. This is just one example of the empathy that the Ethiopians demonstrate for their fellow citizens and humans in general. While extraordinary achievements can be made in concert with such compassionate and insightful people, politicians and activists lack the courage to speak with one another in civility and mutual respect. It can be extracted from history books that Ethiopia has suffered more than its share of wars. The country has been synonymous with poverty and hunger due to the lack of political stability. It is imperative to break the cycle of violence and poverty that reinforces each other once and for all. Not listening to each other accurately is a heavy toll.

Opacity has been and continues to be one of the major shortcomings of all governments in power in Ethiopia. They always respond to a crisis after taking on grim proportions. One recent example is the government's delay in reacting to the controversy surrounding the capital's ownership. The precipitation on an issue that, truth be told, does not figure prominently among the myriad of urgent challenges faced by the city's residents and their surroundings has been severe. Who should have been blamed if lives had been lost because of the deliberate stirring of emotions by activists while the government and political parties were sleeping? The president of the regional state of Oromia refuted what he calls a defamation campaign against him long after considerable damage was done. Many compare their sturdy defense by closing the stable door after the horse has been bolted. Since government has always been found wanting when it comes to dealing with contentious issues as they arise, it is no wonder that people tend to express an opinion on them based on the information they get first. Who should political parties blame unless they are criticized for giving up their duties to activists? Developing the habit of responding promptly to the demands of the public is key to preventing the specter of repressed resentment from turning into boiling. This requires a deliberate effort to strengthen the culture of respectful dialogue.

Ethiopians have no problem coexisting in love and harmony. If they cherish diversity, renounce hatred and intolerance, leave grievance narratives to the annals of history, and strive to build a knowledge economy, Ethiopia will surely become a great nation. Using force to resolve differences is a recipe for death, destruction, suffering, and social displacement. If democracy takes root in Ethiopia, it is essential to instill in all citizens the value of listening to each other. Because democracy is a marketplace of ideas, it can not thrive where people are unwilling to listen. The attitude of "my way or the road" is not only delayed but also a self-denial of what it means to be a human being. Whether we like it or not, we have an obligation to listen to a point of view that we do not endorse. Suppressing the expression of an opinion by labeling its holder is a tactic that is not commensurate with contemporary times. In this regard, it is particularly important that influential social media actors give up encouraging violence through lies or poisonous rhetoric and, instead, promote peaceful discourse. It is not in the interest of anyone to be consumed by ethnic politics at a time when the urgency of joining hands to secure freedom, justice and equality has never been so difficult. Not listening to each other is a tragedy that Ethiopia does not have!

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