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Where to go from here for Ethiopia and its people

By H. Girmay
Tigrai Online, June 9, 2018


The plague of byzantine intersectionality that had ravaged the country not in the distance past is once again rearing its ugly head to grab political power under the guise of 'One Nation’ and ‘One oriflamme' but this time in the name of democracy and/or majority rule. This has brought home to dawn that the people who carried out the gargantuan struggle to gain respect and natural justice were all but in vain - Sisyphean indeed. These days not only the political organization that emerged from within the people but the people themselves are taken to blame and made to feel alienated. Thus with the political organization which they consider as a culprit, the people too in some ways have to be humiliated, demonized, their assets expropriated and their land traded-off.

As events are fast unfolding, let us now go back to basics and try to understand the meaning of democracy everybody is talking about.

In the 5th BC, a philosopher called Pericles described Athens with only 5000 legible citizens as a 'shangri-la' where Direct Democracy was practiced. It was direct because the citizens - i.e. - free Athenian Men with the exclusion of women and slaves - had the right to participate in public decision making (including formation of government).

In the late 18th and 19th century democracy evolved to include Referendum, as in the case of Brexit, and/or Indirect or Representative Democracy, where elected officials make all the necessary decisions on behalf of the people. The officials are accountable and there is a fixed term to hold office. Democratic rule of law applies equally to all citizens.

But rule by the majority be it direct or indirect is not necessarily democratic. No one would call a system fair and democratic that permits 51% to dictate the remaining 49% in the name of majority rule, especially when the decisions to vote for a certain group or issue is not clearly perceived and identified. This is my second issue to question the democratic system as fair and just.

This gray problematic area of the democratic majority rule has led thinkers and political scientists to have taken great pains to repair the cracks but with little success. I will explain this down below but to be fair to the system let me discuss the built-in mechanisms that are meant to deal with the shortfalls once they occur. 

In theory majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights and protect the rights of minorities - whether ethnic, religious, political or simply losers in a debate over a piece of controversial legislation.

The rule of democracy also asserts that the rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The right of minorities is protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of ALL CITIZENS, hence we can identify this as a built-in safety net.

Following this, one and the most important right of minorities would be then the RIGHT for Self Determination, up-to and including secession. Article 39 is a case in point. It is a constitutional right that can be exercised be it under a federal or unitary state which no one could take away.

And these being the key variables that define the fundamental elements of constitutional democratic governance, in practice though, in some instances even elected governments, most certainly, more often than not dictators of all shapes and colours, hypnagogic and charlatan demagogues have used democracy to promote their vested interests.

For example, would one claim that the rights of the Red Indians in the past and that of Black Americans today were/are really protected in the heart of world's most democratic nation, let alone elsewhere?

So my friends, the rule of the majority appears to be unwell, bedridden with many punches and perforations on its chest, wise men and women unable to deal with its aliment thus far. The cause of the problem is at the source (congenital), the very nature of the building block of democracy. In an ethnically and politically divided society, where the populations and endowments are markedly unequal, it is politically naive to assume that people of one ethnic group will significantly crossover and cast their vote for the one they do not happen to belong to. In the world we know today most would vote for their own group.

If this becomes the modus operandi of governance, it would lead one ethnic group dominating the political spectrum ad infinitum. This would be tolerable if the ethnic group dominated is significantly low in number and the geographical area it inhabits is fragmented and/or is unviable to constitute a visible or self sufficient economic sector. Then this minority group that has historical claim to the place would get human rights protection enshrined in the democratic constitution under majority rule for lack of a better or alternative choice/option.

In an ideal world, democracy proper, that is, unblemished democracy could work perfectly if all people in a geographically defined territory vote and win public places based only on principles and ideologies they adhere to rather than by the colour of their skin or ethnic trait. Democracy based on differing opinions and thoughts can only happen with absolute certainty, 100%, if all the inhabitants in the territory are of the same ethnic origin.

That said, there is no reason people of different race, ethnic origin or religion couldn't behave the same way as people of the same ethnic or race in casting votes, but it is highly unlikely in the world we live in today where greed and bias are the driving forces to amass wealth and grab power. One can only amass wealth and grab power unduly if one is able to divide people on race, ethnicity, religion, and gender and income level.

That said, if democracy is to be practiced in a defined region where there are different ethnic groups or races be it with or without differing ideas or ideology they profess, the one that comes out victorious would not be based on what is right, fair or just for all. The decision to vote is based on what is good for the large ethnic group regardless of the principles and/or ideology the group happens to follow. The danger here is that the ethnic minorities may be perpetually put at the mercy of the dominant group. Their aspirations to lead a decent living may be put on hold.

In such an environment, the protection of minorities' human rights under the majority ethnic rule could be hard to implement even if one assumes there could be a goodwill on the part of the majority led government. This is so as the rights of the minorities and that of the majority could come to a direct conflict. Usually to equally satisfy the demands of the majority and that of the minorities is just like tossing a coin and expecting to the have heads and tail at the same time in a single throw.

In a place such as the one described above, a multi-national state with distinct and conflicting ethnic groups, democracy based on sheer number dominance would not fare well. 

What would be fare democracy instead is that each ethnic group should be represented on equal basis irrespective of their numbers in a federal assembly. If in the federal assembly the representative of the ethnic groups have chosen to reflect conflicting views and/or ideology, federal government policies and the rule of law should eventually be drafted by hammering out the differing point of views until such time consensus is reached by the many/'majority', this time by taking votes. This may not be necessary if representatives of all ethnic groups hold the same views from the start.


Short of such equitable governance, where large and small ethnic groups are to be found and where there is a necessity to live together, the minority groups ought to create a unified block or better still, a single party, to pull their voting power to match, contest or even surpass that of the majority ethnic voting power. This way they can exercise their rights to be heard so as to implement policies which are fair and just for all. The formation of a unified block or a single party should not be an outcome of political machination. Representatives of each ethnic group in the federal assembly ought to have come after campaigning and winning fair election at the local regional level.

If in such an assembly, large and small group members failed to reach consensus, and the desire to coexist side by side with mutual respect becomes unrealistic, the minority groups could reformulate and could opt to go it alone, and form their own government by invoking Article 39 as enshrined in the democratic constitution, where THEIR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO DECLARE INDEPENDENCE is guaranteed. This needs to be considered as it is a matter of survival than a show of force or a sign of resentment by siding with one against the other.


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