By Elias Dawit 4-22-19
political narrative that is being written about today’s political transition—the key actors and the underlying assumptions
It is the winners who write the narrative that describes the “before” and “after” of political change. Let’s take the case of contemporary Ethiopia.
Today’s political narrative describes a country celebrating the rise of a young political reformer who upended 27 years of authoritarian (mis)rule by a minority group who seized power in 1991. Accounts of the new Prime Minister attribute messianic characteristics to the former army officer whose personal narrative include mystical predictions of his ascension to the long-lost throne.
The new Prime Minister, within several months of his election, undertook a number of extraordinary actions meant to make a break from decades of EPRDF policies and separate himself from the TPLF. He opened the prisons, invited the exiled opposition back home, embraced Eritrea’s Isayas Afewerki, and announced the death of the developmental state.
Meanwhile, the losers in this change, according to this narrative, skulked back to their region and spend their days plotting to regain the power they lost to the new Prime Minister and his allies.
The international media, sensing a “feel good” story about Africa, seized on this narrative and have been producing story after story attesting to this modern miracle of positivity.
Yet, shouldn’t we be suspicious of such binary political narratives that splice so cleanly between “good” guys and “bad” guys? Shouldn’t we be questioning political narratives that are so steeped in stereotypes, clichés and mythologies as to defy reasonable credibility?
Was yesterday’s Ethiopian political reality an oppressive blanket of a one-party dictatorship monopolizing power for the benefit of a few, cavalierly abusing the rights of those in the opposition, building an economy inviting corruption, and marginalizing groups of people based on ethnic identity?