Conflicts between political parties: not so bad after all
By Bereket Gebru
Tigrai Online, February 7, 2017
CAPE TOWN – Already a gem of an economic growth story, Ethiopia looks set to add significant shine to its economy through the development of its mineral resources sector.
I was on a training the past week and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on things from a different angle. The training topic was good governance and conflict management. I understood some of the points raised about the characteristics of conflict as having a realistic bearing to the conditions in our country.
After good spells at the beginning of EPRDF’s ascendance to power, the ruling and opposition parties in Ethiopia have grown antagonistic. Their polarity grew with time to the point where one considers everything the other side says as a lie or as targeting the other. The will to engage in constructive dialogues has been lacking from both sides. The hatred and mistrust between the sides has led them to believe that anyone who is not a hardliner against the other is not committed enough or loyal to one’s own party.
As a result of this disengagement between the two sides, debates and alternative viewpoints on policies and decisions have been lacking. The role of opposition political parties has been restricted to criticizing new laws and directions passed by government. Their input in policy initiation, policy making and implementation has been barely existent. However, the individual competence and agenda put forth by the opposition parties could have contributed a lot more towards sustaining the developmental path the country has been on for the last decade and a half.
Basic concepts about conflict indicate that all the above scenarios could have been averted to one that promoted shared understanding and working together between the ruling and opposition parties. Let’s consider the following points about conflict and see if that could be applicable to changing the way the two political sides interact.
Conflict is a normal, inescapable part of life: the presence of conflicting ideas and irreconcilable differences is the factor that triggers the presence of conflicts. We can almost always expect a different way of viewing and doing things when we engage in nation building. Less demanding domestic tasks are normally dealt with differently by different people let alone humongous national projects aimed at improving the lives of tens of millions of people. Therefore, parties across the political spectrum should be expecting conflicts as a natural occurrence and not as an aberration of nature. They need to understand that conflict is a periodic occurrence in any relationship.
Conflict is not a choice but violence is a choice: as conflict is an inevitable fact of life, people do not have choices over its occurrence. It is bound to happen no matter what people’s choices are going to be. Conflict is about the presence of opposing ideas and avoiding such ideas is almost impossible. Violence is a measure taken to resolve conflicts by imparting a physical, material and psychological offence on the other side. Therefore, it is a conscious or emotional decision to engage oneself in physical, material or psychological confrontation.
As the occurrence of conflict is a matter of when than if, all political parties should brace for it at all times. When the conflict occurs, however, they should manage it in a way that doesn’t involve violence. As establishments that represent the beliefs of a considerable amount of people, the resort to violence of political parties could ensue a bloody spell in the country. With the ruling party in charge of the coercive apparatus and political parties garnering the support of different sections of society, a violent approach to solving conflicts could prove to be costly for all sides and the country as a whole would be on the losing side. Therefore, conflicts should be managed in a way that avoids violence.
Conflict has positive and negative aspects: the presence of opposing and irreconcilable differences is not a problem on itself. The decision made to resolve these differences is the key in deciding the outcome of the conflict. On its own, conflict has positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that it shows the presence of strong stands on an issue. It also shows that there is more than one way of dealing with the problem at hand and creates a sense of solidarity among those belonging to one side. The negative aspect, on the other hand, is that it creates a clear divide on stands as the two or more sides stand separately. If not handles well, conflicts can also lead to emotional unpleasant exchanges that could harm future relations. They could even descend into violence.
Accordingly, the ruling and opposition parties in our country should carefully analyze the nature of the conflict at hand and work to promote the positives and avoid the negatives. Engaging in slurs and threats should not be the way to deal with conflicts as they tend to pose themselves as obstacles in future engagements. Pledging allegiance to thematic areas instead of an ardent opposition to everything one party stands for could help build a positive interaction as parties would support different other parties depending on the subject raised. This changing allegiance based on thematic issues would create a roving solidarity with different parties, drawing all parties across the political spectrum together on selected issues. Such an environment could possible create a sense of working together towards improving the lives of people living under a single society.
Conflict could be an opportunity: conflict could be an opportunity to understand opposing preferences and values. The presence of opposing ideas informs the other side of one’s preferences. If handled well, conflict can be the start of a blossoming relation based on clearly identified choices that stand as a difference between the two or more sides in the conflict. Conflict can also help one side understand their strengths and weaknesses, creating an opportunity to sustain the strengths and improve on the weaknesses.
Engagements between the ruling and opposition parties in our country could also prove to be an opportunity for the ruling party to identify its weaknesses and work on mitigating them. Whether it is about policy alternatives or garnering of social support, the ruling party has at occasions learned from its engagement with opposition parties. The EPRDF led government’s improved performance in service delivery following the 2005 elections might have something to do with the fact that opposition parties rallies people around these problems. Similarly, opposition parties might have strengthened themselves in some aspects after finding out their weaknesses in their engagements with the ruling party and other opposition parties.
Conflicts also provide an opportunity for parties to tap into their inner energies. The motivation to have one’s own ideas as superior in conflicts allows parties to dig deeper than usual to find stronger convictions and social support. This increased energy released by engagement in conflicts might make the party stronger.
In general, conflict is not as bad an idea as one would take it at its face value. Rather it is an inevitable part of life that people and parties need to expect in their journeys. Although the engagement between the ruling party and opposition parties in our country was minimal in the last decade or so, the recent attempts to correct that mistake need to be encouraged. It is through their constant engagement in conflicts that do not descend into violence that the parties themselves get stronger, allowing the Ethiopian people to enjoy the fruits of stronger ideas and political rivalry.