Between Hope and Fear

Our nation is at a crossroads, in multifarious directions with uncertain destinations.  Ethiopia has been in a state of transition for the past two years, which was relatively peaceful considering Ethiopia’s history of violent power transitions between regimes.  As ideal as the reformation has been, with an election not far in-sight and increasing political rhetoric the sustainability of this peaceful transition is contentious.

As we gaze at our current state of affairs with a critical lens, we as a nation and people have yet to go through the societal and individual transformation imperative for the desired transition.  The notion of racial identity has been at the forefront of the Ethiopian reality and driving force for various altercations.  Politics is no exception to the influence of ethnicity; in fact, it can be safely postulated that identity politics is the dominant form of governance within the past couple of decades and beyond.  Following decades of experimenting with ethno-national political mobilization, it is now time to reflect on the costs and benefits of this form of organization.  Beyond inefficiency, this mode of political organization and mobilization has implications for our security if not our very survival as a community.

“We as a nation and people have yet to go through the societal and individual transformation imperative for the desired transition.”

Identity politics is the tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics. Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context.  Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination.

All the parties currently active in Ethiopia are anchored in different forms of identity politics, (either ethno-nationalist or pan-Ethiopianist ideologies) or the new and yet to be tested alternative of citizenship politics.  The problem is if political and intellectual elites are unwilling or unable to draw attention to other ideological divides, then ethnicity or the unitary-federalist polarization will remain the only available agenda.  As a result of such leaders who reach for the low-hanging and poisonous fruit of mobilizing political base along ethnic lines, the continuity of the transition is put in jeopardy.

Most of the demands made by ethno-nationalists could be framed in cross-ethnic and principled or abstract terms such as minority rights, land rights, and the right for linguistic justice, among others, rather than exclusively from the vantage-point of particular groups. Instead of doing the challenging work of formulating strategies for managing the violence, displacement, and land rights, they chose the easy route of agitating emotions, fueling inter-communal tensions, and externalizing the problems.  Political mobilization and leadership that takes the form of organization are highly unsustainable and one of the biggest hurdles for the transition, thus calling for a better form of mobilization and leadership.

Sustainable leadership refers to those agile behaviors, practices, and systems that create enduring value for all stakeholders in a state.  An agile, sustainable leadership encompasses embracing every aspect of agility:  setting a clear and shared vision, building a culture of self-organizing and self-managing teams, and a focus on delivering value.  Agile mindset transformation requires fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and value creation.  A culture of innovation entails embracing risk, experimenting, thinking outside the box, and seeking diversity of thought.

Even though we have come a long way, the leadership and opposition currently present have a long way to go before effectively implementing this kind of leadership practice.  The politics of ethno-nationalism have morphed into a competing and short-sighted ethno-hegemonic project while its supposed antidote, pan-Ethiopianism, has either lost touch with today’s Ethiopia or lacks progressive articulation, therefore unlikely to serve as an alternative.  The fear of the unknown has also been aggravated by the unclear intentions we get from the leadership and opposition.

Those who prioritize their particular type of identity politics may promote their group\’s interests without regard for the interests of larger, more diverse political groups.  Groups based on a particular shared identity can divert energy and attention from more fundamental issues.  Ethiopia’s shades of identity politics deliberately obscure and conceal conflicting material interests within different groups.  Such types of short-sighted means of power grab through the disguise of ethnicity are the most unsustainable form of leadership.  It has no room for diverging ideas and minimal possibility of expanding its political base to include people with different backgrounds.

Given the high human cost of this type of politics we need to ask the following questions:  How much justice, security, and equality have been achieved through this form of mobilization over the past decades?  What is the end-game?  Is there a goalpost when we concede that this form of politics is redundant?  Or do we envision a permanent condition of competition for status, material, and political resources along ethnic lines?

The honeybee provides inspiration for sustainable leadership.  Honeybees are collaborative and add value throughout the eco-chain.  They contrast with locusts that, under the right conditions, form huge swarms and self-destruct, causing massive damage in the process.  Agile, sustainable leaders can take lessons from the honeybees by thinking in terms of collective long-term growth rather than amassing support for distractive short-term political benefits.  The only way out of this quagmire seems to be the critical introspection of ourselves as people and individuals in order to separate the chaff from the wheat in regard to sustainable political practices.

The notion of agile leadership and other matters will be discussed in detail among prominent speakers, eminent personalities and leaders at AWiB’s May Forum on the 20 of May, 2021 at the UNCC.

Keywords: #Leadership #Identity_ politics #Agile_leadership #MayForum

Written by: Hileleule Getachew